In 1988, our family was traveling from Maine to Oklahoma. We drove in a relaxed manner, meandering about, looking for things that might be interesting to our kids. Near Mansfield, Missouri, we saw a sign that said Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. How could we not turn in the direction the sign pointed?

My wife had read the Little House books to our children, so we were all familiar with Laura and Almanzo. We knew about his childhood in upstate New York, and about hers in a number of places that the Ingalls family had lived. We knew how the two of them met and how they fell in love. We knew much about their life together. In the museum, we were astounded to see so many familiar possessions of theirs.

Glass cases were filled with objects from their lives. Almanzo’s tools and clothes, Laura’s needlework, and letters she had written. There was the wooden lap desk Almanzo had made for her. There were dishes they’d eaten from, photos that had hung on their walls, and many other interesting items.

And there was Pa’s fiddle. That is, the fiddle that Laura’s father, Charles Ingalls, had played. I stood in front of the protective glass window and stared at it for a long time.

Pa’s fiddle-playing appears in almost every Little House book. Here, for example, are three short paragraphs from Little House in the Big Woods.

“When the fiddle had stopped singing, Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?”


“They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.”

But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods.

In the nine-book series, 127 songs are mentioned, most of them played by Pa. In good times and bad, his fiddle music helped sustain his family’s spirits. A few of the songs from the books include: Irish Washerwoman, Pop! Goes the Weasel, Old Dan Tucker, The Girl I Left Behind Me, Sweet By and By, and The Big Sunflower.

His fiddle is a quality instrument. Inside it are the words “Amati, Nicolana, Cremonensia,” a reference to the great violin maker Nicolò Amati of Cremonia, Italy (1596 – 1684). The fiddle, made in Germany sometime in the mid-1800s, was probably based on Amanti’s design, which would account for its sweet, yet powerful sound.

I know how it sounds because there is a video on YouTube from 2008 of someone playing it. Under the video, it says, “‘Sweet By and By’ is played on Pa’s Fiddle at Laura Ingalls Wilder Days in Mansfield, MO. Pa’s fiddle is taken out of its display case in the museum one time a year, tuned, and played for visitors.”

I don’t know if that still happens, but in the video, it was haunting (in a good way) to not only hear a tune that Laura’s Pa had played, but hear it performed on the very same fiddle.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: