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A gem on the prairie

WALNUT GROVE -- Whether one is looking for a taste of the pioneer lifestyle or is a die-hard "Little House on the Prairie" fan, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant in Walnut Grove is the perfect weekend getaway to experience the great outdoors.

This year marks the 31st annual pageant for Walnut Grove, and it's bound to bring people from across the nation to the state of Minnesota.

Although the pageant runs the last three weekends in July, the weekend of July 18-19 brings special guests to the area. The Greenbush twins, the two young girls who played Carrie Ingalls on the hit television series, "Little House on the Prairie," will make a special appearance in Walnut Grove for the weekend festivities.

"This is such a wonderful opportunity to have the twins visit," said Amy Ankrum, Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum director. "It's great for visitors to see such down-to-earth stars like these girls."

Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush will make their appearance on July 19 in Walnut Grove for autographs and an interview session with the fans.

"The girls are still young enough that they can be recognized from the television show, even though they've grown up," Ankrum said.

The girls landed a spot on the television series at the age of 3 and continued to play the role of Carrie until the show was discontinued in 1983, after nine consecutive years on the air. Lindsay and Sidney each took turns playing the role of Carrie, but later decided to steer away from the entertainment business to pursue separate careers after their college graduations.

The appearance of the Greenbush twins is sure to be a hit, according to Ankrum.

"We're excited to have them in town to bring many devoted fans to the area," Ankrum said. "It's a very special trip for the girls."

Despite the Greenbush twins only being in town for a single day throughout the pageant month, there's still plenty to do each weekend of the pageant.

Errol Steffen, a Wilder Pageant coordinator, expressed his excitement for the events that will be happening each weekend.

"We have lots going on and welcome everyone to attend," Steffen said. "There are always festivities in the city park and something to keep kids entertained."

Family activities are conducted each weekend in the city park, along with food, entertainment and crafts for all ages. Also, on July 12, a Laura-Nellie look-alike contest will take place, with prizes based on the overall appearance and knowledge of Laura and Nellie.

Each weekend, the Ingalls family dugout site is open for the public to walk through in order to get a taste of the lifestyles during that era. The dugout site is located about a mile north of Walnut Grove, along the banks of Plum Creek, where the Ingalls family once lived.

Visitors can also venture about 20 miles east to Sanborn to experience the environmental culture of an actual sod house. The McCone Sod House has been preserved from its original state and renovated throughout the years. Families are welcome to reserve the sod house for an overnight stay to get a true taste of the pioneer lifestyle.

As for the Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant, "Fragments of a Dream," the citizens of Walnut Grove welcome everyone to the hillside amphitheater pageant site, located about a mile west and a mile south of Walnut Grove. The program is expected to start at 9 p.m., slightly after dusk. It's an outdoor-based drama that addresses the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the hardships of the pioneer lifestyle.

"It's very family oriented," said Steffen. "Everyone should expect a great show."

Local citizens of Walnut Grove portray the characters of the Ingalls family in the live performance on the banks of Plum Creek. The grounds are sprayed for mosquitoes, and there are concessions available, making the performance hospitable for an evening family activity.

"We hope the visitors take with them a sense of history and an appreciation for the pioneer lifestyle," Steffen said.

The pageant lasts about two hours, and general admissions is available at each performance. For the best seating at the pageant, visitors are advised to arrive between 7 and 8 p.m.

For more information on the Wilder Pageant and the Walnut Grove festivities, visit the Walnut Grove Web site at