‘Little House’ event draws huge crowd
By DENISE RAYMO
— BURKE — An eclectic mix of people turned out Saturday for the
first day of a two-day celebration to honor Almanzo Wilder’s 150th
The Burke native was made famous by his wife, author Laura Ingalls
Wilder, who wrote about his boyhood remembrances in Northern New
York in her book, “Farmer Boy.”
Almanzo Wilder was born at the family homestead on Stacy Road on
Feb. 13, 1857, and died at age 92.
He married Laura Ingalls on Aug. 25, 1885.
Scholars, history buffs and fans of the “Little House on the
Prairie” books and the television series overwhelmed event
organizers who ran out of nearly everything Saturday except excited
Gone was the stack of the schedule of events handed out as people
entered the grounds to the Almanzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder
Association bash at the Wilder Family homestead in Burke.
Bottled water sold out within the first hour in the 80-degree heat
that was disguised somewhat by a refreshing breeze throughout the
And the variety of black-and-white photographs actor/producer Dean
Butler brought to autograph were snapped up quickly despite their
$10 price tag.
“We expected we might get some people, but we didn’t expect this
kind of response and neither did Dean Butler,” said Wilder
Association President Kathy Ellis.
He played Almanzo Wilder for five years on the “Little House” series.
“I know people were angry with me when I had to shut down the
autographs for a while, but he just couldn’t write anymore,” Ellis
said. “He had to stop. He just can’t believe how many people came
Butler signed about 50 autographs in less than an hour, and chatted
amiably with each person, asking for the name they wanted inscribed
and listening patiently while each told him a story, asked him a
question or posed for a candid photo.
Alice Johnson clutched a well-worn copy of “Farmer Boy” as she
waited in line, hoping for an autograph.
“I’ve owned this book a long time. I have them all,” she said. “I
love the stories, and I watch the series all the time or at least
have it on because I know every one by heart.”
She and her son, Darrell, and his friend, Paul, made the trip to the
Wilder Homestead from Plattsburgh.
Johnson usually made the trip with her husband, Robert. She said he
passed away a month ago, “but he’s still with me.”
Across the compound, re-enactors showed visitors their authentic
weapons, clothing and household goods while women dressed in period
costumes churned butter or tended wood fires in front of encampment
Some craftsmen and vendors sold wood products while the bookstore
and space at the gift shop at the Wilder Farm was standing-room
only, and even that was difficult.
In between getting beaned by small apples falling out of the tree
she was set up under, illustrator Jody Wheeler spoke with guests and
autographed her work featured in three HarperCollins books in
the “My First ‘Little House’ Book” series.
Geared toward pre-schoolers as well as first and second graders, the
read-along books introduce younger kids to the works of Laura
Her appearance has been planned for about a year.
“When Sandy Young asked me to be part of it, I thought, ‘I don’t
even know where I’m going to be a year from now,’” Wheeler said.
“But when I heard the idea that it was going to be held upstate and
in the autumn and at the homestead, I said ‘yes, yes, yes.’”
The artist continued to talk as 2-year-old Sullivan Wescott and his
mom, Ellie, waited to approach.
She said the area and the Wilder homestead have changed quite a bit
from the initial trip she made north from Ballston Spa for first-
hand research several years ago and she was thrilled to see such
“This is much more than I expected, and the place has expanded,” she
said. “They’ve added some buildings, and even Malone looks more
Activities and demonstrations dotted the land as families strolled
the grounds, snacked under the pavilion or caught the performance of
an original play written by Curtis Winters called “Manley’s Growing
“I’m going into the field in college and I’ve done a lot of musical
theater in school, but doing community theater is also nice,” said
Paige Dustin, a 16-year-old Franklin Academy High School student who
played Almanzo’s older sister, Eliza Jane.
“It’s really nice to see so much going on and so many people,” she
William Webber, a 14-year student from Brushton-Moira, said he was
glad to be part of the Wilder celebration because he enjoyed
reading “Farmer Boy” so much when he first picked it up at his
aunt’s house three or four years ago.
“I just love it, and I think it’s really cool that such a big part
of history happened right here,” he said. “In my opinion, I think
it’s the best book ever written.”
E-mail Denise A. Raymo at: