It all started 27 years ago with a tiny jar of crumbled plaster.
Since that time, Kevin Andrews of Malone has meticulously collected thousands of items ranging from cellar dirt to an estimated $900 lunch pail and thermos — all in some way related to the books written by famed author Laura Ingalls Wilder and particularly Farmer Boy, the story of her husband Almanzo Wilders childhood memories of Burke farm life in the 1860s.
Andrews, a local native and former radio announcer, grew up hearing about the Wilder homestead located just outside the village of Malone, now a historical site. But it wasnt until he was 27 years old and met Almanzos cousin, Dorothy Smith, that his self-described obsession with all things Wilder was ignited.
Smith, who founded the Almanzo & Laura Ingalls Wilder Association, gave Andrews a small jar of plaster bits original to the Wilder house. Over the next 13 years, he amassed 109 of these jars, each containing a sample of something mentioned in Farmer Boy, be it dirt from the houses cellar, square nails from the original construction or a piece of wood from the workroom. He houses them in a custom-made cabinet that is at the center of a room-sized shelving unit packed with memorabilia.
He estimates he has about $20,000 worth of items, including all the Ingalls Wilder books about her pioneer life in the Midwest during the late 1800s (several in foreign languages), hundreds of books by other authors about the Wilders, board games, mugs, postcards, autographed photos of Little House on the Prairie cast members, a copy of the original handwritten manuscript of Farmer Boy, and a 100-pound, 1,000-page scrapbook of everything hes ever come across that references the Wilders, old Malone and Burke.
Some of the rarest items include the lunch pail, a childs Halloween costume of Laura Ingalls and Little House on the Prairie paper dolls.
Its my compulsive disorder, as my mom says, he joked. Im proud to be from the setting of the book, Malone, and I love local history.
Many of the items were purchased at garage sales or on eBay. If I go on eBay and buy a book, I write a little note (to the seller) telling them where their piece of memorabilia went to — Malone, he said. They get excited to know its eventually going to go to the Wilder farm.
Andrews can tell you anything you might ever want to know about the family. He has visited other locations where they lived over the years, met and interviewed relatives and friends, kept in email contact with other collectors, and has served as a board member of the Wilder Association. He has even met stars of the TV series.
Hes a little shy about sharing his vast knowledge with big groups of people at conventions and other events, although he occasionally brings his scrapbook to the Wilder house and lets visitors comb through the pages.
Eventually, Andrews says he plans to donate the collection to the Wilder Association. I dont want it falling into the wrong hands and all separated, he said.
He and his son have talked about writing their own book about Almanzo, filled with carefully researched details about his life and times.
He would also like to become president of the Wilder Association and put some of his ideas into action. He thinks a pageant or a play based on the book would be a good idea. I would like to see it recognized more in the community, he said.
The Wilder Homestead, at 177 Stacy Road in Burke, will host an artillery training session for the Adirondack Regiment of Civil War Re-enactors April 26 and 27. The site will open for the summer season May 24.