‘Little House on the Prairie’: Why Laura Ingalls Actress Melissa Gilbert Waited to Return to Walnut Grove as an Adult

by Emily Morgan
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During Melissa Gilbert’s childhood, she spent her days in Walnut Grove while paying Laura Ingalls on “Little House on the Prairie.” The show would catapult her career and make her a household name, yet after her time on the show, it took her decades to return to Walnut Grove. 

When Gilbert was 44-years-old, she was cast in Little House on the Prairie: The Musical. The theater was staged at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis — close to where she shot the iconic show. 

Gilbert and her castmates decided to visit Walnut Grove, where the fictional Laura Ingalls grew up along with the rest of the Ingalls family.  After decades of being away from the farm, she and her castmates drove five hours to visit Walnut Grove, Minnesota, and De Smet, South Dakota. 

“Despite numerous invitations, I had not visited either location,” wrote Gilbert in her 2009 memoir, Prairie TaleBut now, she finally felt it was the perfect time to appreciate the location where she made so many memories.

When Gilbert arrived in Walnut Grove, she went straight to the museum. “One display included the mantelpiece from the television series set,” she revealed in her book

Melissa Gilbert Goes Back in Time to Walnut Grove

“When no one was looking, I smelled it to see if it still contained any of the familiar scents from the set. It was not like that, but the memories of my childhood flooded my heart and my mind.”

The museum manager said Gilbert and her castmates stayed long enough to run through the prairie grass and take pictures.

“We walked through the house that Pa built, where I marveled at the cabinets he had made for Ma. Then we were taken to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, where our guide opened a vault containing the most special items,” wrote Melissa Gilbert. “He took out a nightgown and several handkerchiefs.”

The museum guide also brought out a nightgown and handkerchiefs that had belonged to Laura Ingalls. The manager allowed Gilbert to hold the precious artifacts for a brief moment. According to Gilbert, that moment would stay with her forever. 

“I kept thinking about the flood of memories I had experienced after touching Laura’s nightgown and handkerchief. As my fingers traced the cotton fabric, I relived everything from my first Little House audition to the present. Happiness, sadness, heartbreak, and love. For someone who grew up unable to feel anything, I now feel a lot,” Gilbert wrote.  

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