Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Starting in about 4th grade, I became obsessed with the Wizard of Oz--the book (which was actually originally titled The WONDERFUL Wizard of Oz, but the word "Wonderful" was dropped in 1903), the movie, the characters, the music--I loved it all. When I discovered that there was a whole slew of sequels to the original book, I was overcome with joy and read every one that was on the shelves of our local library. The first book that I can recall buying with my own money was Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, Baum's fourth Oz book (published in 1908). I still own the book. In fact, that's a photo of my copy to the left. It cost $1.50 and I bought it at the BYU Bookstore.

During my childhood there was no such thing as a "video," so the only way to see a movie was in the theater or on TV. The 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz came around on TV once a year, usually on a Sunday evening, and that was one of the rare times my mom would let us watch TV on a) a Sunday and b) a school night.

I remember inviting my next-door neighbor and best friend Lori over to watch the movie with me and my sister Christine. Mom would let us pop popcorn, and then she even let us eat it in the living room while we were watching TV. It was epic, and Lori was soon converted to loving Oz too. I was sure I was named after Judy Garland (doubtful), which may have been part of my love for the movie. The Wizard of Oz was the principal source of magic that filled my childhood.

Fast forward 45+ years. Naturally, when we decided to travel through Kansas, the first thing I thought about was Dorothy and Toto and Auntie Em and the farm. A Google search revealed a potential Mecca: The Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas, and I made sure Bob put it as a #1 priority on the itinerary.

So why is there an Oz museum in Wamego? Was it the home of L. Frank Baum? One of the actors/actresses? The director/lyricist/composer/producer of the movie? The books' publisher? Was there actually an Auntie Em on whom Baum based the character?

No, no, no, no, and no. The Oz Museum was founded in Wamego in 2004 because . . . well, just because.

If you're wondering--and I know I was--L. Frank Baum was born in New York in 1856, moved to the Dakota Territory with his wife and sons in 1888 (the region on which he based Kansas in his book), then moved his family to Chicago in 1891. In 1897 Baum published his first successful book, Mother Goose in Prose, followed in 1899 by Father Goose, His Book. In 1900 he hit the jackpot with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was the best-selling children's book for two full years. He followed it up with eleven more "Oz books" and two collections of Oz-related short stories over the next eighteen years. Two more of his Oz books were published posthumously. An incredibly prolific writer, he penned dozens of other non-Oz full-length works and short stories under his own name and at least seven other pseudonyms.

The Baums eventually moved to California, where Frank worked on stage and silent movie versions of his works, and where he died of a stroke in 1919. He was buried in Glendale, less than two hours from my home. (Yes, his grave is on my Pilgrimage/Places to Visit list.) He never did live in Kansas.

Okay, back to Wamego.

Wamego was built on the banks of the Kansas River in 1866 and named after a Potawatomi Indian chief (a tribe that sounds like it could have existed in one of Baum's books).

Wamego Main Street
Wamegoans (?) have done a good job capitalizing on their manufactured connection to The Wizard:

I dare say this little museum has been a real boon to this farming community:

The delightful art in the front windows is a copy of the original illustrations in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by artist William Wallace Denslow:

The museum is laid out in a U-shape. At the far end where the curve is, a small theater plays The Wizard of Oz on continuous loop. In this relatively small space there are about 25,000 Oz artifacts, making the $8.00 entrance fee ($5.00 for children ages 4-12, free for children 3 and under) not bad, especially if you have time to watch the movie.

Life-sized dioramas from the book/movie are sprinkled along the museum path:
Dorothy and Toto arrive in Munchkin Land

Dorothy's house on top of the Wicked Witch of the East

Copies of Baum's Oz books

Could this be a 1st edition? First editions sell for between
$5,500 and $100,000 on eBay, depending on the condition.
That's L. Frank Baum's signature underneath.

This list says there are forty Oz books, fourteen by Baum and twenty-six by other authors:

My mother-in-law gave this 1951 copy of Hidden Valley of Oz  to our daughter almost 30 years ago. I think it is a First Edition copy. Rachel Cosgrove wrote four "Oz books." The last three were published in 1993, 1997, and 2000, well after the above list was completed, so they aren't included. I wonder if there are other books to add to the "Official 40" list.

One display at the museum points out Frank Baum's support for women's rights. His leading characters are often little girls. Ultimately, the rightful ruler of Oz is the fairy princess Ozma, and her chief advisor is Glinda the Good Witch of the South. In addition, many of the best-developed antagonists are also women: the Wicked Witch of the West being the best-known. Baum was likely influenced by his mother-in-law, a nationally-known feminist and leading suffragist.

There are many displays like this one that show various versions of the Oz books, including foreign editions and foreign toys based on the books:

Copies of William Wallace Denslow's enchanting illustrations are also on display. These are from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz:

Similar illustration boards are provided for other Oz books illustrated by Denslow:

The number and variety of items that have sprung from the original Oz book is astounding. Check out the Hello Kitty Dorothy, bottom right below:

This display is dedicated to all things Dorothy/Judy Garland:

There are all kinds of interesting tidbits of information in the museum. For example, Frank Baum and his future illustrator W. W. Denslow each separately attended the 1893 Columbia Exhibition, also known as the Chicago's World Fair. Many people believe "The White City," as the fair was called, was the inspiration for the Emerald City, both because of the way Baum described it and the way Denslow drew it.

The Scarecrow diorama:

A Wizard of Oz quilt:

Ten-year-old Shirley Temple almost beat out sixteen-year-old Judy Garland for the part of Dorothy? Wow, that would have changed things a lot:

Here's Dorothy reading about Dorothy. Do you think this was staged? Nah . . .

I had a passion for trolls at about the same time I was obsessed with the Wizard of Oz. To see a fusion of the two was almost more than I could take. Are these not the CUTEST trolls of all time??? I WANT A SET!

The Tin Man diorama:

Sadly, my only photo of the diorama featuring my favorite character, the Cowardly Lion, didn't turn out.

Love love LOVE this Nike shirt: "Yo Dorothy! It's gotta be da SHOES!"

Oz Peanut Butter? Never heard of it. This has to be pretty old stuff because twelve cents off wouldn't be very significant these days:

Scarecrow and Tin Man memorabilia:

Tin Man and Cowardly Lion memorabilia:

These are hand prints of the original Munchkins that starred in the 1939 movie:

There was a Warner Brothers Store in the World Trade Center that often stocked Wizard of Oz toys. These three-foot-tall plush dolls were shipped out to a collector just a few days before the terrorist attack and arrived the day after the Towers fell. Luckily, all the employees of that store made it out of the building safely.

It's amazing where Dorothy and her friends show up. The Tin Man isn't doing so well in the metal detector test on this 1998 cover of The New Yorker:

This inlaid wood table top was created by Darren Fundenberger of Lyons, Kansas. He used 5,273 pieces of 22 different kinds of wood:

Dorothy's shoes, which were silver slippers in the book, were transformed into ruby-red slippers in the movie to take advantage of the new Technicolor process being used in filming. As many as seven pairs of the slippers were made for the movie, and five are still in existence (or maybe four--keep reading). The first pair auctioned off sold for $15,000 in 1970. They were anonymously donated to the Smithsonian, where they remain on public display. Over the years, prices for the other pairs have crept up steadily. The top price I could find was $666,000 for a pair purchased in 2000 by the owner of a Hollywood memorabilia shop.
One pair was stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Minnesota in 2005 just two weeks before they were scheduled to come to Wamego for the First Annual OztoberFest. They have never been recovered.
In 2012 Leonardo DiCaprio put together a team of investors that included Steven Spielberg to purchase the BEST pair of ruby slippers, the ones Judy Garland probably wore in all the close-ups, for the Los Angeles Museum of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. No one is telling how much they paid, but I'm guessing it was a lot more than $66,000.

This wonderful painting is clearly based on the movie. I recognize the actors:

Inside the theater looking backwards at the entrance:

Photos of the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) and Glinda the Good (Billie Burke) include their autographs:

The Wizard of Oz would be nothing without this scary lady:
Like many other children who watched The Wizard of  Oz too many times to count, I had my share of nightmares that featured an emptying hourglass, flying monkeys, and/or a cackling witch with a burning broom.

Thank heavens for the antidote to all the evil, Glinda the Good, who is so sweet it makes your teeth hurt:

Remember how the Wicked Witch's opium poppies put everyone to sleep, and how Glinda made it snow to wake them up? Such awesome plot twists!

Yep, 45+ years later I still love these guys:

My big regret of our visit is that I didn't buy one of these clever shirts from the gift shop:

"When I was young I longed to write a great novel that should win me fame. Now that I am getting old, my first book is written to amuse children. For, aside from my evident inability to do anything "great," I have learned to regard fame as a will-o-wisp which, when caught, is not worth the possession; but to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one's heart and brings its own reward. I hope my book will succeed in that way--that the children will like it."
                                                                                                    ~L. Frank Baum

Mr. Baum, you did do something great, something very great, and yes, the children (and grown-ups) definitely like your book.

If you are going to visit the Oz Museum in Wamego, and in fact if you are going to drive through the flatlands of Kansas, you must read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.  If you haven't seen the movie, you are as rare as snow in Kansas in August, but there aren't as many people (at least among the living) who've read the actual book, which is even weirder and scarier than the movie.
Of the movie, Evan Schwartz (see review of his book below) said:
"Having been seen by more people than any other motion picture in history, the film that catapulted Judy Garland to fame is not only popular but enshrined. The oldest movie ranked among the American Film Institute's all-time top ten, the film features "Over the Rainbow," the AFI's number-one movie song. The Wicked Witch of the West endures as the most frightening female in filmdom, beaten out on the AFI's all-time villain list only by three men: Hannibal Lecter, Norman "Psycho" Bates, and Darth Vader. On the AFI's list of the top one hundred most memorable movie lines, The Wizard of Oz contributes three quotes--scoring with "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore," "I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!" and "There's no place like home."

Beyond the Oz books themselves, I can also recommend Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story by Evan I. Schwartz. Schwartz, a former award-winning editor at BusinessWeek magazine, had the idea for this book when he was reading The Wonderful Wizard of  Oz out loud to his daughter at bedtime. Finding Oz tells the story behind the story--how Baum failed at several business ventures before he found his niche as a children's book author, how The Wizard drew on his personal experiences, politics, and religious beliefs, and how the characters are based on his own family members and friends--not unlike the way Dorothy's Oz friends are based on her family and friends in Kansas.

At the end of his Prologue to Finding Oz, Schwartz writes:
"But although this great American myth has become immortal, the mythmaker certainly wasn't. L. Frank Baum was like all of us, limited to living in his own here and now. And like all of us, he faced his own trials and errors with only a small window of time in which to search for truth and beauty. Yet all he needed was a flash, a single moment, to transform his own experience into something bright enough and brilliant enough for everyone to know and love. This is the story of how one man managed to make myth from life."

Here is one more passage to give you a feel for the warm, insightful writing in this exceptional book:
"Frank Baum would discover that there's but one surefire way of finding one's inmost self--and that is to embark when the time comes on a journey. And the more arduous the adventure, the more perilous the path, the steeper the cliffs, the more dangerous the demons, the more choices one is forced to make--all the better for determining one's true character. Only if one is fortunate enough to return with new-found wisdom, compassion, and courage can one appreciate the higher meaning of home."

If you are an Oz Lover, as I most certainly am, I think this book is a must-read.

Wamego is more or less in the middle of nowhere, and you're going to need a place to eat after spending a couple of hours in the Oz Museum. We really enjoyed The Friendship House on 507 Ash Street, not far from the Museum.

It is a charming lunch spot, and the people who served us were every bit as charming as the house.

There was one nod to the neighboring museum . . .
. . . but other than that, The Friendship House has its own distinct aura.

Our lunch was delicious, but the best part was definitely this peanut butter sweet roll. It was warm and moist and loaded with peanut butter icing. I'd go back just for another one of these:


  1. Oh, the memories! I think we discovered the Oz books around the same time. I still have my copy of Patchwork Girl. Those (along with the Mary Poppins series) were the best books of my childhood. What a fun place to visit!

    1. Does your copy of Patchwork Girl look like my copy of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz? Did you also buy yours at BYU? I wonder if we got them at the same time.

    2. It does look a lot like yours. Yes, it is from BYU. I'm pretty sure we bought them at the same time.

  2. My mother's set of Wizard of Oz books caught my full attention very early in my reading life. It was the first series of books that I remember reading. We had at least a dozen of them and I still have the 1920 copy of Glinda of Oz with illustrations by Jno R. Neill. It was given to my mother by Popie Rich and Momie Oertel (her grand parents). It is one of my most treasured possessions. I loved your walk down memory lane.

    1. I'm so jealous! I think this is the illustrator of most of the books I read as a kid, including the one I have pictured at the beginning of my post.

  3. Amazing detail. I was not anywhere the Oz fan you were (are), but I do remember being terrified of the wicked witch and being very happy at the end when her feet were hanging out from the bottom of the house.

    1. I can tell we need to watch the movie again to get your chronology straight. That scene is at the beginning when Dorothy lands in Oz. The wicked witch at the end melts when Dorothy throws a bucket of water on her.