Why Melissa Gilbert didn't visit the real Walnut Grove until she was an adult, as depicted on 'Little House on the Prairie'

Melissa Gilbert is best known for her portrayal of Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House on the Prairie to this day. 

Gilbert was cast in Little House on the Prairie: The Musical at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis when she was 44 years old. This time, she played the role of Ma. Gilbert and the child actors decided to visit Walnut Grove, where the actual Laura Ingalls grew up, during the run of the show. Gilbert had never been before.Melissa Gilbert ultimately visits Laura Ingalls's home.

Gilbert and the musical's children (Kara Lindsay, who portrayed Laura, Jenn Gambatese, who played Mary, and Kevin Massey, who played Almanzo) traveled five hours to visit Walnut Grove, Minnesota, and De Smet, South Dakota.

Gilbert had numerous opportunities to visit the place where the actual Laura grew up, but she had always declined. This period was unique."Despite numerous invitations, I had not visited either place," wrote Gilbert in her 2009 autobiography Prairie Tale. "Now that I'm old enough to appreciate it, the timing finally feels right."

Walnut Grove

When Gilbert and his children arrived in Walnut Grove, they immediately visited the local museum.

Gilbert wrote that one exhibit featured the fireplace mantle from the set of the television series. "When no one was looking, I sniffed it to determine if it still contained any of the set's recognizable aromas. It did not, but childhood memories flooded my heart and consciousness."After visiting the museum, the party had lunch at Nellie's Café and then strolled along Plumb Creek.

How Melissa Gilbert felt when she touched Laura Ingalls Wilder's garment.

In De Smet, the group went on a city excursion."We walked through Pa's home, where I admired the cabinets he had made for Ma, and then we were ushered into the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum, where our guide opened a vault containing the most precious items," wrote Gilbert. She extracted a nightgown and multiple handkerchiefs.

They had previously belonged to Laura. Gilbert requested permission to stroke the nightgown, which was granted. Gilbert remembered the event for years."I climbed into bed late that night, exhausted but unable to fall asleep," Gilbert wrote.

 "I couldn't stop thinking about the avalanche of recollections triggered by touching Laura's nightgown and handkerchief. As my fingers ran over the cotton fabric, I recalled everything from my first Little House audition to the present, including happiness, sorrow, heartache, and love. "For someone who was not permitted to feel as a child, I felt so much."

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