Looking Back: Independence Day in Mansfield – 1915

Independence Day1 On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, setting the 13 colonies on the road to freedom as a sovereign nation. In 2015, this most American of holidays will be marked with red, white and blue flags, fireworks, parades and backyard barbecues across the country.

In 1915, the Fourth of July fell on a Sunday and consequently, most Independence Day celebrations in Laura’s home of Mansfield, Missouri were held on Monday the fifth. The following article, published 100 years ago in the Mansfield Mirror – shares how the town’s residents spent the day.  I felt a little discomfort when I discovered that F. C. Huntington’s Minstrels was one of the draw-cards.  For me, it’s impossible not to remember the ugly stereotypes of black Americans portrayed in the early minstrel shows of the 19th century. But after reading everything I can on the subject, I have concluded that Huntington’s show was far removed from the carousing, raucous and cruel lampooning affairs of the antebellum period and was focused on beautiful singing and clean comedy.  In one article, I even saw it described as a “love letter” to black American music.  The talent of some of these musicians was simply incredible.

Wishing all Cottonwood Tree readers a sparkling Fourth of July, filled with peace, pride, honor and lots of fun.

Huntingtons Mighty Minstrels1

The Mansfield Mirror – 1915

Monday was an ideal day for the celebration of our country’s natal day, and an immense crowd enjoyed the occasion in Mansfield. The crowds came early and stayed late, and the people
seemed to have a good time all day long.

The celebration was under the auspices of the Mansfield Concert Band, and the various committees did their work well, thus providing a big day’s entertainment for old and young.  F.C. Huntington’s Mighty Minstrels were here and gave some splendid exhibitions. This is a high class company and they gave a show up to and surpassing expectations. Their band also assisted the home band in furnishing music during the day. They also showed here Thursday while enroute to Ava, where they gave performances to crowds Friday and Saturday. They have two special cars in which they travel.

The celebration opened with a parade at 10 o’clock. The parade was a dandy and was much
appreciated by the large crowd of people present as they marched around the square. Mayor F.H. Riley and Constable S.J. White headed the parade on horseback as marshals of the day, followed by the Mansfield Concert Band.

The band was followed by a couple who just walked in from Arkansas – or somewhere.

Then came the automobiles. Congressman T.L. Rubey’s car, with the speakers, in the lead.
Next came the W.C.T.U. ladies in R. N. Farren’s car. The Presbyterian Sunday school children rode in the G.W. Freeman and A.T. Friend autos. Postmaster M. E. Gorman’s car, which won the $2.50 prize for the best decorated auto, was next in line, followed by the N.J. Craig and Andrew Newton cars.

Order of Events1J.A. Cover and family of Mountain Grove, who were on their way to San Francisco in their Case car, took part in the parade. The Christian and M. E. Sunday schools had prettily decorated floats, full of children, waving flags. Boys on bicycles, came next, followed by F.C. Huntington’s Mighty Minstrel Band. Carriages and cowboys were the finishing touches to the parade, and they were gorgeously decorated.

The celebration was held in Burney’s beautiful grove, where amusements and concessions galore were on hand to supply the wants of the crowd, as well an abundance of ice water and shade.

The program was opened by Mayor F.H. Riley, who delivered an appropriate address of welcome in his usual pleasing way.

Congressman T.L. Rubey, wife and niece, Miss Mary Winter, were here in the congressman’s auto, in which they made the trip from Lebanon. Congressman Rubey spoke at Manes Saturday and spent Sunday in Mountain Grove.  As he desired to start home early in his auto, his place on the program was advanced from the afternoon to the morning session, and Rev. J. W. Needham, who was to have spoken in the morning, spoke in the afternoon. Both are able, eloquent and forceful speakers, and their addresses on this occasion were of an unusually high order. Our people are always pleased to hear the talented member of congress from the 16th district, and Rev. Mr. Needham has won for himself such a warm place in the hearts of our people that he is always assured of a good audience whenever he speaks in Mansfield.

The prize-winners in the afternoon contests were as follows:
– Foot race for children under 8, 50c, Frank Potts.
– Potato race in tow sacks; first prize, $1, Leslie Strong; second, 50c, Ellison Gaines.
– Ladies heavy weight throwing; first prize, $1, Miss J. Newton; second 50c, Mrs. J. Eldridge.
– Blind-fold stake race, $1, Percy Rippee.
– Ring tournament, $2, Lova Keeling.
– Men’s foot race; first prize, $1.50, Orel Dennis; second, $1, Frank Peacock.

The celebration closed with a grand illumination of fireworks at night.

The crowd was large and good natured, the cities, towns and villages in all directions being
well represented. All roads led to Mansfield Monday – and the people came in goodly numbers,
and the day’s exercises well repaid them for their visit.

Rose Wilder Lane’s 1958 Check to Stanley Parzuchowski

On April 1st 1958, Rose Wilder Lane wrote this check to Stanley Parzuchowski for $42.13. Rose Wilder Lane Check

It is being auctioned via eBay with the reserve set at $499.99. Some people might be sceptical about bidding on Wilder memorabilia without formal provenance, but perhaps the following snippets of back story will provide some insight.

Stanley Parzuchowski was a hat maker in the town of Danbury, Connecticut, where Rose lived for many years. Stanley and his wife were good friends with Rose and in 1958, Rose spoke of him in a letter to her entrepreneur buddy, Jasper Crane.

She wrote: ‘….Stanley Parzuchowski came to me one day, in trouble. …..He has worked for me in all his spare time — evenings, Saturdays and whenever the intermittent hat-factory’s work stops temporarily — for the past fifteen years. He and his wife are my good friends and do everything for me. They are grand people. So Stanley came to me in distress, twisting his hat in his hands, and in a low shamed voice asked, “Mrs Lane… Are you going to turn me in?” I didn’t know what he meant. “I mean,” he said. “I mean — are you going to turn me in to the police?” This staggered me; he is absolutely honest, a most careful driver, a kind and decent person. I couldn’t imagine what he might have done; but after a moment I decided, and I said firmly, “No Stanley; no matter what you have done, I shall not turn you into the police. What is the trouble? What have you done? Astonished, he said that he hadn’t done anything; he was talking about the new “withholding tax.” Was I going to turn him in, on that? Of course I wasn’t! I will have nothing to do with the fraud, myself; naturally I won’t try to force anyone else into it. I said, “You realize, Stanley, this may mean that both of us will go to jail for evading the tax?” He said he’d take that chance; I said I would; and that’s that. Stanley thinks the whole thing is morally wrong, and taking part of what he earns by working overtime for me was the last straw, he didn’t know how he could put up with that, nor how he could quit working here….’

Source: The Lady and the Tycoon: Letters of Rose Wilder Lane and Jasper Crane (Caxton Printers, 1973).

It would seem that tax “avoidance” is nothing new!

New Images Inside Rose Wilder Lane’s former Danbury Home

Rose Wilder Lane’s former home in Danbury CT is still for sale.  Some beautiful new images were recently shared by Kim Gifford of William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty.

Here is a link to the tour.  Enjoy!

‘Pioneer Girl’ tells the true story behind the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ books

Little House fans rejoice!  Laura Ingalls Wilder’s long awaited memoir, Pioneer Girl has finally been released.  And after only a few days, it has established a firm position on Amazon’s Best Seller list in the biography category.

Here’s what the Christian Science Monitor has to say:  ‘Pioneer Girl’ tells the true story behind the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ books.

Bringing “Little House” Animals to Life: A Conversation with Sharon Lewis Evans

Who was your favourite Little House on the Prairie TV show character? Was it Laura? Or Mary? Or maybe it was nasty Nellie Oleson? In answering this question, do you consider the animals as Little House characters in their own right?

I know Sharon Lewis Evans does.

Sharon and Cobber

As a professional animal trainer and wrangler, Sharon worked on NBC’s Little House on the Prairie TV series as the show’s Dog Trainer from 1976 to 1978. During this time, she was responsible for creating the memorable performances of Laura’s dog, Jack (played by Jack and Barney) and Bandit (played by Jeff). Sharon and I recently caught up to discuss her time working on the show and how she got started working in Hollywood. After more than 3 hours of chatter, laughing and sharing, it became clear that Sharon Evans is one of those people who make you feel as though you’ve known them for years, despite only having just met. After working with some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities (think Elizabeth Taylor), she would have every right to be at least a little bit hoity-toity (snip). But no, Sharon is about as grounded as you can get. Here’s what she had to say.

TCT: Was being an animal trainer something you always wanted to do?

SE: Not at first, but when I was in high school, I knew my love of animals was really strong. I loved dogs, and I especially wanted a horse, but couldn’t have one because my family lived in the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley. As you can imagine, there wasn’t enough space for horses in small residential backyards. But regardless of not being able to have a horse as a pet, I would draw pictures of them and other animals constantly and eventually became an art major in high school. I thought I might pursue a career in art or something similar. At the time, I never really knew that training animals was something a person could do professionally.

My best friend and I rode horses regularly and we even participated in a riding academy at a rental stable for a while. We rode with McClellan saddles and we had uniforms and ranks and it was sort of like being in the U.S. Calvary. We did drill work on horseback and we would perform and compete with other posts and divisions. One of the teachers at my High School was also a counselor for a camp that had a dedicated horse program. He got us job interviews at the camp and we were successful in getting work there. It was our first job after we graduated High School. We got to be Head Wranglers of the horses and kids riding program. It was like heaven for us.

TCT: How did you get your professional start in the industry?

SE: I was given a school assignment that required me to go out into the business world and find a company that “helped people”. We were to interview an employee and find out more about their work. I chose the “International Guiding Eyes” of North Hollywood and spoke with the only licensed woman trainer in the United States. On the day of my interview, the trainer was scheduled to undertake the final performance testing of two German Shepherd dogs, to see if they were suitable for working in the next class of blind students. She gave me the opportunity to participate in the testing by blindfolding me and getting me to work the two dogs. It was an amazing and exhilarating experience. While blindfolded, she gave me instructions on how to command one of the dogs, so it could lead me from North Hollywood to Burbank. She worked the other dog (while sighted) behind me and watched to see if the dog was doing the right things. Then we switched dogs and I worked the other dog (while I was blindfolded), back to the school.

At first I was very tentative about it. I didn’t want to run into anything! I found myself holding back and the trainer just told me to relax and “go with it”. She explained that I needed to trust the dog and guess what? The dogs both passed with flying colors. This meant they were ready to be matched up with a blind person in the next class at the school. After that experience, I knew that training Guide Dogs for the blind was what I wanted to do. There was never any doubt in my mind. That was the career I wanted. My intention of being a professional artist disappeared.

Unfortunately, when I came back from summer camp to apply for an apprentice position at International Guiding Eyes, the director of the school told me they were not hiring women at that time and Lee was no longer working there. I was devastated and didn’t know what I was going to do for my career. But I knew I wanted to train dogs. So, I got a job at a boarding / training kennel in Burbank, which involved some cleaning, learning how to train boarded dogs and also providing private and group training lessons in the park. I discovered from my boss about working with animals in TV and movies. That’s when knew I had found my calling to become one of the first female animal trainers in the film industry. I was not going to hear that I could not do this job and I was determined to make it happen. But no one told me it was a field dominated by men!

Frank Inn was my first boss in the film industry. He was one of the largest providers of animals in the business. I started working for him in November 1968. I paid my dues working in the kennel for a year before he finally asked me to go to the studio the next day and work with him on Petticoat Junction with Higgins, who played the character of “Dog”. Frank sponsored me as an animal trainer into the Teamsters Union Local #399 and was a great mentor for me. He owned and trained all the Benji dogs and his animals starred in many TV shows, including the Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres and My Three Sons. I became a 3rd trainer, then a 2nd trainer and finally a number 1 trainer, which meant I could be the head trainer of my own jobs and had other trainers working with me. I was one of three women in this very prestigious business. It never entered my mind that I couldn’t do it. I persevered until I was a top trainer in my field, working with wild animals, dogs, cats, livestock and even exotic birds.

TCT: Tell us about your first day on the Little House on the Prairie set.

SE: When I got the call from the owners of Jack and Barney (Peggy and Hal Driscoll), I never thought I would be asked to become the new trainer on Little House on the Prairie. I already loved the show and had been watching it for two seasons. So, of course I said a big “yes” when the opportunity presented itself.

Sharon Evans and Michael Landon

I started working on the show during Season 3 in 1976. Jack and Barney (who together played Jack) had been placed into my care prior to me starting, so when I arrived at Paramount Studios for my first day at work, I had them with me. The animals used on the show were never kept on the lot. They always went home with their trainer. I also brought my own dog, Cobber with me. The three dogs got along famously. I initially checked-in with the 1st Assistant Director, Maury Dexter – who introduced me to Michael Landon as the new trainer. What Maury didn’t know was that I had already met Michael during the couple of times I had worked on Bonanza.

My first impression of Michael Landon was that he was very funny. On Bonanza, Michael and Dan Blocker would goof off sometimes. One day, in between scenes, Michael was sleeping in a hammock and Dan tip-toed over and pushed the hammock upside down and Michael fell onto the ground with a big thump. Being awoken so suddenly, Michael sprang up on his feet and was ready to fight – but Dan was in stitches and of course, recognizing Dan’s joke, Michael cracked up, too.

Working on Little House was incredibly special. The cast and crew became like family. And although Michael Landon was my boss, he was also my friend.

TCT: Why was Jack on the TV show not a brindle bulldog, like Laura Ingalls Wilder described in her books?

Jack Little House on the Prairie

SE: I never heard it directly from Michael – because I didn’t ask him. But having been in the business for so long and knowing Michael so well – I am almost certain about the reason. You see, a brindle bulldog would not have had the “cute” look that I think Michael wanted. He was all about pulling at people’s heartstrings. It was always his intention to give the show that homey feel. This meant that Jack needed to be cute and soft and friendly looking – and I suspect this is why a shaggy dog was selected in preference to a bulldog. It was simply a friendlier look and feel. He wanted viewers to fall in love with the dog – and they did! The shaggy dog was also very popular in those days. A few TV shows of that era used them, including, “The Partridge Family” (Simone the dog) and “My Three Sons” (Tramp the dog). I worked with both Tramp and Simone on those shows.

TCT: In Season 4, Jack dies and Charles brings home a stray border collie, named Bandit. How different were the dogs to work with?

SE: That’s a really good question, because they were totally different – not only because they were different breeds, but because they were trained for entirely different purposes using different techniques.

Sharon and Bandit

Jack and Barney were specifically trained as movie dogs and were experienced working on a TV set. During the time I worked them on the TV series, they lived at home with me and as a result, I had a very close relationship with them. They always responded well to my commands and they didn’t expect treats for doing the things I asked of them. Jeff (who played Bandit) on the other hand, was completely different. He came from the Animal Actors show at Universal Studios and the commands he responded to were for routine performances. So Jeff was rewarded with treats during and after the show for performing in a routine act. After responding to a command, Jeff would look at me and wait for a food treat, which is a big no-no in film trained dogs, because the goal is to have the animal interact with the other actors, not stare off set at their trainer. So getting Jeff settled into a TV environment took some time and it was difficult at first. After a lot of rehearsing with him at Universal Studios on their western set, he and I became more of a working team by the time I had to do his first episode. Both dogs were great, though.

Of course, in real life, Laura Ingalls Wilder never owned a border collie named Bandit, and nor did she describe such a character in her Little House books. Bandit was created purely for the TV series by Michael Landon.

TCT: Do any of the cast or crew stand out in your memories?

Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon probably stand out the most in my memories.

Sharon Evans, Melissa Gilbert, Jonathan GilbertMelissa and I became really good friends. She loved animals and because I looked after the dogs and most of my scenes were with the Ingalls family, we naturally became quite close. Melissa and her brother Jonathan (who played Willie Oleson) would come out to my ranch for BBQ trail rides. I compiled some of the photos I took from those visits into a scrapbook recently, which I gave to Melissa when Little House on the Prairie – The Musical was in Sacramento.

Michael Landon also stands out to me because we worked so closely together. He and I would sit down with the scripts, when he was directing an episode, and go through the parts in detail and he would tell me what he wanted from the dogs in each scene. I enjoyed working with Michael. Even though he was funny and could play pranks and joke around sometimes, he had a very serious side to him and he knew what he wanted. We were all expected to perform at a high level.

TCT: Apart from Little House and Bonanza, what other projects have you worked on?

I’ve worked on many commercials, TV shows and movies over the years, which are too numerous to list here. In 1978, I was the first female animal trainer to ever work with Rudd Weatherwax and Lassie on the movie, “The Magic of Lassie”, which starred Mickey Rooney and Jimmy Stewart. Rudd asked me to do the cat work on that movie. I was then asked by Rudd to be his 3rd trainer for the next movie with Lassie in the pilot for a new series, “The New Beginning”.

In 1973, I was awarded the prestigious AHA Award of “Picture Animal Top Star of the Year” (PATSY), which is the animal equivalent of an OSCAR for my work with Midnight the cat on “Mannix and Barnaby Jones”. This AHA PATSY award was presented to me by Betty White, as she was hosting the show with her then husband Allen Luden. I was also the dog trainer on “Love Comes Softly”, a period drama based on one of Janette Oke’s books. Coincidently, it was directed by Michael Landon Jr. and he hired my dog Cujo to play the part of Buddy.

TCT: What are you doing now?

I live with my husband, Ron, in northern California and run Crystal Hill Ranch. We supply antique cars and trucks for weddings, parties and special events. I also provide private dog training lessons and horse riding lessons. We have one beautiful daughter, who is a hair stylist and lives away from home. At the ranch, we have 5 horses, 3 dogs, and 2 kitties. I still keep myself available for film work with animals. I was hired in 2011 as a trainer to provide cats and horses for the movie, “Hemingway & Gellhorn”, which starred Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen. A movie I did in 2006 is still in post-production, which required scenes with rats. It is called “Road to Red” and is a thriller starring Sean Gray and Chris Blasman.

I have also partnered up with a writer and have a long term plan to write a book about my 47 years of experience working in Hollywood as a trainer as well as my other animal related work. I just finished a really nice chapter for my book on my experiences working on Little House!

Speaking of Little House on the Prairie, keep a look out for several interviews with me that will be featured in upcoming special features of the newly re-mastered Blu-ray and HD DVDs that are being released.

TCT: Thank you for joining us Sharon and best of luck for your book project and your future TV and movie projects.

A Virtual Tour of Rose Wilder Lane’s former Danbury Home

Rose Wilder Lane’s former residence at 23 King Street, Danbury, Connecticut has been listed for sale.  This week, I spoke to the real estate agent and obtained the owner’s permission to share the following photographs as a virtual tour.
Rose Wilder Lane Home 1In March 1938, Rose Wilder Lane made a $2,600 down payment and secured a $900 mortgage against the property.  She wrote to Burton Rascoe (a Newsweek journalist) saying that she had purchased a “little farmhouse” on land that was complete “with old apple trees and lilacs”.  The private and tranquil property, which she wrote about so fondly and with great expectations for the future, would be the place she would call home for more than 25 years.  And by all accounts, the residence was immaculate when Rose moved in.  Perhaps that was why she inherited two cats that refused to leave with the previous owners!
1b Front of HouseDuring her period of residence in Danbury, Rose provided editorial assistance for several of her mother’s Little House® books, including By The Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years.  After Laura Ingalls Wilder’s death in 1957, Rose became the driving force behind publication of On the Way Home, which contained Laura’s original diary from the trip she made with her husband Almanzo Wilder and Rose from South Dakota to Missouri in 1894.  Apart from the work that Rose did on her mother’s novels; however, Rose’s own writing in Danbury became increasingly focused on political and social theory.
2 Rear of HouseWhen Rose purchased the property in 1938, the home was relatively small and measured a modest 23ft x 24ft.  At the time, its primary features included a large porch and an attached woodshed.  But over the next two-and-a-half decades, Rose would undertake a series of expensive renovations and attractive additions, which would see the home evolve into a much larger and enviable residence, capable of hosting a veritable who’s who of visiting writers and intellectuals, including Genevieve Parkhurst, Norma Lee Browning and Roger Lea MacBride. Today, the home features four bedrooms, four bathrooms and covers an expansive area of 3,505 square feet.
4 Lounge Room 4a Lounge Room In 1949, Rose wrote in her journal about some of her renovation accomplishments.  She noted the construction of fire places in the living room and study, and the installation of bay windows in her bedroom.  She also wrote about the construction of a new upstairs porch between her bedroom and the original lumber room (wood shed).
7 Bedroom 8 Bedroom 8 BathroomArguably, the most attractive feature of this home is the large kitchen and breakfast room, which features a unique brick floor (below).  Rose designed and coordinated its construction and the outcomes of her efforts were featured in an October 1960 edition of Woman’s Day magazine.  The article included a candid picture of Rose sitting at her table, which may have been captured without her knowledge, because she was wearing a dust-cap on her head.  That particular picture is reproduced on page 216 of William Holtz’s book, “The Ghost in the Little House” (1993). 5 Kitchen 5a Kitchen 6 Dining Room
A Danbury newspaper once reported that Rose’s library consisted of approximately 10,000 books.  This is not surprising, since Rose was a voracious reader from a very young age.  Most of her collection would have been stored in this impressive room (below), which features floor to ceiling bookshelves.9 Library
Today, the home at 23 King Street overlooks a large and immaculate garden, featuring a waterfall that cascades into a koi fish-pond. With an overall block size of 2.03 acres, Rose Wilder Lane would have found this ample to support her goal of a largely self-sufficient lifestyle, particularly during the Second World War.  In the spring of 1943, she negotiated with her neighbors to share a cow, some pigs and chickens, which no doubt became an important source of butter, cheese, eggs and ham.  She also planted a large vegetable garden and at one time had approximately 1,200 jars of home-canned food in her cellar. 3 Rear of House 12 Gardens 10 Gardens 11 Gardens 13 Gardens
The home at 23 King Street is listed by ERA Goodfellow Homes.  If you are interested in purchasing this property, the agent, Demaree Cooney can be contacted on (203) 417-0304 to arrange a viewing.  The current asking price is $450,000.