Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Literary Dream Tour, Part 5 (BetsyTacy Land)

Okay, whew! I'm finally getting back to recording our momentous literary dream tour, and speaking this morning to an elementary moms' group about Raising Book Lovers was just the kick in the pants I needed.

When last we spoke (or I wrote and you read), we were in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, checking out Laura Ingalls Wilder's beloved Plum Creek. After stopping to peer up at Pa's church bell, we had to hightail it out of town because Walnut Grove is motel-less. We spent the night in glorious Springfield, Minnesota, home of--uh--a place with great milkshakes. Because our private Betsy-Tacy tour wasn't scheduled until 11:00 a.m. the following morning, we drove leisurely the next day and stopped in New Ulm, the Leavenworth of Minnesota. Only, their town is real German, instead of Washington 1950s faux German. Nor was New Ulm only about the bakery we found--it's also the location of Wanda Gag's house!

It's just me, but I might call it "The WANDA Gag House"

Wanda who? you ask. Wanda, this Wanda:

What can I say? Minnesota is Literary Land. Border to border. (We'd already stopped in St. Paul to see F. Scott Fitzgerald's house and Sinclair Lewis', and I'd been reading Lewis' Main Street at night, which is set in the more northern town of fictionalized Sauk Centre. But who cares about those two?)

Well, my GPS led me astray--choosing the wrong Center Street in Mankato and landing us miles out of town and potentially late for our tour! Imagine the shrieking and frantic phone-mapping and apologetic voicemail messages left! Imagine us bumping top-speed down a dirt road, trying to reconnect to pavement, and seeing everything--private tour, newspaper interview, dream vacation--going up in a cloud of sand and gravel! This could all have been avoided if Mankato would just rename Betsy's street "Hill Street," like it is in the books. Just another helpful tip.

It turns out we were only six minutes late, and we pulled up to find two tour guides, The Free Press reporter Dan, and the newspaper photographer all waiting on Tacy's porch for us.

Tacy, like all Minnesotans in winter, isn't big into landscaping
Squee! See the porch? Too bad I forgot to take a picture of the bay window, from which Mrs. Kelly/Kenney could see the picnic bench on the little hill. Tacy's house holds the gift shop and tons of photographs and memorabilia. No idea how they fit so many kids in there. In the picture above, you can see the upstairs bedroom window. That bedroom belonged to all the girls, so it was the one through which Tacy dangled the thread tied around her foot and connected to Betsy's foot and bedroom window. Directly across the street from each other!

Like I said, no pressure to keep up with the Joneses on yard work
The tour (of Betsy's house) was pure awesomeness. Having just re-listened to Betsy-Tacy on the drive over, the scenes were fresh in our mind. There was no question or reference or allusion Guide Bob could stump us with. We knew all about colored sand and the backyard maple and playing paper dolls by the stove and Everything Pudding! And unlike in Walnut Grove, the Betsy-Tacy houses are chock full of actual belongings. The piano, Mr. Ray's chair, Maud Hart Lovelace's table from their married life, MRS. RAY'S BRASS BOWL!!! The curators have done a splendid job of restoring the houses to period structure and decoration, so much so that they were featured on PBS's Hometime. We could have stayed for hours. I considered bribing them to take us upstairs. As it was, we settled for plundering the gift shop (I got a CD of piano music from the books!) and taking pictures.

The window through which Betsy watched Tacy move in
The piano! "Howdy, Cy! Mornin', Cy!"
The beaded curtain! We just needed our paper dolls and Lady Jane Grey.
The porch
The commemorative bench!
We hiked partway up the now-developed Big Hill to see where Little Syria used to be. Sadly, Betsy's high school house (and the high school itself) are long gone, and the sites buried under a parking garage for Mankato State.

Of course I bought a walking guide, so we could check out other houses from The Crowd: childhood Winona's, Carney's, Mrs. Chubbock's, Tony's, and Tib's!
Still chocolate-colored. Need to trick-or-treat in Mankato so I can see inside.
Finally it started to rain, and we were starving, but altogether it was my favorite morning of the trip. In the afternoon we visited the Maud Hart Lovelace wing of the library and walked around Sibley Park.

The glass pitcher
The library also had a big binder of MHL press clippings with lots of articles and pictures to page through, as well as all her books, both for children and adults. Awesome.

Who knows if I'll ever get back here? I did tell Sue and Susan at the houses that, for the next Betsy-Tacy Convention, they should have a Betsy hairdressing session, and a Betsy dancing one. We shall see...

And the crowning moment of our childhood Betsy portion was the article that appeared in The Free Press the next day. Winona and Betsy would be proud. Not only did our little visit make the front page, with hilariously unflattering picture above the fold, but we shunted dead Margaret Thatcher to the sidebar!

Literary wonderland, indeed. Thanks for reading! I'll have one more post sometime--this one covering the places from Betsy's Wedding.

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