Pageant attracts fans new and old

WALNUT GROVE – Every year fans of the “Little House on the Prairie” books come to Walnut Grove on the banks of Plum Creek to tour the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and see the annual pageant.

“I’ve been very busy,” said Hannah DeSmith of Walnut Grove who is working the counter at the Wilder Museum this summer. “It’s fun and I like it, meeting people from all around the world.”

And they do come from all around the world.

According to Nicole Elzenga, collections manager at the museum, Wilder’s books have been translated into 34 languages at last count.

About 20,000 people come to the museum every year, from all 50 states and as many as 40 countries, Elzenga said.

“The Wilder Pageant has been going on for 36 years, right here on the banks of Plum Creek,” Elzenga said. “The number of people who make it happen is amazing.”

According to Elzenga, the TV series based on the books started in September 1974. The museum opened a month later, so the series and the museum are having a 40th anniversary next year.

“So many people found Walnut Grove and came here, so we needed a museum,” Elzenga said. “We’re planning a special event next year with a Little House star reunion.”

Fans of the books range from elementary school kids to their parents, some of whom discovered the books through their children.

Meera Lyver and her friend Jenny Stoesz came from Minneapolis with their four children.

“I’ve known about the books growing up, but it was only recently I actually sat and read them,” Lyver said.

Lyver’s daughter, Chloe, and Stoesz’s son, Ryder, both 6, recently read the series as part of their home-school reading curriculum.

“It was like every time we finished one he’d say, ‘Mom start another!'” Stoesz said. “He just wouldn’t let me quit. I’d heard about them as a kid, but this was the first time I’d read them.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder was in her lifetime a farmer, businesswoman, journalist and of course a writer of books chronicling her childhood during the period of settlement on the western frontier. Her description of life as it was then continues to fascinate and inspire readers young and old.

Readers like Julie Nilles, who came with her cousin Eleanor Hamlet to participate in the Laura and Nellie Lookalike Contest. Julie’s favorite character is Laura.

“Because she’s a lot like me, and I want to write my own books,” Nilles said.