It's a lovely old house with many original artifacts belonging to Sterling and his family - displayed with an emphasis on the year 1918 - when Rascal took place (Rascal was a pet raccoon he had when he was a boy of 12 - during World War I). At that time, his older siblings had all left home - including an older brother who was fighting in the war. The house is a charming late 1800s - though the restoration has left it in better shape than most others to be found in abundance in southeastern Wisconsin (we used to live in a similar, though much smaller house - the very definition of a "fixer-upper"!). Highlights of the tour (self-guided and no ropes or blocked doors!) included:
- his old typewriter
- his brother's World War I uniform
- his childhood bedroom, including a number of interesting toys - like an early erector set!
- products from Japan based on their Rascal animated TV show (these included, no kidding, soaps and shampoos, little desk items - inscribed with the phrase "Rascal is very happy with everything" and a package of toilet paper)
- Sterling North's still-intact carving on the outside of the barn that reads "Damn Kaiser Bill"
The house is only open on Sunday afternoons, but we happened to be there the day of the Sterling North Society Tour of Homes. This included a video presentation on Sterling North at the recently renovated 1906 library (though I spent most of my time in the children's section as only the oldest two kiddos were interested in the movie). It was probably the nicest children's library I've ever seen, even though some of the decor was a bit tacky. There was plenty of space, suitable and comfortable carpeting and furnishings, coloring things and toys for the little ones (though I think noisy electronic toys - there were just a few - are a really bad idea in a library) box-like racks for the picture books (so much easier for children to see the covers and push books back and forth) and - perhaps most appealing of all to our family - a lovely non-fiction children's section filled with interesting picture books - many displayed so you could see their covers. We cried the day they took the children's nonfiction from our local library and mixed them all into the adult non-fiction.
Though it was raining, so we couldn't play on the playground at Racetrack Park, we did manage to dip our toes in Lake Koshkonong.
I also discovered an interesting book for our Wisconsin history studies: On Location: Settings from Famous Children's Books #1 by Joanne Kelly. This covers Pepin Wisconsin (Little House in the Big Woods), a book from Illinois called On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer (I'm not familiar with this one), Dunnville, Wisconsin (Caddie Woodlawn), Edgerton, Wisconsin (of course) and Jasper County, Illinois (Across Five Aprils). The book has all kinds of maps, photos, related reading lists and interesting details about each book and its setting. Fun!
On a final note, I was interested to hear (in the small part of the movie on Sterling North I was able to see) that he was exceptionally good at memorizing poetry when he was a child and the narrator, at least, saw this as a great boon to his writing.