Alice Wilder in Florida
I’m pretty good at finding a “Laura” connection in ordinary things, even vacations. My husband has a business trip to Rochester, NY – woo hoo, it’s only a short 5 hour drive to Malone! I need to visit my sister in southern Alabama – time to check out Westville, Florida, where Laura and Almanzo lived for almost a year in 1891/92. Family reunion in Branson, Missouri – SCORE, just a hop, skip and jump to Rocky Ridge in Mansfield! But even I didn’t think I could possibly find a way to link a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida with Laura Ingalls Wilder…until recently. On a recent vacation to Orlando, while reading The Wilder Family Story, I discovered that Almanzo’s older sister Alice, a beloved character in Farmer Boy, had lived in Georgiana, Florida, from around 1887 until her death in 1892. A little research uncovered that Georgiana was near Cape Canaveral which is only 40 or so short miles from Orlando. That was a fascinating fact but I didn’t think much of it until my husband asked if we were going to go there and look for Alice’s grave. Now I don’t know about you but grave hunting isn’t exactly on my normal itinerary for a vacation. However, the idea was intriguing. Plus, I would never turn down an opportunity to drag my husband on a LIW trip. He gets a little more into it each time we visit a site, which fits into my evil plan to turn him into a “Laura” fan. Thanks to the Internet, I soon had the exact location of Alice’s grave and directions to get there – ROAD TRIP! Georgiana, Florida, doesn’t really exist as a town anymore even though you can find its name on a map. It probably used to be a bustling community but all that’s left now is the historic Methodist church, where Alice and her husband worshipped and daughter Myrtle was married in 1902, and the graveyard across the street. Still, you can get a sense of how it must have been in Alice’s time. Perched on the shore of the Indian River with plenty of citrus orchards for work, it probably was a pleasant place to live. Apparently the Florida heat and humidity didn’t agree with Alice though. She and Albert moved to Florida to improve his health, which worked for him but her health declined and Alice died in Florida in February 1892 at the age of 39. Laura and Almanzo were living in a completely different part of Florida at that time but I would like to believe that they were able to take a train to Georgiana to visit with Alice before she died. The graveyard is a short walk down the road from the church. No one has been buried there for over 50 years and, according to the Internet, it’s quite haunted, but no spirits materialized to disturb our visit. Alice’s headstone, which reads Alice M. Baldwin, was easy to find and there was something momentous about standing in front of her grave. She felt like a real person to me, rather than just a secondary character in a book. I wished I'd brought flowers and it bothered me that there probably weren’t a lot of people around who even knew the story of the young woman buried there. I felt so strongly about the flower issue that we actually came back the next day to lay a bouquet at the site and to take more pictures. We hope to return on a future visit to try to determine where Alice and Albert lived in Georgiana. All in all it was an unlikely “Laura” trip but a very special one. It isn’t every day you get to do something so out of the ordinary. If you're going to be in the Orlando area, I would recommend a side trip to Georgiana to anyone that wants to dig a little deeper into the lives of Laura and her extended family.