Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Michigan Connection

Isn’t it like a dream come true when you find out that there is a Laura event happening close to where you live?

When William Anderson (well-known Wilder biographer and researcher) announced at LauraPalooza that a Laura Ingalls Wilder exhibit was coming to the University of Michigan, I was listening! When the dates and details were announced, I was there!

The Mardigian Library at the University of Michigan-Dearborn is only about an hour’s drive from my home. The Laura’s Enduring Tale: Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of “Little House on the Prairie” exhibit was on the third floor in the Alfred Berkowitz Gallery. I would have gone every week that the exhibit was there if I could have, but I do have a business to help run… so I was thrilled to be able to go twice.

The opening night of the exhibit was October 29th and featured William Anderson. I couldn’t miss that! My ever supportive husband accompanied me and we arrived with enough time to go through the exhibit before Mr. Anderson was scheduled to speak. It was a full house and there were just too many people there to be able to experience everything the way that I wanted. When you’re in a situation where you know that the person standing next to you probably loves Laura nearly as much as you do, you tend to get into conversations. I did that very thing, a couple of times. There were also a few familiar faces from LauraPalooza there.  It was so nice to see and speak with John Bass, Ann Weller Dahl, and Michelle McClellan!

J.L. Hudson Department Store

When it was time for William Anderson’s talk, we were sent to the second floor. I was so happy when he began telling the story of when Almanzo and Laura traveled to Detroit from their home in Mansfield, Missouri — with their good friend Silas Seal behind the wheel — for the Detroit Book Fair at the J.L. Hudson Department Store. I loved to hear about this Laura connection to Michigan! I can picture, in my mind, the J.L. Hudson building in Detroit, no longer there as it was demolished several years ago. I had heard of the Statler Hotel, which was the hotel that they stayed at while they were here.  It was a very stately hotel in its heyday and has also been demolished.

Mr. Anderson talked about communication between Rose and Laura and Almanzo regarding their trip to Detroit. Laura was nervous about her speech, but did a fine job. Through correspondence, Rose enthusiastically  encouraged her mother. Almanzo visited and spent many hours at the Henry Ford Museum and was quite taken by it. He wrote all about it to Rose, having been quite impressed by the machines, exhibits, and inventions that he had seen there. He even described to her the beautiful floor there and drew a small diagram to show Rose how the floorboards were laid.  As I have been to the Henry Ford Museum many times, I felt that familiar connection. Silas Seal knew the area well, having worked in Detroit for the Ford Motor Company in the 1920s before moving back to Mansfield, Missouri, to open his service station. Almanzo and Silas also went to Belle Isle, which is a well-known island park in the Detroit River. Mr. Anderson also talked about a teacher in Mt. Pleasant (Michigan) with whom he had the pleasure of speaking, who was actually at the book fair. Her students wrote letters to Laura.

One thing that really got me thinking (and that I had never thought of before) is that although my mother never read the Little House books and was too young in 1937, she lived in Detroit at this time. She was so very close. Is that stretching things a bit? Probably, but we Laura fans will come up with any way to have a connection to her. I wish my mother were here to ponder over this with me.  She passed away in July and was always supportive of my love for Laura.

Of course, after William Anderson’s talk was over, we went back up to the third floor hoping to get a better look at the exhibit. It was still so crowded that I took a couple of walk-throughs and we managed to snap a couple of pictures before deciding that I just had to visit this wonderful exhibit again.

And I did!

(To be continued…  Read Part Two here!)

Posted in Almanzo Wilder, Events, Little House Travel
One comment on “Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Michigan Connection
  1. Lori Kimble says:

    My father was born and raised in Detroit. He would have been nine or ten years old when Laura was there. His father owned a Ford dealership in the city and a few used car lots. It does really make you wonder if their paths crossed. At the very least, I know that my Dad would have known the buildings that you mentioned.