The American Eagle plane touched down in Springfield, MO, a perfect Saturday morning for flying, we met outside security, to connect with my long-time gal pal, Trisha. We picked up my pink overnight bag, and immediately headed down Hi-Way 60 and across 65 to Mansfield, MO, to the site of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum.
We purchased tickets for the museum as well as tours of the old white farmhouse and the Rock House, a Sears’ plan called “the Mitchell”, both locations where Laura wrote many of the Little House on the Prairie books. Those of us of a certain age growing up in the Midwest remember these books depicting rural life in our neck of the woods — I own the nine volume set myself — as some of the first books we loved to read and reread during our elementary school days. I would read one book in a setting. The Rocky Ridge Farm is picturesque with lots of old hardwood trees and rolling pastures; however, the apple orchard described in her books didn’t make it through the dust bowl era. The museum is new as is the welcome center and of course, they have a great gift shop full of memorabilia, books written by both Laura and her equally talented daughter, Rose.
After the tour, we trekked on down the road to discover our next great female figure in the literary arts from these parts. Her name is Rose O’Neill and her homestead, named Bonniebrook, located near Branson, originally built-in stages beginning in 1898, later painstakingly reconstructed from old photos and interviews with family and from the fading memories of prior visitors. The original home burned to the ground in 1947, long after Rose’s death. The replica home, complete with Rose’s studio on third floor, is now open for tours (closes at 3 p.m. so plan accordingly) as well as offering a gift shop and small museum featuring the artist’s illustrations and paintings. Rose O’Neill is most famous for the creation of the Kewpie but I quickly learned that she was a pioneering female illustrator, poet, novelist and activist
The Kewpie museum is a testament to the marketing genius of Rose O’Neill. The museum houses antique Kewpie ephemera of O’Neill’s era. From dolls to door knockers, you will see hundreds of Kewpie items that were sold during the Kewpie boom which swept the world in the early 20th Century. But of most interest to me were her sketches from greek mythology including fairies, giants and trolls. Rose wore long flowing velvet caftans to avoid wearing a corset (which she found so disadvantageous to women) and surrounded herself with artists of all types, many not as talented as Rose but she never turned anyone away.
The best quote I read of hers was that she said she was often asked by other artists to critique their work, and she avoided any comments as she said “it was too cruel to crush a kitten.” Her unconditional love of family and friends and the Depression resulted in her losing all of her money and ending up poor again and her beloved Bonniebrook crumbling around her, unable to pay for basic repairs.
That early summer evening, after driving back to Springfield, exhausted from the day of traveling, sightseeing, reflection and me, a little bleary-eyed from a cough and congestion, we opted for conversation on the porch, a glass of Merlot and to bed by 9 p.m.
The next day, we ate a healthy, fresh, breakfast at First Watch. If you haven’t checked out this place for breakfast it is always consistently good and fresh. I opted for the Eggs Benedict Florentine and my friend selected steel oats with fresh fruit and a blueberry muffin. This fortified us for several hours of touring the Springfield Art Museum which is free to the public and sits next to a pretty park for picnicking if you like. We toured the temporary exhibit featuring more of Rose’s work called: Frolic of the Mind: The Illustrious Life of Rose O’Neill
From the curator: This exhibit takes as its underlying theme the unification of all of O’Neill’s creative pursuits and examines how they each were related, one to the other, from her hundreds of illustrations for the major periodicals of the day to her many illustrated advertisements, from her creation of the Kewpie doll to her more secretive “Sweet Monster” drawings. Each of these are rooted in the singular mind of Rose O’Neill – a woman who created a life on her own terms with sheer will, determination and creative talent. The ability to pursue all of her interests, in spite of the strict social rules placed upon women at the turn of the century, is perhaps the most fascinating story of them all. Rose O’Neill, the twice-divorced suffragist lived a life unbound, an iconoclast, and a rebel among reformers – yet she was beloved by nearly all who knew her.
Trisha hosted an intimate cocktail party that evening in her home to introduce me to some of her Springfield girlfriends — which I all quite adored. Of course, several were fellow Kansans and Texans so what’s not to love. The shrimp cocktail and wine pairings were sublime.
The final morning of my long week-end in Mizzou was spent at the Wonders of the Wild, a brain child of the founder of Cabela’s, headquartered in Springfield. My friends are volunteers and spend Monday’s shepherding guests through the indoor swamp area and around massive salt water tanks including a look at a shy octopus and beautiful coral. Trisha is dubbed the Octopus Lady by many returning guests for her knowledge of all facts — octopus-related. If you love aquariums, you don’t want to miss this one.
My short flight back on Monday was on time and I was back in the Fort by 6 p.m. Even though I was fighting a bad cold, this trip was memorable in that I learned more about our history, our marine environment and the importance of staying connected to friends, both old and new.
Thank you to my Springfield hosts, Trisha (the octopus lady) and Mike. I also appreciated all of the resilient women I learned about, from Laura Ingalls Wilder who published her first book at 65, to Rose O’Neill who grew up poor in Nebraska but at 13 won her first prize for her drawing talents and brought her family out of poverty to Bonneville, to the ladies of Springfield who shared their life journey’s with me over wine, and to my dear friends Trisha and Mike, the most resilient of all.
“My scars remind me that I did indeed survive my deepest wounds. That in itself is an accomplishment. And they bring to mind something else, too. They remind me that the damage life has inflicted on me has, in many places, left me stronger and more resilient. What hurt me in the past has actually made me better equipped to face the present.” -Steve Goodier