Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Literary Pilgrimage: Betsy-Tacy

Please visit this post on my new website.  You should click here to visit the entire post about our Betsy-Tacy pilgrimage.

Warning!!! This is a super long post with many photos (and, for some reason, more detail than you need about food in Minnesota).   If you are not interested in literary travel or literary obsessions of mine, please check back later this week for more great posts on Catholic books and authors.

What I mean to do here is share about a great experience our family had last weekend and point out (yet again) a great series of books for younger readers (and older readers who enjoy good reads).

Here's an assortment of some of our Betsy-Tacy books.

My family friends know how much I love Betsy-Tacy books since discovering them when our children were fairly small.  And I’ve certainly written about them here and there.  I can’t believe I didn’t know about them as a child, and I’m so glad to have discovered them for our kids (and myself!)  A good quick summary of Betsy-Tacy is that they are like the "Little House"books, but set in small-town Minnesota in the early 1900s.  Like Little House books, the series goes through the characters lives until they marry.  I like the Betsy-Tacy series even better for many, many reasons--that's saying a lot, as I dearly love the Little House books.

This summer, a highlight for book lovers will be the Betsy-Tacy convention in Minnesota.  I heard about it more than a year ago, I think perhaps on Melissa Wiley’s blog--no, actually, I think it was an interview with Melissa Wiley and Mitali Perkins on Book Club Girl’s podcast.  It was a wonderful interview and worth a listen if you like podcasts.  At the time, I resolved that we would go to the convention, get to meet other Betsy-Tacy fans, (and for our teen and tween daughters to meet other young people who love the books) and see the places that inspired many of the books.

Earlier this year, I realized an unavoidable conflict and that our family could not attend.  I wasn’t heartbroken about it until the convention information came out several months ago.  When I read through and saw what convention-goers will do and see, I was sad, sad, sad.  Like Emily of Deep Valley sad, because she couldn’t go to college like the rest of her “crowd,” until she decides to make the best of it.  And so that’s what I decided to do.

My husband and I were considering a late spring family trip, and I proposed Minneapolis.   It’s not really that far from central Illinois, which surprises us because we usually go East to visit family.  “And,” I said with a catch in my voice (he knew about my despair about the convention), “We could stop a day earlier in Mankato and see some Betsy-Tacy sights.”  He was a great sport, so I went to work.

We had an amazing time, thanks to the generosity and friendliness of so many people along the way.  We also had just about perfect weather—between 60 and 70 each day, sunny, no humidity.

The first afternoon found us in Mankato visiting Betsy’s house and Tacy’s houses.  I'm just smiling as I upload these photos because everything was so wonderful!

Here's Tacy's house.

Here is Betsy's house.

  The Betsy-Tacy Society has lovingly restored them as a museum and gift shop, respectively, and I can’t say enough about how great they are, and all the things we saw.  Mrs. Ray's brass bowl!

First editions of all the books.
Uncle Keith's trunk! (or a reasonable facsimile) This is in Betsy's house.

The bench on the Hill Street Hill!

Two lovely women were our hosts at the Betsy-Tacy Society.  Susan Orchard greeted us at Tacy’s house, and Pat Nelson gave our family a thorough tour of both houses, and all of us took pictures galore.

Susan is on the left, and Pat is in the middle.   Such great women who spent so much time with us.

As you can see from the photos, I pretty much could not stop smiling the entire time.   And I spent a ridiculously large sum of money at the gift shop, and I don’t regret it a bit.

I just love the three-dimensional signs in front of the houses.

Later (because we needed an ice cream break first), we saw Tib’s house (just around the corner and down a block or two), which is, in fact, chocolate-colored, on a beautiful tree-lined street, and has a plaque on the door reading, “Tib’s house.”

 On the way downtown, we also saw Lincoln Park, marking the boundary of Betsy’ neighborhood,which I had always thought was much bigger, but it’s just a little triangle in the middle of a couple of streets.

We also stopped into the Carnegie Library (now the Carnegie Art Center) Maud  (and Betsy) would have visited (Betsy for the first time by herself in Betsy & Tacy Go Downtown.

Fortunately, we were there on a Thursday early evening, and the Carnegie Art Center is only open Thursday evening and Friday morning.  I so regret not taking a photo of (Julie? I can’t recall with certainty her first name) Hughes, one of the Art Center staff, who gave us a mini-tour of the library, pointed out the children’s room (and the cloak room, pictured below, where Betsy would have hung her wraps when she went to the library by herself. )

 Ms. Hughes, our own Miss Sparrow, was delightful in every way and even told us about the art that the young B-T fans will create during the convention.  I won’t give it away, but it’s related to the Carnegie Library. 

We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Mankato, and it was a great location as well as newly renovated.  We were going to eat at Number Four, a downtown restaurant recommended by several people along the way, but when we heard a Lebanese chef ran Olives, the hotel restaurant, and it also was very good, we gave it a try.  It was packed, and it was one of those rare meals in which everything was unbelievably delicious, starting with the bowls of olives and crusty bread brought at the beginning of our meal.

On Friday morning, I woke up much earlier than the rest of the family, and decided to do my own (jogging) tour of the sights one more time.  I did my own backwards "Betsy & Tacy Go Downtown" tour, starting at the Carnegie Library just a few blocks from the hotel, then along the streets to Lincoln Park, then up the hill to Besty's &Tacy’s houses one more time.  I went past the bench one last time:

I decided to try to go “over” the Big Hill.  I went up a street called Summerhill,  now a subdivision a series of nicer houses from the 50s or so.

This would have been perhaps where "the Elkstroms" house might have been, but no longer is.  I couldn’t see the Valley, or “Little Syria,” on the other side--trees block the view this time of year-- but it was nice to get to the top.  Then I headed back down to go past Tib’s house one last time, and then along some of the older streets.

Before heading back to the hotel, I went to an early Mass at Saints Peter & Paul Church, an historic church just a mile or so from Betsy’s neighborhood.  Probably "Tacy"’s family(Bick in real life), who was Catholic, attended  the St. John the Baptist parish, a little closer to their neighborhood, but that church was newer (the old one had been torn down), and the Mass time at Ss. Peter & Paul was more convenient for me.   It is a lovely church, and I imagine Maud (or certainly Bick) might have been in the church for weddings or other events.

We packed up and headed to Minneapolis, where local historian Kathy Kuhlberg took us on a terrific walking tour of the Lowry Hill neighborhood, where Maud and her family lived when they moved to Minneapolis, and houses depicted in Betsy’s Wedding.    I had connected with Kathy through the local newspaper in the Lowry Hill neighborhood, but it turns out there are links to articles she has written on the Betsy-Tacy convention page--even more reading for me!

Here's Kathy with her first edition of Betsy's Wedding.  Kathy was preparing for a tour later this month to a local historical group, so she told us we were her "test group," but she's a pro as she has given tours to the Betsy-Tacy Society and Maud Hart Lovelace Society during previous conventions.  She was an amazing source of information about the Harts, the Lovelaces and just general Minneapolis history.

Here's a plaque showing the location of the house that the Hart family (the Rays in the books) lived when they moved to Minneapolis after Mankato. It's now part of a park.  Kathy was instrumental in getting the plaque placed; you can see a photo of the original house on the plaque.

We also saw many, many other places Maud and family members lived.  One of my favorites was the "Bow Street" apartment, the newlywed nest of Betsy & Joe from Betsy's Wedding.  In fact, it's on Aldrich Avenue, and was the first apartment of Maud and Delos Lovelace.

Notice in this photo I'm clutching onto Kathy's copy of the exceedingly rare Betsy-Tacy Companion, but I did give it back.  Eventually.

I hate to keep pointing out restaurants here, but we ate so well in Minnesota that I simply must.  After our tour with Kathy, we ate at The French Meadow Bakery.  The menu was too big, and yet everything we ordered was flawless.   One funny story from here, and please don’t let it dissuade you from eating there--I'm already planning my next meal at this great place.  Also, please don’t think that I have anything against vegans or vegan food.

After our meal (I had a terrific--it may have even been vegan!--black bean chili, and sampled everyone else's choices) , we decided to order a few desserts to share.  I initially ordered a raspberry-chocolate bar.  As the clerk was putting our treats in to-go boxes, our nine-year-old son asked, “What does vegan mean?” So I explained that vegan is without any animals products at all, and for desserts that might not be quite  as good because there is no butter.  Then I realized, with alarm, that not only did the raspberry-chocolate bar say “vegan”  but “sugar-free.”  (I hadn’t noticed either label).

“What’s the sweetener in that?”  I asked the clerk, thinking it might be stevia or agave nectar, so then I might still like it. She said, “Its’ just the natural sweetness of the raspberries, and it goes really well with the carob.”  My eyebrows shot up.  “Carob? It says chocolate here on this side of the case.”  “Oh, no, it’s raspberry carob.”  So I quickly chose a same-priced lemon square instead to substitute, which seemed to bother her greatly.  “It’s really great, I just want to tell you. You’re missing out.”  And I just nodded and smiled.

 After we left, our nine-year-old asked what that was all about.  And I said, “That poor girl had no taste buds.”  Now, before all the many vegans who read my blog get all up in arms, let me say that some of my favorite foods are vegan, but not too many sweets.  I do make a great vegan pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, and an even better gluten-free version of said muffins.  Having said that,  in general vegan is best for savory foods, and sugar-free is nigh impossible to do well in sweet baked goods, vegan or not.  Finally, carob as a food is an offense against the Lord your God, people.  I’m quite sure He didn’t intend for us to eat it, especially when we know how good chocolate is for us, and how good it tastes.

Now, doesn’t this look better than a vegan, sugar-free, raspberry-carob bar?  And it tasted just as good as it looked.

Back to Betsy-Tacy. We were so grateful that Kathy Kuhlberg recommended we go to the Streetcar Museum, where she also volunteers.  It's not just a museum--you get to ride the streetcar on a round trip.  The eyes of the men in our family grew wide—trains!—and we did that the next day.  Wonderful.

We are already starting a list for our next trip to Minnesota.  We did so much--just to name a few:  we attended a beautiful Sunday liturgy at St. Olaf’s Church in downtown Minneapolis, saw Minnehaha Falls and also the Mill City Museum, made an excursion to Loome Booksellers, a Twins game, and ate more great food (that seems to be a theme here, but we are Italian, after all).   But there's so much more we want to do and see.  And oh!  I connected with another woman in Minneapolis who actually met Maud Hart Lovelace and I’m just thrilled and hope I can meet her on a future trip. 

After all the fun and all the Betsy-Tacy we packed into our long weekend, I confess that I am still pretty sad that I won’t be able to be at the Betsy-Tacy convention in July.  But now that I’ve seen many of the places, and know some of the wonderful things convention-goers will be doing, I will be able to follow along a little more happily as people share about the convention and all the fun they are having.  I’m also now an official member of the Betsy-Tacy Society, so perhaps I will get more involved over there to indulge my love of this great author and the groups there. If you are interested in going to the convention, I predict you will have a great time.  And do keep me posted!


  1. Fabulous post! I felt I was in Deep Valley with you. I am sorry you won't be at the convention but there is always another. Come to Boston and I will take you and your family to Orchard House and Walden Pond and the Diamond in the Window house, although Mankato is actually more fun.

  2. Field trip to Massachusetts sounds terrific! Our kids have never been there. I actually have "The Diamond in the Window" from the library right now but I've never read it--can't recall where I discovered it--and I'm not sure if any of the kids picked it up yet.

    Mankato was really great, because you could imagine Deep Valley so much, even with all the newness.

    Have you seen the graphic novel version of Walden's Pond? It's really well done-words directly from original.

  3. What fun! Your post made me smile in delight. You did just about everything a Betsy-Tacy fan (and I am a lifelong fan!) would want to do -- even the Lake Harriet streetcar! next time you'll have to ride the "streetcar boat" on Lake Minnetonka (mentioned in Betsy's Wedding). Since I live near Betsy-Tacy Mecca, I am always interested to hear what people liked (or didn't like) about their trip so that I can gather recommendations for other out-of-town friends coming for a visit.

    1. Yes, I've already started a list of new B-T places to visit on future trips.

  4. Thank you for this fabulous post! I so enjoyed your pictures and descriptions of "Deep Valley." I won't be able to make it to the convention, so I'm living vicariously.

    Also, ha... carob! My mom got me a carob Easter bunny one year when I was little. Needless to say, she went running out for a real chocolate one shortly after I took a bite. And carob was never seen in our house again. :)

    1. Maybe we can plan to be at the next one together?

      Truly, I can't believe that carob is still sold. I remember it being around in the 1970s but honestly ...

  5. Oh, Nancy! I won't be able to go to the convention either, but I have been to two in the past. You are truly a kindred spirit! (Sorry to mix literary references there.:)) Do you know about Maud-L, the Maud Hart Lovelace email discussion list? You would love it!

    1. Jan, We are kindred spirits! I think I might need to post photos next of our (even briefer) literary pilgrimage to Prince Edward Island several years back, and my strong love of LMM. It was wedged into a work trip for my husband, and we had a beautiful day there. Would love to go back there!

      Thanks for the list recommendation--I am realizing now the lists and things and I need to get on them to enjoy the company of other book lovers.

  6. What a *wonderful* post! It brought me right back to my own first time seeing Mankato -- and you captured two of my most moving moments: seeing the Carnegie library and Uncle Keith's trunk!!! And I'm very impressed that you climbed the Big Hill without mentioning that you huffed and puffed like the Big Bad Wolf by the time you reached the top, which was my own experience -- that is a BIG HILL. I want to tag along with you and Constance on the Massachusetts field trip!

    -Jen in Arlington, Mass.

    1. I'm starting a list for Massachusetts already with such gracious hostesses!!!!! Re: the big hill, true confession: I was pretty much walking up the hill. It's a climb, and while I truly love running for health and well-being, I detest hills.

  7. What a wonderful trip. I enjoyed every word about your amazing BT pilgrimage and totally agree with you about an unsweetened raspberry carob bar's lack of appeal!

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed our BT pilgrimage. I had fun being there, and almost more fun writing about it and getting everyone's feedback. And oh, yes, I'm still feeling a little forlorn about the poor clerk without taste buds. :-) I'm also dreaming up recipes of good-tasting chocolate-raspberry bars.

  8. Thank you for sharing! A literary trip is a great idea. We've thought about taking a Mark Twain trip but haven't managed it....yet. And now I'm thinking you should follow your trip with a journey to Prince Edward Island.....

  9. Cilla, we actually were there on a whirlwind afternoon trip several years back. The popularity of this post makes me think that I need to start a category called, "Literary Pilgrimages" and then post places we've been, then also go to places and write about it!

  10. Thank you so much for this account of your trip (and for Constance for tweeting it!). How wonderful it all looks. I'm in London and my daughter and I are planning to go next weekend to look at the road where Betsy stayed in 1914 - can't really hope the house will be left!

  11. I'm so happy you had such a good experience in Greater Mankato! Hopefully next year you will be able to attend the convention!

    1. Christine, Mankato was lovely, and I look forward to our next visit! Do you know if there is a B-T convention in 2013? I thought they were every other year or so. Do keep me posted!