Anticipating a road trip to Kansas while bombarded with weather reports about tornadoes is disconcerting. Especially when you’re planning to visit the Oz Museum.
Yup, that’s how it was in May. Every morning the week before my trip, I turned on the news to more flooding and tornadoes across Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kansas. An omen? A premonition of being whisked across the Kansas prairie in my car?
Well, tornadoes fit into the general theme of this May 12-18 road trip: Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz, and Oz author L. Frank Baum. Additionally, May 15, 2019 marked 163 years since Baum’s birth, and May 6 was the centennial of his death. Strong winds and threatening weather were the perfect accompaniment.
I’d never been to Kansas before. I left Jane in Kansas City Monday evening, May 13 and drove to an AirBnB in the tiny town of Wamego, Kansas, about ninety miles west.
On Tuesday morning, I strolled around downtown Wamego, even smaller than my little town. Similar to Waukesha, Wamego has its own trademark highlighting various street corners. In Waukesha, we’re proud to be home to guitarist Les Paul. Thus, the streets have painted guitars. In Wamego, I found myself surrounded by painted Totos.
Several businesses capitalized on the Oz connection: The Emerald Door Salon & Tanning, the Oz Winery, Toto’s Tacoz.
A Yellow Brick Road with Toto guarding the entrance wound its way from the main street to the Friendship House restaurant. I regret I didn’t get a chance to eat at this darling place. I ended up staying too long at the museum. The restaurant closes at 2:00pm.
So instead of the Friendship House, after the museum tour, I went next door to Toto’s Tacoz. Yes, the name is a bit jarring, mixing some Mexican flavor into the Kansas/Oz-based story. But they do have delicious burritos and the service was very friendly.
Back to the morning stroll . . . dozens of kids were running around the park.
This windmill built by a Dutch immigrant is a couple of blocks from downtown, adjacent to the park. A monument to Kansas pioneers, it was built in 1879, twelve miles north of Wamego. In 1925, the mill was moved to Wamego, each stone numbered, dismantled, and rebuilt as before. The mill, 25 feet diameter and 40 feet high, previously ground grain for flour and cornmeal.
Back to downtown. Wamego seems like a sweet, quiet, unpretentious town. Then right in the middle of Lincoln Avenue, there’s this:
The Oz Museum has 2000+ artifacts rotating in and out of exhibits. Though it encompasses all aspects of Oz (as does the All Things Oz Museum in Chittenango, NY), the primary layout puts one in mind of The Wizard of Oz MGM movie, settings, and characters as portrayed by Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, and Bert Lahr.
As you wander in, you actually meet each of the movie characters in the order you’d meet them in book; thus, Glinda is at the end rather than the beginning of Dorothy’s venture into Munchkinland.
Several showcases featured items related to author L. Frank Baum, his family, and his books . . .
After a variety of Munchkin items, I ran into the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion. My Tin Woodman picture didn’t turn out, but you can see a picture of him on the museum site. Click on “Exhibits.”
I loved the intricate handiwork made by Oz fans. This applique quilt was stitched by Sarah Lassiter of Topeka.
This inlaid wood tabletop was crafted by Darren Fundenberger of Lyons, Kansas. It features 22 types of wood and 5273 pieces. It won several competitions, including 1st place and “overall best of show” at the 2006 Kansas State Fair. It took two months to complete.
Some of the woods used: teak, ebony (Africa), tulipwood (Brazil); rosewood, canary (Central America); birdseye maple (USA); lacewood and purple heart (Central or South America), to name a few.
THE WITCH, WINKIES, & FLYING MONKEYS
On to the haunted forest, the poppy field, and the Emerald City . . .
The Wizard of Oz sequels continued after Baum’s death (1919) for the next several decades. The books were promoted in myriad ways—through games, toys, dolls, puzzles, puppets, comics, Jell-O ads, and more, including Oz peanut butter jars, tins, and drinking glasses . . .
Over the years, more movies and Broadway productions came along, expanding on situations and themes of Oz.
THE WIZ (1975 & 1978)
DREAMER OF OZ (1995)
In 1995, John Ritter played the role of Baum in the movie Dreamer of Oz. Robert Baum, great-grandson of L. Frank Baum, and his wife Clare contributed much to this movie, and to the museum as well. They often appear around the country at Oz festivals as Frank and Maud.
Disney’s RETURN TO OZ (1985)
OZ THE GREAT & POWERFUL (2013)
LEGENDS OF OZ—DOROTHY’S RETURN (2014)
Roger S. Baum, another great-grandson of L. Frank Baum, wrote Dorothy of Oz in the spirit of his ancestor’s work. That year, 1989, marked the 50th anniversary of the MGM movie. In 2014, Dorothy of Oz was made into an animated film: Dorothy’s Return.
Synopsis of Dorothy’s Return: Dorothy wakes up in post-tornado Kansas and is whisked back to Oz to try and save old friends from a new villain. Character voices included Dan Aykroid, James Belushi, and Kelsey Grammar.
Unfortunately, my pictures of Munchkin handprints didn’t turn out. Last year, Jerry Maren, the last surviving Munchkin, passed away. His handprints and shoe prints are here near Jane Albright’s and Roger S. Baum’s. Roger signs his name with “Toto too.” Jane Albright is president of the International Wizard of Oz Club.
This is just a sampling of delights from Wamego’s Oz Museum. There’s plenty more Munchkin, Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion items; Baum books (including Father Goose and The Art of Decorating Show Windows and Interiors); book promos such as Pettijohn’s Breakfast food ads for Baum’s Mother Goose book, and more.
After going through the entire museum, I went back to watch the three films.
The Origin of Oz, published by the Smithsonian Institute, features Baum/Oz scholars Michael Patrick Hearn and John Fricke, Gita Dorothy Morena (great-granddaughter of L Frank Baum), author/illustrator Eric Shanower, Robert Baum, John Lahr (Bert Lahr’s son), Nancy Koupal (South Dakota historian), and several others. They discuss Baum’s early life in South Dakota and Chicago, the 1893 World’s Fair, plus the impact of The Wizard of Oz book and the MGM movie. (About 45 minutes.)
This documentary is exclusive to the Oz Museum. Oz scholar, author, and speaker John Fricke has written seven books about the MGM movie, Oz, or Judy Garland and received Emmy awards for his documentaries. This film follows a Q & A format, as Mr. Fricke answers questions about the movie’s popularity, its special effects (tornadoes and disappearing witches), Baum’s inspirations, accidents on the set, urban legends, differences between the book and the movie, and why Baum’s mother-in-law is considered the Grandmother of Oz. (About 35 minutes.)
The Making of The Wizard of Oz goes behind the scenes of The Wizard of Oz production to reveal how the producers, scriptwriters, directors (all 5 of them!), songwriters, lyricists, set designers, and actors created this movie. Get insights from John Fricke, Stephen Schwartz (lyricist and composer of the musical Wicked), and others. This film is a bonus on the 75th anniversary The Wizard of Oz DVD (about an hour.)
After the films, I stepped out into the gift shop . . . this is also the sight that greets you when you first enter the museum . . .
There’s a tornado machine here in the gift shop. Yes, for real. For $2.00, step inside to get the feel of standing in a 78.9 mph E1 Tornado. Which I opted not to do. That’s exactly what I’d wanted to avoid when I first started driving to Kansas. No tornado machine for me. No, thanks.
Instead, I took a balloon.
- Oz Museum — General admission is $9.00 for adults and $7.00 for children, with reduced rates for tours, military, veterans, and college students.
- What you’ll see at the museum. Click on “Exhibits.”
- Interested in Oz mementos or gifts?
- Blog of Oz scholar John Fricke on the Oz Museum site
Do you have a favorite museum you’ve visited? Or one you want to visit?
I’d love to hear from you!