Jean Coday picks up the phone in her office at the all-new Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum in Mansfield, Missouri, and is in immediate planning mode after some well-deserved time off.
“We’ve scheduled the grand opening for April,” she tells the caller. “We plan to have a tent set up outside the farmhouse, serve some light refreshments and have Pa’s fiddle played for a bit.”
The entrance lobby of the new Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum in Mansfield.
What? I wasn’t sure if I heard that right. Did she really, quite nonchalantly, say they were going to play Pa’s fiddle? After all, this isn’t just any fiddle. It’s one of the main characters throughout Ms. Wilder’s beloved collection of books based on her childhood during the pioneer days.
It’s the fiddle Charles Ingalls played as the Ingalls girls danced through the night to keep warm in The Long Winter. It’s the same fiddle that Ms. Wilder wrote of her father being so careful to protect as the family traveled in a covered wagon in Little House on the Prairie. Pa’s fiddle is American history come to life.
A display in the new Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum in Mansfield, Missouri.
Ms. Coday, director of the museum, wraps up her conversation and before she could set down the receiver, I ask about the playing of Pa’s fiddle.
“Well, that’s a big deal and something we certainly don’t do everyday,” she says with a proud smile. “People come here just to see Pa’s fiddle and having it played for the grand opening of this new building will be something very special.”
The new, state-of-the art building at Rocky Ridge Farm resembles a barn and fits perfectly into the farm setting. Coday says the new facility will house many of the same exhibits from the original museum built in 1973 but will be presented in a new way with proper lighting and display cases. The museum holds the most comprehensive collection of Ingalls/Wilder memorabilia in the world.
The interior of the new Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum in Mansfield, Missouri.
“We had homemade cases and such at the old museum and it just wasn’t proper for taking care of these historic items,” she says. “This is such an improvement.”
In addition to Pa’s fiddle, the museum owns seven of Ms. Wilder’s original manuscripts and countless other personal items. The museum also offers tours of the Wilder farmhouse at Rocky Ridge and the Rock House, both of which the Wilder’s lived in during their time in the Ozarks. Touring these homes where the Little House books were written are a thrilling step back in time.
The Wilder Farmhouse at Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum in Mansfield is just about an hour east of Springfield. The museum is now open Mon. through Sat. from 9am-5pm and Sun. from 12:30pm-5pm.