The Monster of Walnut Grove

All Work and No Play Makes Nels a Dull Boy; or

Sworded Scheme

(a recap by Will Kaiser)

Title: The Monster of Walnut Grove

Airdate: November 1, 1976

Written by John Hawkins

Directed by William F. Claxton

SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: A Halloween special! Nels loses his marbles and Mrs. Oleson loses her head in this horror-comedy (one of the rarest Little House subgenres).

RECAP: I got a new job recently, so sorry my posting pace has slowed somewhat. I’ll keep up with this project as best I can; it’s probably good to slow things down a bit anyways, though, since Dagny pointed out a few weeks ago that I was going a bit Jack Torrance with Walnut Groovy myself.

Quite preposterous, of course, but never mind. Well, following “Little Girl Lost,” Little House took the week off. I thought maybe this had something to do with the 1976 Presidential election in the U.S., but in fact, it appears that on Monday, October 25th, NBC actually aired a three-hour (!) TV movie about Amelia Earhart, starring Susan Clark (“Ma’am” from Webster).

I’d watch that

Little House returned the day after Halloween with this very memorable episode. Before we begin, I will say I’m pretty sure I didn’t see this one on its initial broadcast, since I wasn’t yet two years old at the time. 

But I know I must have seen it at a very young age in syndication, because it TERRIFIED ME SO MUCH I NEVER WATCHED IT AGAIN TILL I WAS AN ADULT.

Seriously. It’s probably clear to regular readers of this blog that our family likes horror films and the scary stuff generally.

Well, I should say we’re all at different points on the horror spectrum as individuals. In our house, the order goes Dagny, then Alexander, Olive, Amelia, Roman, and finally me representing everything between “I’ll only watch a horror film if it won an Oscar” and “let’s get the kids Dr. Loomis shirts for Christmas this year.”

But it may be more surprising to you that until I was about fourteen, I was petrified of anything scarier than The Creature From the Black Lagoon. 

“The Monster of Walnut Grove,” or the first half of it anyway, definitely fit that description for me at the time. I say the first half, because I don’t know if I ever made it past the stagecoach scene without fleeing the room screaming. 

And I’m pretty sure that if I ever had a chance to see “The Monster of Walnut Grove” again in later years, I took a pass. The first time I saw it as an adult was when our family did our first (very incomplete) survey of the series a couple years ago. 

Well, my memories of “Monster” as a mind-blowingly horrific tale, so scary I couldn’t believe such things were allowed on television, turned out to be pretty garbled. Perhaps sadly, it wasn’t quite as terrifying as I remembered. 

But it’s still pretty good! I’ve been looking forward to this one, so let’s do it. (By coincidence, we watched it on a dark and stormy night.)

We open with David Rose and His Sinister Cello Section oozing over a shot of the Little House at night.

Suddenly there’s a shock cut to a horrifying jack-o’-lantern looking out the Ing-Gals’ window! 

Meanwhile, David hammers a xylophone, adding to the chills. (A reference to Camille Saint-Saëns using the instrument to suggest skeletons? I think we can say yes.)

This particular jack-o’-lantern is simply, and (if I may say so) elegantly, carved. It’s one of those things that’s scary because it’s so simple and pure, like the pumpkin at the beginning of Halloween.

Landon wielded the knife himself, no doubt

Now, over the xylophone, a toy piano (Granville’s???) comes in with a creepy “children’s song” melody.

WILL: This music is right out of Nightmare on Elm Street. Obviously that was Wes Craven’s tribute to Little House on the Prairie.

AMELIA: Michael Landon should have sued for royalties.

The tune itself, incidentally, bears more than a little resemblance to the song “Bonnie Charlie,” perhaps better known to you as “Will Ye No Come Back Again?”

Or perhaps not

The scary score swells to a climax, and then suddenly the cellos come in alone with the Little House theme – gently, and out of nowhere.

David Rose, dark genius

The music goes scary again almost at once, and, confirming this is going to be a terror-inducing story, David invites the slide whistle in. (He’s used the slide whistle in every scary scene on this show so far.)

Slide whistle moments past

By the way, this one was written by one of them Hawkins boys, Fat John.

Claxton is back as director.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, it seems Americans DID carve jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween as early as about the 1830s. We’ll go through the traditions in this episode as we encounter them, but I’ll say up front that the Nineteenth-Century Halloween we see in this story seems to have been researched, at least to a certain extent.

Art by L.W. Atwater (1867)

Anyways, to get on with the story, well, the camera stops peeping at the pumpkin and drops down to the first floor, where Laura is reading “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (published 1819) to Carrie.  

DAGNY: I’ve always liked this as a scary story.

WILL: Me too. Stands up.

OLIVE: Laura’s got her hair down for once. Looks great.

DAGNY: I think so too.

Art by Mike Henderson and AdamGuzowski

Carrie is not really listening, and eventually she interrupts, slurping, “I wanna go with you and Mary.”

It’s Halloween night, and Carrie is begging to join her sisters’ fun activities. Laura says she can’t. (Rather understandably, after what happened last week!)

Many characterize this as the first Little House Halloween special, though I’d say you could also give that title to “Haunted House,” the horror-themed episode that aired in October of 1975.

Personal favorite of mine

Laura continues with the story.

DAGNY: Carrie’s at her best here.

Then, in a very unusual shot filmed, apparently, from Carrie’s bed, we see Pa is sitting at the table smokin’ and readin’. Ma brings him coffee, of course.

Mary’s huffing and pacing, waiting for Laura to finish.

DAGNY: Of course Mary has no patience for this. We’re three seconds in and she’s already rolled her eyes.

Huffing, pacing, eye-rolling Mary

Eventually they reach the climax of the tale. Carrie’s in the mood for Q&A after the story, but Laura stomps her heart to dust and tells her to go to sleep.

Mary and Laura get ready to go out, and Pa tells them to have fun doing their Halloween stuff. He says curfew is 9:30, and they’ll have no trouble guessing the time, because “you’ve got a clock right in the sky – it’s a full moon tonight.”

Okay. So, the previous two stories were pretty clearly set in 1881, and until this point, I was assuming we had now reached October 31st of that same year (in the “B” timeline, which you’ll recall diverged from the original “A” timeline in “Centennial” last season). 

But of course, today you can look up the lunar cycles of every year in history, and in fact, between 1870 and 1890 the only year there was a full moon on Halloween was 1887. 

So . . . can it really be 1887? I’d say probably not; after all, can YOU imagine six years passing without a single noteworthy incident in the Little House universe?

But is there an alternative explanation? Well, it’s also possible Pa is mistaken about the moon being full, though this too seems unlikely, as surely he surely reads his Farmer’s Almanac cover to cover. 

However, maybe he means the moon is just nearly full? Well, even if he does, it doesn’t really help. Because the only other years in our 1870-1890 window when the full moon was close enough to Halloween to make this mistake would be 1876 or 1879 – both of which are impossibly early, since you’ll remember the framed picture Nellie destroys in her bedroom is dated 1880.

Previously on Little House

I’m afraid this leaves us no choice but to go back to our time-rift theory. And indeed, when you think about it, it does make sense, because in “Centennial” Walnut Grove traveled all the way back to 1876 after making it into 1882 and possibly 1883. 

Previously on Little House

Clearly, the only explanation, for the moment anyways, is that this particular rift is actually a sort of pothole in time that sends this community tumbling back to 1876 every time. Will it happen again? We shall see.

In the meantime, I fear I have no choice but to declare this episode the first story of a brand-new timeline. That’s right, reader – this story, I conclude, is set in 1876 of the C timeline.

Moving on, the Ing-Gals depart, taking a bar of soap with them.

Once they’ve gone, Caroline tut-tuts Charles for encouraging the kids to soap the Mercantile’s windows, but Charles says practical Nels is on board with the plan, November 1st apparently being his preferred day for window washing every year.

Carrie starts slurping that she can’t sleep because of the scary stories, and Ma goes in to shut her up.

Carrie says she’s afraid of her own feet moving under the covers.

OLIVE: Har har.

DAGNY: Yeah, I take back what I just said about Carrie.

AMELIA [as MA]: “There’s no reason to be afraid of feet. I sell pictures of mine online.”

WILL: Oh my God, what’s wrong with you.

“I call it onlyfans.com/ComeWorshipMaFeet.”

Carrie tries to sleep again, but Jack scares her. It’s a funny scene (note: the Kaiser Gals disagree), but there’s really no point describing it.

Mary and Laura arrive at the Mercantile but find that two other kids (Nondescript Helen and Not-Carl Sanderson, unless I’m wrong) have already soaped it up.

You may wonder why the kids aren’t in costume. But apparently in America, wearing costumes and asking neighbors for treats didn’t begin as a custom until the 1910s, and didn’t really take off in common practice until a decade or two after that. (In fact, neither did playing pranks on Halloween, though in Scotland and Ireland they did all that, and more, much earlier.)

Early trick-or-treaters (date unknown, but it ain’t the 1870s)

Laura sneaks into the yard in search of unsoaped windows. She hears Mrs. Oleson within, complaining loudly about how Nels told her they didn’t have enough money for her to go on a trip, then made some stupid purchases of his own.

Laura peeks in and sees Nels standing next to a dark-haired woman, apparently Mrs. O, seated in a chair with her back to the camera. 

Nels is polishing a metal shield of some sort, which seems odd. It’s decorated with a stag, or something.

Mrs. Oleson seems to be accusing Nels of spending money on another woman. 

Then she complains about his having purchased a sword. 

Nels produces this weapon, which he declares is made of “the finest Toledo steel” (Toledo, Spain, not Toledo, Ohio), and starts waving it around. I like swords myself, and we have a few in the house, though they’re (mostly) fakes.

True Toledo swords

Nels adds that the sword is “from my family coat of arms.” I know nothing about heraldry, but it does seem the Swedish Ol(e)sons had a different crest than the Norwegian Ol(e)SENs. (Corrections welcome, since the free internet is pretty unhelpful, and I’m not going to spend good money to learn about the heraldic iconography of fictional characters. Even I draw the line somewhere.)

Online, both versions are claimed by various people using various spellings, but since it seems the crest featuring a sword is the Swedish version, I think we can deduce Nels’s ancestors were Swedes.

The real-life Olesons, of course, were Owenses, and so presumably not Scandinavian at all, but who cares about them.

Anyways, Nels gets pissed when Harriet suggests the sword is made of tin, so he cuts off her head.

You heard me right

Laura rushes from the window in horror.

Now, of course, we grown-ups in the audience know it wasn’t Mrs. Oleson we just saw decapitated. The figure in the chair moved not at all during the conversation, despite Harriet’s whoops and gasps being a bit more theatrical than usual. (I said a bit!)

The whole misdirection with “Mrs. Oleson” in the chair is clearly influenced by Psycho; there are a number of subtle nods to classic horror stories and films in this one. (I love the Little House production team. There should have been an army of nerds cataloging all this stuff before me, but if there was, I missed it somehow.) 

Anyways, we also know it wasn’t a real person because there’s no blood spray. If he really did it, it would make an awful mess, obviously. (Which Laura should know, because, of course, chickens.)

There’s an episode of Forensic Files where a man kills a woman with a sword, then tries to pass off the stains on the mattress as menstrual blood, and cover up the ones on the walls and ceiling with Wite-Out. Awful case; he didn’t get away with it, shockingly.

Michelle Steele was not fooled

The episode is called “Sworded Scheme,” if anybody wants to look it up. (The Forensic Files episode titles are as bad as the ones I make up for these recaps.)

Anyways, back to the story. In her haste, Laura knocks a flowerpot off the railing as she runs away. (Unless it was a dead leftover, you wouldn’t find any flowers, potted or otherwise, outdoors at the end of October in Minnesota.)

Nels rushes out, still bearing the sword. Finding Laura, he says in a sinister fashion, “I expect you saw what just happened.” 

“Kind of,” says Laura. I love Melissa Gilbert, but she doesn’t seem terribly frightened during this episode. In fact, she kind of looks like she’s going to laugh here.

Kind of

Nels makes some more creepy comments, then asks Laura not to tell anyone what he’s done. It isn’t clear if he’s actually trying to scare Laura at this point. I think he probably is, since his abstracted manner and vague statements don’t really make sense otherwise.

Laura says she won’t tell, and starts to add “Cross my heart and hope to die” before thinking better of it. (According to Dictionary.com, this expression wasn’t around until 1908, though.)

Laura grabs Mary and off they run.

Inside, we see Mrs. Oleson is still very much alive, and that it’s a dressmaker’s dummy Nels “killed.” Apparently Nels decided to buy said dummy, which he has now destroyed with his new sword. No, I don’t believe it either, but whatever, it’s a comedy.

Nels, who from the way he’s behaving might be hopped up on something, continues to act weird and swish his sword around. But in the end he gives Harriet his blessing to make her out-of-town trip, which apparently will be to visit her mother. (In Terra Haute?)

The Ing-Gals rush home through a windswept woods.

WILL: Don’t fall in the mine.

On the way home, Laura tells Mary the whole story, but Mary doesn’t believe her, mainly because Nels is too much of a milquetoast to murder anyone.

It’s a fair point

On the soundtrack, owls hoot and wolves howl. (Wolves apparently roamed statewide in Minnesota in those days, though they’re rare today.)

DAGNY: This setting is like those old U.K. horror movies, with the spooky woods on a windy night.

WILL: Yeah, Hammer.

Hammer Films feature The Brides of Dracula

When they get home, Mary snarks that Laura ruined the fun, and Laura tries to tell Ma and Pa about the killing but they won’t listen.

That night, Laura has a nightmare where she witnesses the murder again, and the severed heads of herself, Mrs. Oleson, Nellie, Willie, and (strangely) Carl Sanderson go flying around.

AMELIA: Did you make this scene on Microsoft Paint, Dad?

DAGNY: Oh, it’s not that bad. It looks like Hausu.

The crazy Japanese horror movie Hausu (a family favorite of ours)

Laura wakes with a start and Mary gives her a dirty look.

DAGNY: Jack should be in their bed too.

Unsympathetic Mary

Early on All Souls’ Day, Mustache Man arrives at the Mercantile in a buggy. Nels comes out and gives him a dollar (worth about $20 today), and thanks him for giving Harriet a ride (to the train station in Springfield?). Apparently the Mustache Man Express is a budget option compared to the stagecoach.

Mustache Man thanks him, and we learn that his horse’s name is “Fancy.” Which is cute.

Hee – “Fancy”

Mrs. Oleson comes out and complains about the lack of luxurious transportation, but neither Nels nor Mustache Man gives a shit.

Bizarrely, Mustache Man is identified in the credits of this one as “Homer Bjorgsen,” even though he’s been called “Jack” in three out of the four episodes we’ve had so far this season.

WTF???

Then we have a brief scene where Laura and Mary bicker, but it’s more or less content-free.

Later, Carl (Sanderson) and Laura are walking together in town. Carl thinks while Laura probably saw something on Halloween night, it couldn’t have been what she thought. A sensible attitude, especially for him.

Carl says he once imagined he saw a giant in the barn at night.

WILL [as CARL]: “Then it sang ‘Old Dan Tucker’ and I realized was my pa, drunk.”

The two head into the Mercantile to investigate. Laura tells Nels she wants to buy a kind of “special pencil” that only Mrs. Oleson knows about. An odd cover story, but I guess it works.

Nels says Mrs. Oleson “went away this morning” to visit her mother. Laura thanks him and she and Carl exit. (Again, she doesn’t seem very frightened, CONSIDERING SHE THINKS SHE’S TALKING TO A MURDERER.)

Realizing the stagecoach out of town has not yet departed, Laura and Carl go to see if Mrs. O is on board. The door of the coach is labeled Overland Stage Lines.

A lady sits within, but when Carl calls out “Mrs. Oleson, Mrs. Oleson!”, she leans down and we see it’s actually Mrs. Foster. Then the stagecoach takes off.

Now, you may wonder why I found this particular scene so terrifying. I don’t know why, exactly. All I remember is that for years, I had it in my head that the plot of this one involved a strange woman appearing in Walnut Grove on a stagecoach and pretending to be Mrs. Oleson, who’s been killed. 

In my memory, everyone in town EXCEPT Laura goes along with this claim, gaslighting her into thinking she’s going insane, or that there’s some horrible conspiracy at work. I actually think I managed to confuse it with the plot of One of My Wives is Missing, a TV movie in which a strange woman shows up claiming to be James Franciscus’s missing wife, and everybody in his social network seems to think it’s really her – but he knows it isn’t. I forget what the point of it all was, but it also terrified me. 

I watched it again recently; it’s not that good. But, by an odd coincidence, it ALSO aired in 1976. I was just a baby at the time, so I can’t actually have memories of seeing these fright-fests first-run. Can I?

Too young for 7+ horror shows

It’s not that unusual for young kids to mix up entertainments like this, or it least it wasn’t for me. When I was seven, I read a review for Poltergeist in TIME Magazine, but thought the writer was talking about E.T., which was written up on the same page. My mom took me to E.T. that week, but I had to be taken out of the theater in terror because I was expecting a face-peeling scene at any moment and eventually had a breakdown. Oh well, my sister enjoyed it.

Anyways, after a break, we see Carl the Flunky drivin’ his yellow-wheeled wagon past the school. 

WILL: Look, both Carls in a single shot. It’s a murder of Carls!

DAGNY: I think it has to be three to count as a murder.

Laura and Carl Sanderson are eating their lunch on the playground. Behind them, Nellie and Cloud City Princess Leia turn a jump-rope for Not-Linda Hunt and some Helens.

Nellie is kind of half-assing it, truthfully

Carl’s eating an apple, which you’ll recall is the fruit that made him go berserk on the train.

Previously on Little House

I’m sorry to say, but I fear the kid might becoming an apple addict. (Like his dad!)

End-stage appleholic Mr. Edwards

Laura notes Walnut Grove’s lack of law enforcement makes this situation difficult. I’ve made similar observations in the past myself.

Carl points out she could write a letter to the sheriff in Mankato. We know from previous stories there are closer ones than that, but Carl is just a kid so I’ll cut him some slack.

Plus, I like Carl

Laura says the situation is particularly dire, because for all they know Nels could be a serial killer.

Once again, this kid shows a good understanding of the deranged psyche. And Jack the Ripper hadn’t even happened yet! I’d totally watch a show where Laura and Carl catch Nineteenth-Century serial killers.

Art by Fingideon

Laura says she predicts Nellie and Willie would be Nels’s next victims. Possibly she’s right (who would blame him?) . . . but logically, his top target might be a little closer to home.

When the bell rings, Laura and Carl approach Willie and Tartan Nellie.

Laura says, “I don’t know how to tell you this, Nellie,” and Nellie replies “Use your mouth,” Canadianishly.

Use vermouth?

Willie compliments his sister on her cruel wit.

Love these two

Laura comes out with her claim. Willie laughs, and Nellie just looks like she’s wondering what kind of cockadoody scam Laura’s pulling this time.

Eventually she scoffs and they head into school.

Back in the Oleson kitchen, Nels is wearing an apron and cooking cutely.

DAGNY: I love that he’s having fun cooking. He gets to make the recipe his own way for once. What’s he making?

WILL: Looks like braciola. He must be Italian.

DAGNY: . . . “Oleson”?

Nels spills a quantity of the tomato sauce down his apron. As you’d expect from him, he cleans up his mess right away.

Good ol’ Nels

Nellie and Willie come running in to steal candy. Nellie makes weird faces, Alison Arngrim also seeming to be on the verge of laughter.

Nels tells them to set the table . . . but almost immediately Nellie finds the “bloodstained” apron.

Bloody Nellie

The kids apparently didn’t see their mom leave the house that morning, and when Nels comes in and starts sharpening his chef’s knife, they scatter.

DAGNY: There are a lot of sound effects in this one. I bet they enjoyed doing all the fun horror sounds.

At dinner, Nellie and Willie are freaked out, possibly because they think they’re eating their mother.

But they relax when Nels brings up the spilled tomato sauce, and soon they’re telling him Laura’s theory.

Nels seems surprised to learn Laura saw what happened – which is strange, because they talked about it at the time (see above).

Anyways, he explains the whole thing to the kids.

DAGNY: Nels is very unkempt in this one. His ear hair’s growing out, his eyebrows are super-long. . . .

After dinner, Nellie enlists Willie in playing a prank on Laura.

Back at the Little House, Laura approaches Ma after supper.

WILL [as LAURA]: “Ma, why do you always get the most boring parts in these stories?”

Ma says she knew something was bothering Laura, because “we had your favorite meat pie for supper, and you only picked at it.” 

We’ve never seen them eating meat pies before; perhaps this is a Sweeney Todd reference? The musical wasn’t written yet, but of course it’s a very old story.

Laura again starts jabbering about Nels. 

Ma, who we know is as fond of Nels as everyone else is, says, “You can’t honestly believe that Mr. Oleson would deliberately hurt anyone.”

But then she adds, “especially with a sword.”

WILL: What does she mean by that? Like, he’d never murder anybody, but if he did, he’d bludgeon them to death?

OLIVE: Nels should kick down the door suddenly and chop off her head.

Laura flashes the legendary chompers and says she’ll try to get some sleep.

But when she does, we get the famous Halloween dream – the hilarious one, that is, not the racist one.

Coming soon on Little House

The production team has put some sort of frame around the, er, frame.

AMELIA: What the hell are we looking through here? Sea glass?

DAGNY: Or a broken beer bottle? Actually, it looks like somebody shot through a car window.

In the dream, Laura and Carl are sitting at the Olesons’ dinner table. Nels comes in wearing horror makeup – it’s about halfway between Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera and Fredric March’s Mr. Hyde. 

Lon Chaney (right), as the Phantom of the Opera
Fredric March as Mr. Hyde
Richard Bull as Nels Oleson

Something about Richard Bull’s manner here suggests Boris Karloff, too.

Boris Karloff (left), in The Mummy

The makeup effects in this one were done by Allan “Whitey” Snyder, a tremendously accomplished stylist who did makeup throughout the entire run of Little House, and who also worked on projects like South Pacific, The Goodbye Girl, A Star is Born, The Poseidon Adventure, Scream Blacula Scream (yeah!), and Rosemary’s Baby.

The Poseidon Adventure (can you spot the Little House guest stars?)
Scream Blacula Scream
Rosemary’s Baby

He was also a friend to Marilyn Monroe, doing her makeup for several of her biggest movies (including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Seven Year Itch, and Some Like It Hot). 

Snyder and Monroe on the set of Let’s Make Love

Sadly/nicely, he even did her makeup for her funeral (at her specific request).

This is not a photo of the event, but rather a sculpture recreating it (in bronze!) by Paolo Schmidlin

Whitey Snyder was deeply entrenched in the Landon entertainment syndicate, also doing Highway to Heaven and Father Murphy.

This one’s great, isn’t it?

Anyways, Nels places a platter with a large silver cover on the table. In a moment reminiscent of the climax of Salome (in which the head of John the Baptist is presented to an evil princess on a silver charger), he removes the cover to reveal the severed head of Mrs. Oleson. 

Salome painted by Jacob Cornelisz

Her head is nestled amongst a mess of peeled carrots and potatoes, which really grosses me out for some reason.

Mrs. O’s eyes suddenly fly open, and she and Laura both scream.

Laura’s scream is great – I think there should be more screaming in this one.

Laura wakes, and Mary starts making passive-aggressive comments about all the nightmares she’s been having.

Passive-aggressive Mary

Laura says she has to go to the outhouse, but we hear the wolf howl for about the third or fourth time and she changes her mind. We’ve never heard a wolf outside the Little House before this episode, so it’s odd there should be so much lupine activity over the course of just a few days.

The Howling

Mary’s passive-aggressive comments morph into outright aggressive ones.

Active-aggressive Mary

The next morning, having held it too long, Laura bolts (quite Willie-ishly) for the privy.

It ain’t really Little House till somebody runs for the privy

Then we cut to the Mercantile, where the dummy salesman, played by Milton Parsons, has returned.

He has a strange slurred way of speaking – maybe he’s supposed to be from England, or New England, or maybe the character’s drunk, or maybe the actor is, or some combination. 

Parsons played the American Gothic guy in The Music Man.

Milton Parsons (at right-center)

The salesman says the dummy costs $9.25 – close to $200 today.

Nels accepts the price, addressing the guy as “Thaddeus.” (In another spooky detail, the credits tell us his surname is Moon.)

Thaddeus is clearly a major-league weirdo, caressing the dummy erotically before departing.

No offense if it’s a fetish you share, obviously

After he leaves, Laura and Carl come creeping into the Mercantile on hands and knees.

DAGNY: Now, this part’s like Rear Window.

Spying on Nels, they see him stuffing the dummy’s body into a bag. He mutters under his breath that “the legs are too long,” and adds, “Well, I’ll just put the legs in something else and keep the rest of her in here.” Ha!

After he drags the body away, the kids flee.

Back at school, all the kids are enjoying the unseasonably warm November.

Laura and Carl are discussing recent developments when Willie summons them from the graveyard.

So yes, there is a GRAVEYARD off the school playground. 

Now, in “At the End of the Rainbow,” we noticed there was a grave near the playground. 

Previously on Little House

But apparently this wasn’t simply a single mass grave for all the show’s “disappeared” characters (as Olive theorized), but rather one of a number of them. Names we can see on the graves include W.J. Holman, Sam Benson, and Annie Fendley (“daughter of Geo. R. & Sarah Fendley”).

(There was a William Jennings Holman who in the Nineteenth Century scammed investors out of money by “inventing” a locomotive with extra wheels beneath the ordinary ones and making a lot of grand promises about it; however, he didn’t live in Minnesota, and he didn’t die until 1904.)

Now, a single grave is one thing, but I find it hard to swallow there’s a whole graveyard there we just never noticed before.

Dags noticed this also.

DAGNY: This isn’t where they buried whatserface, is it? Wasn’t that up on a hill?

WILL: It was hard to tell ’cause of the rain, but I don’t think it was in town. I think they buried Granville on a hill. Plus you might be thinking of Ellen’s grave.

Coming soon on Little House

But never mind that. Willie tells Laura and Carl that he heard Nels digging in the cellar late into the night, and shows them the gory apron. 

He throws in the detail that “Pa keeps all his apples and pears” in the cellar, probably to pique Carl’s interest.

“Okay, you got my attention.”

He says he’s come to believe their claim about the murder, and says they should go down and investigate. He said he would have gone himself, but was “too a-scared” (hee) to do so alone.

Poor Willie

Willie says Nels is headed to Springfield, so they can come over and look into the mystery together.

After recess, Miss Beadle is grilling her students on American citizenship. In addition to the pupils already mentioned, today the class includes the Midsommar Kid, Quincy Fusspot, and the Non-Binary Kid (whom we haven’t seen in a while).

On the Beadboard, we see the class is currently divided into four subgroups. I’m not going to try to figure out who belongs to which one, but four sure does seem like a hell of a lot.

Miss Beadle fields some guesses from the group. She praises Mary’s answer, sniffs at Nellie’s, and then addresses Cloud City Princess Leia as “Sarah,” even though she was credited in “The Gift” as “Cissy,” and it was established way back in “Town Party Country Party” that her given name is “Rosemary.” (Cindy Moore receives an onscreen credit in this one as well.)

“Sarah” my ass

Willie raises his hand, looks at Laura, and says very deliberately, “If a good citizen knows about a crime, he has to tell.”

Laura looks guilty, as Willie and Nellie grin.

Then we get a shot of Carl and Not-Carl together. Add Carl the Flunky to the mix and it definitely makes a murder of Carls.

A Murder of Carls

Late that night, Laura and Carl sneak out of their respective houses. By some miracle, Jack doesn’t give Laura away.

DAGNY: I’m amazed by that. Especially with all the wolves howling.

They meet Willie in the graveyard again. Why this has become a preferred hangout for the kids is not explained; nor do we know why they’ve come out so late. (We know it’s late because the Little House was completely dark when Laura left.)

Neither the school nor the Mercantile nor any other part of Walnut Grove is visible, either.

More owls and wolves on the soundtrack again; and we actually see an owl for a moment, or its feet, anyways.

I’m afraid of feet

Laura and Carl worry about their fathers beating them if they get caught out so late.

Ha ha! Ha ha ha!

“I’m starvin’,” says Carl. “Willie shoulda sneaked us some apples,” confirming our suspicion about the monkey on his back.

The sad decline of Carl Sanderson

We cut to the Mercantile interior, where Willie signals the kids with a candle, and Nellie puts a sheet over her head to scare them. She climbs down to the cellar through a trapdoor in the storeroom.

Willie gives Laura and Carl some candles and opens the hatch for them.

DAGNY: Are they going to find little boys smoking down there?

All this headlessness and creeping around in the dark is also reminiscent of Bluebeard, the story where a rich man’s new wife finds the corpses of all his previous ones in a secret room.

Art by Winslow Homer (from his Blue Beard Tableau)

The three have scarcely descended when Nellie rises from behind a crate, making ghost noises. 

Laura and Carl race up the ladder and slam the trapdoor shut. Laura points out they’ve locked Willie in, but Carl yells “The ghost already got him!”

Which everybody in our house loved

They rush to the door – where through the glass they see the face of Mrs. Oleson herself! (You see, a scream would be great right here.)

Horror Harriet

Laura and Carl bolt into the residence. Mrs. Oleson, meanwhile, comes in with a lighted match and looks for them, assuming they’re Nellie and Willie. Why she’s coming home in the middle of the night isn’t explained either.

The dialogue suggests Laura and Carl are terrified, though they don’t really seem so.

Then, in a lovely nod to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and its 1963 film adaptation (approach other versions at your own risk), Laura asks Carl to hold her hand. He does, but then she asks again . . . and he realizes he’s holding the hand of the lifeless, headless body.

Great Moments in Horror: “Whose hand was I holding?”

The kids bolt through a door and somehow manage to knock Mrs. Oleson unconscious.

Nels appears with a lantern. He explains the headless body is a dummy, pointing out the head, which Carl picks up for some reason.

Then, as payback, Carl and Laura drops the severed head down the cellar stairs to scare Nellie and Willie. This also is reminiscent of a famous scary movie: 1964’s Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte, in which Olivia de Havilland tries to drive Bette Davis insane by dropping a replica of her dead lover’s head down the stairs.

Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Nellie, hands-down the best screamer on the show, shrieks.

Then, in a wacky, twisted coda, Laura and Carl walk home laughing – only to encounter an actual headless horseman on the road.

DAGNY: Is that Doc Baker?

No, it isn’t . . . it’s A REAL GHOST! FREEZE FRAME!

OLIVE: What???

Sorry, kid, that’s where they leave us. Bum-Bum-Bah-Dum! I know this was the longest, most lecture-y recap ever, thanks for indulging me in one of my favorite non-Little House subjects.

STYLE WATCH: Carl wears some cool suspenders that look like imitation crocodile, or something.

Miss Beadle has a new dress, I think.

Charles, who’s barely in this one, does NOT wear Pinky, and it’s impossible to tell if he went commando or not. (Any guesses, though?)

THE VERDICT:

WILL: The thing about this one is, it isn’t really very scary. I don’t buy that Laura and Carl are ever really frightened at any point.

DAGNY: Oh, it’s a horror story for little children. They wouldn’t want it to feel TOO real. Plus, I loved the ending.

WILL: You mean that the headless horseman was real?

DAGNY: Yes.

WILL: But where did it come from?

DAGNY: From the woods, duh.

Okay, well, that’s all my questions answered, then. There’s no doubt “Monster” is a lot of silly fun. Richard Bull clearly relishes getting to play Nels as a villain, and the horror references are like Halloween candy sprinkled throughout (for people like me, anyways).

UP NEXT: Journey in the Spring, Part One

Published by willkaiser

I live in the Upper Midwest. My name's not really Will Kaiser, but he and I have essentially the same personality.

2 thoughts on “The Monster of Walnut Grove

  1. This is a fan favorite of mine as well. A great homage to past horror movies. I am not a big horror movie fan but at Halloween I do indulge in a few that I like. But I usually watch them on regular TV so they cut a lot of stuff out! As for Carl’s apple addiction; you can’t blame him since his new dad uses only all natural ingredients in his moon shine. After all the next gateway is hard cider. 💁🏻‍♀️🍎

    Liked by 1 person

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