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Posts Tagged ‘Masters Hotel’

Driving away from the Effigy Mound National Monument, we wandered a bit west, near the border between Iowa and Minnesota, to the little town of Burr Oak, Iowa. It was enough west from our earlier ride for the landscape to flatten out. It was still rural and picturesque. Soon, we found ourselves on the Laura Ingalls Wilder historic route. Fancy that!

In her “Little House” books, Laura Ingalls Wilder omits the few years her family spent in Burr Oak where they helped run the hotel for room and board. It was a sad time for the Ingalls family. The only son, Freddy, a baby, died there. It was a hard existence inside the hotel. I don’t mind that this has been left out. The “Little House” books are based on Laura’s childhood pioneering homesteads. The books are novels for children. They remain favorite reads.

Modern Burr Oak is a very small town of a few businesses, a grill, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum. Here I am, happy as a lark, about to enter the Visitor’s Center, where we got our bearings, inquired about a place to eat, and made plans to come back in a short while for a docent tour of the Masters’ Hotel across the road.

A few pork tenderloin sandwiches and a lot of calories later, we began our tour with a small gaggle of women out for the day, only one of whom was a kindred Wilder spirit. Tom was a real trooper.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote a series of children’s books about her life as a pioneer girl from the north woods of Wisconsin to the prairies of Kansas, Minnesota, and Iowa and the Dakota Territory. She published her first book, Little House in the Big Woods, when she was 65. Eight more books, and generations of boys and girls, and me, have delighted in her simple stories of life homesteading, braving blizzards, making do with what the land yields, and, well, the pioneer spirit that broke the soil and settled our vast land. An unpublished memoir of Laura’s documented the Ingalls’ stay in Burr Oak. To see this site and some of Laura’s belongings was supreme joy for me.

Click on to get a clearer view of the hotel/museum.

In the Long Winter, which I have read again and again, the Ingalls spend the winter in town, where they and the townspeople nearly perish from starvation as the winds and snow of the great blizzard ravage the prairie. Laura helps Pa make twists of hay to throw into the fire for fuel. The scene plays out in page after page of the book, but, I could never quite visualize what these looked like. Here it is.

At the time the Ingalls lived in the hotel, living in a single room, cooking meals for up to 25 boarders, three times a day, up to 200 wagon passed by each day, filled with all the worldly possessions of folks looking for a better chance at life. It was a time of economic depression, plagues of grasshoppers, failed crops, maddening blizzards, and hope. The docent pointed out a framed document showing that even Laura’s Pa, Charles Ingalls, a hard-working and self-sufficient man, needed a little help from the U.S. Government in 1875.  It was for a half bushel of flour valued at $5.25.

 I was so excited to be there and already knew most of the Ingalls story, that the docent finally said “If you have any question, just ask Penny.” It was fun to learn that his wife’s nephew had worked for a time with our Jennifer. It is a small world, isn’t it?

Tom and I both saw this dresser in one of the boarding rooms at the same time. His mom’s family had one just like it. Tom’s maternal ancestors were homesteaders in Ohio. We still have furniture from the farm, but, not the chest, which also knew Jennifer for a short time.

Can you imagine sleeping on this bed? Three to a bed? The little cozy on the chamber pot is rather cute, but, I’m grateful for our indoor plumbing with flushing toilets, aren’t you? Every few days, the bed coverings would be pulled back and the ropes would be pulled and tightened. The coverings would be aired out and beaten to remove any bugs. This is where the phrase “sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite” originates.

We spent a few hours in Burr Oak and have loads of pictures of all of the artifacts there, but, I’ve taken up enough of your time, so, will say goodbye for now, dear reader. I think I need a bath and I’m certainly glad I don’t have to pay extra for hot water.

Have you read any of the “Little House” books? Do you have a favorite?

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