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Fictional Laura Ingalls Wilder comes home

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The fictional and real worlds of the late Laura Ingalls Wilder collided on Sunday, Oct. 24 when actress Melissa Gilbert made a surprise visit to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum in Mansfield. Gilbert, who played the television character Laura Ingalls Wilder in the hit television show, “Little House on the Prairie,” contacted staff a couple of days prior to reserve a private tour in Mansfield as she was traveling from Texas after visiting her grandbaby and family.

“My first thought was is it a prank?,” said Director Nicholas Inman. “I called back and she couldn’t have been nicer.”

Inman said he met Gilbert and her husband, actor Timothy Busfield, when the couple arrived in town at the grave site for the late Laura Ingalls Wilder.

“I was really touched about how it affected her,” Inman noted as she needed a moment to step away due to the emotions of being at the site for the first time ever. “It was a special moment for her.”

Inman then led the couple over to the museum.

“When she walked into the museum, she was very impressed and had genuine reactions seeing Pa’s fiddle and the presentation aspects on each of the books,” he noted.  She also enjoyed seeing the layout and display on the television show.”

Inman said Gilbert told him that her castmates told her positive things about their previous visit(s) to Mansfield.

Gilbert and her husband then went over to the farm house and was surprised that people were allowed to walk through what she called “such a special place.” She also walked through the Rock House.

“She was taken back when she walked into the bedroom and could see the personal effects there,” Inman added.

Inman also said that Gilbert knew many facts about the real Mrs. Wilder. “She would answer her husband’s question before we did,” he said.

Before leaving, Gilbert bought a book from the gift shop. She added that she has a book of her own coming out late next spring and may sign some so the Mansfield location could make money on their sales.

She was given a set of hard back books as a gift for her to read to her grandchildren. Gilbert commented that she looks forward to bringing all of her grandchildren back some day.

“People often reflect on how the TV show didn’t follow the books as a mirrored story,” Inman said. “But people can come and we can educate them further on Mrs. Wilder’s life. And it was neat to see those two worlds come together with her visit...To picture her reading ‘On the Banks of Plum Creek’ to her grandchildren, I realized how things have come full circle...This is something we can tell guests. This was a big day for Mansfield.”

As for the staff, Inman said it was obvious they were excited. “It meant a lot to staff members who work hard every day to tell Mrs. Wilder’s story and (Melissa) understood they are also keeping (her) legacy alive,” he noted.

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