‘Little House’ stars to visit southwest Minnesota for 40th anniversary
WALNUT GROVE, Minn. — Ten stars from the television show “Little House on the Prairie” will visit Walnut Grove this summer during the community’s 37th annual “Fragments of a Dream” pageant. The outdoor pageant recounts the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder during the 1880s, when her family lived on the southwest Minnesota prairie along the banks of Plum Creek.
The stars — including the twin girls who played Grace and Carrie Ingalls, and characters Nellie Oleson and Almanzo Wilder — are among the contingent coming to southwest Minnesota to mark the 40th anniversary of the “Little House” TV series. The show, starring Michael Landon as Charles Ingalls and Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls Wilder, debuted 40 years ago this month, with the two-hour pilot airing March 30, 1974. The show aired for nine seasons and has long been in syndication, to be enjoyed by generations of fans.
Amy Ankrum, director of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove, said invitations were sent to all of the cast members who portrayed the Ingalls family, as well as many of the recognizable cast members.
“We were kind of shooting for eight to at least make it a (cast) reunion,” Ankrum said, adding that the most who have visited Walnut Grove at any one time has been two actors.
The stars will be in Walnut Grove on July 25-27, which is the final weekend of the three-weekend pageant. While plans are still coming together, Ankrum said there will be TV cast reunion presentations prior to the evening pageant July 25 and 26, and autograph sessions twice each day. On Sunday, there will be photograph opportunities with the stars.
The presentations, which will take place for an hour and a half prior to the pageant start, will include a Q&A with the audience.
“(The stars will) talk about what they’ve been doing,” Ankrum said.
Those who have confirmed attendance are Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson), Dean Butler (Almanzo Wilder), Charlotte Stewart (Eva Beadle), Wendi Turnbaugh Lee and Brenda Turnbaugh Weatherby (Grace Ingalls), Sidney Robyn Greenbush and Lindsay Rachel Greenbush (Carrie Ingalls), Lucy Lee Flippin (Eliza Jane Wilder), Hersha Parady (Alice Garvey) and Radames Pera (John Sanderson Edwards).
Of the 10, five have never visited Walnut Grove — Flippin, the Turnbaugh twins, Parady and Pera.
“We’re very excited about it,” Ankrum said. “To have 10 stars is an interesting challenge — and fun, too. They’re very nice people.”
The most famous of the Ingalls characters, Laura, visited Walnut Grove in 2008, while she was starring in the Guthrie Theater’s “Little House on the Prairie” musical as Caroline “Ma” Ingalls. The visit did not coincide with the Walnut Grove pageant. Meanwhile, Melissa Sue Anderson, who portrayed Mary Ingalls in the TV show, visited Walnut Grove in the early 1970s, prior to the pageant’s creation, Ankrum said.
Throughout all three of the pageant weekends — July 11-12, July 18-19 and July 25-27 — the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove will be open for tours. Also marking its 40th anniversary this year, the museum will feature TV reunion displays as well as other special displays throughout the entire season. The museum is open from April through October.
The museum shares space with a gift shop, which has many new offerings this year to mark the 40th anniversary of the Little House on the Prairie television show. Ankrum said they have new T-shirts and ornaments to items produced by some of the stars featured in the series.
Alison Arngrim’s book is offered for sale there, along with Dean Butler’s documentary DVD and Charlotte Stewart’s “Beadle Bags.”
Each festival weekend includes Nellie and Laura look-alike contests, as well as a family festival in the Walnut Grove City Park. The festival includes family activities, entertainment, craft vendors, food and pioneer demonstrations. The dugout site, where the Ingalls family resided while living along the banks of Plum Creek, will also be open for tours.
Ankrum hopes to see about 5,000 people come to town for the Little House stars reunion weekend. Pageant seating will be limited to 2,000 tickets for July 25 and July 26 — 1,000 reserved seats and 1,000 general admission.
Pageant tickets are already on sale for all three weekends, and can be ordered online at www.walnutgrove.org or by calling (888) 859-3102.