My Journey to Oz & Kansas—Part 5: Why so much Oz?

Why are so many people captivated by the world of Oz? 

I wrote about the impact of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz earlier. Children were charmed by the Land of Oz decades before the MGM movie came along. The film heightened the intrigue—for children and adults alike. 

If you’ve been following my road trip blog posts, you may have been surprised to discover people so immersed in Oz culture, beyond just loving the movie. Their fervor is exemplified by the existence of the International Wizard of Oz Club, annual conventions, and festivals. Not to mention the plethora of fan fiction and new artistic visions. These ventures are all thriving 119 years after the initial publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900.

But Oz folk are not much different than diehard Star Wars fanatics, Disney devotees, or rock star groupies. 

I have my own reasons for a personal interest in Baum. More on that below. But first, let me summarize the year to give you a bigger glimpse into how widespread this Ozzy world is. This is my year steeped in Oz.

A highlight was my Ozzy road trip in May. The only thing that didn’t fit the Oz theme was my music, except for Wicked. On the road, I listen to my Spotify playlist. I favor 1970s popular music that I loved in high school and college: Billy Joel, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Chicago, Neil Diamond, James Taylor, Carole King, Carly Simon . . . 

Music and diet Pepsi get me through long hours on the road. I’m the star of my own concert, singing my heart out without annoying anyone else.

Here is May’s road trip in a nutshell:

Day 1Evergreen Memorial Cemetery in Bloomington, IL to find the Real Dorothy; drive to my friend Cheryl’s in St. Louis.

Day 2National Toy and Miniature Museum in Kansas City, MO; meet Jane Albright, president of the International Wizard of Oz Club.

Day 3–Wamego, Kansas and the Oz Museum.

Day 4Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City; the Walt Disney Hometown Museum in Marceline, MO; evening with Cheryl in St. Louis.

Days 5 & 6–Grand Rapids, Michigan to see my daughter and friends (yes, I know it’s out of the way for getting back to Wisconsin).

Day 7–Drive home with a stop in Holland, Michigan to see the new Oz exhibit.

Funny thing . . . even activities that seem unrelated to Oz turned out to be connected somehow. So besides the obvious Oz stuff, on top of the fact that my road trip occurred during the month of the centennial of Baum’s death (May 6, 1919), here’s how everything else tied in:

Arabia Steamboat Museum. I visited on the anniversary of Baum’s birthday, May 15. The steamboat sunk in 1856—the year of Baum’s birth! So everything I saw, all the excavated items—from tools to dishes to clothing—were things in use during Baum’s time.

National Toy and Miniature Museum: In 2015, Jane Albright put together an exhibit of Oz toys from multiple private collections. She made a 43-minute video tour. That was my first introduction to this museum.

Oz Waddles from 1933; The Wonderful Game of Oz is in back.
From the Oz Museum.

Walt Disney Hometown Museum: The museum itself has no connection to Oz but in the 1950s, Walt Disney bought rights to Baum’s Oz books, numbers 2 – 14. The studio made Return to Oz (based on books 2 and 3) in 1985 and Oz the Great and Powerful with James Franco in 2013.

From the Oz Museum, Wamego, Kansas

Grand Rapids, Michigan: (Not to be confused with Grand Rapids, Minnesota, which is Judy Garland’s birthplace and home to the Judy Garland Museum.) My daughter Audrey gave me a Mother’s Day gift—an Oz pillow. After I shared anecdotes about my trip with friends, they were entertained during lunch by the piano man playing selections from—you guessed it—The Wizard of Oz!

On the way home, I stopped in Holland, Michigan to see the new Oz exhibit, the Holland Oz Project. Due to Baum’s Macatawa-Holland connection, the city is commemorating him through a horticultural exhibit in Centennial Park. The characters statues had not been erected yet.

The Holland Oz Project in Centennial Park, Holland, Michigan. The book is made entirely of plants!
Section of the Yellow Brick Road in Centennial Park.

In June 21, the first day of summer and the first warm, sunny day of the year, I briefly attended The Wizard of Oz Festival in Ionia, Michigan—just east of Grand Rapids—where I had the superb pleasure of meeting Oz author Ron Baxley, Jr.

Being in Ionia is like stepping back in time—brick streets and Victorian architecture. And a bit of serendipity: I discovered the old Methodist church where my parents had married in 1957. 

Downtown Ionia
Characters pose after the Wicked Witch’s cackling contest.

And that’s not all, Oz-wise. In March, I attended a unique production at Waukesha Civic Theater, The Wizard of Oz Unplugged, performed by the ACAP PlayMakers (more on that later). ACAP, the Adaptive Community Approach Program, is a program for disabled adults. I wrote an article about it for The Baum Bugle, for a future issue.

On August 15, Jane Albright stopped by during her Wisconsin road trip. Together we went to the 80th anniversary of the MGM movie preview in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. The streets were full of Dorothys, Glindas, and Wicked Witches of all ages. Children played Ozzy games. The Lollipop Guild helped unveil new statues.

Jane wrote a wonderful detailed version of the day on her IWOC blog.

The 4 companions unveiled on the new Yellow Brick Road downtown Oconomowoc.
By the Town Hall, the Wizard welcomes all to Oconomowoc.

At dusk, Jane and I ate popcorn while watching The Wizard of Oz on a gigantic screen in the street.

Jane & I before the movie started

Also, I made sure Jane experienced typical Wisconsin fare. Thus, my husband Tim grilled us brats for lunch. Later, after the movie, she and I went out for frozen custard.

On August 27, I dropped by the Land of Oz Museum in Wausaukee, Wisconsin. Yes, Wisconsin has its own Oz Museum, way up north! More on that another time.

Right after that, my sister was in Holland and took pictures of the statues near Centennial Park—part of the Holland Oz Project. They are wonderful! Each character is based on W. W. Denslow’s illustrations from the 1900 first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I hope to see them soon.

Dorothy & Toto, based on W. W. Denslow’s renderings.

So . . . why am I drawn to so much Oz?

Here’s why. About six years ago, I read a biography of Oz author, L. Frank Baum. His life and personality fascinated me. I’d always wanted to write a novel set at the turn of the century, and as I read about Baum, ideas flickered in my mind—ideas that started to take shape in an early 1900s and a 1980 setting in the form of characters and events and a plot.

I read and researched more, then joined the International Wizard of Oz Club so I could receive The Baum Bugle magazine, another great resource. I visited Baum and Oz landmarks, such as Syracuse, NY and the All Things Oz Museum in Chittenango, as well as the places listed above. 

Well, after much blood, sweat, and tears, after numerous critiques and revisions, after consulting Baum scholar Michael Patrick Hearn about details, the novel is completed except for final editing.

In spring, I entered the International Wizard of Oz fiction contest. I cobbled some of my Baum scenes together to form a self-contained short story (under 10,000 words). In June, it won first place. I was thrilled!

L. Frank Baum on his porch at Macatawa Park, probably early 1900s.

To give you an idea . . . Part of the setting is the early 1900s near Holland, Michigan where the Baums spent summers near Lake Macatawa—at the opposite end of the lake from where my family vacations annually. 

Baum on the porch of his “Sign of the Goose” cottage in Macatawa Park, early 1900s.

A little taste of the story . . . Fifteen Minutes with Mr. Baum . . .

After her 1980 college graduation, during the summer of her private rebellion, Carrie Kruisselbrink vows to no longer be molded according to her parents’ demands. She moves to her grandparents’ in Wolcott, near Holland, Michigan. Instead of re-taking a failed class, she accepts an unconventional job with the disgruntled town recluse, Mrs. Charlotte Rose Gordon, to investigate her deceased husband’s 1918 murder charge to clear his name. 

Mrs. Gordon immerses Carrie in her childhood stories and young adult years at the Broderick Resort and Tearoom—and in young Charlotte’s growing friendship with The Wizard of Oz author. The winsome Mr. L. Frank Baum and his family spend summers at nearby Macatawa Park in the early 1900s. Though Charlotte’s fancies are squelched at home by pious parents, with a mother who only allows her to read The New England Primer and The Pilgrim’s Progress, Mr. Baum draws out her imagination in enchanting ways she never dreamed possible.

But what turned sweet Charlotte into such a bitter woman? Carrie longs to find out. As she accompanies Mrs. Gordon on the bumpy road of her memoirs, Carrie faces her own heartaches and finds unlikely parallels to the older woman’s life. While battling their respective dragons, their mutual love of fairytales and Mr. Baum’s influence take both Carrie and Mrs. Gordon on a hero’s journey neither expects.

********************

There. A full-fledged novel that started by reading a biography and feeling the Lake Macatawa connection. 

If you like historical fiction and character-driven stories—with a touch of romance—this novel fits the bill. If you like fairy tales, that’s another bonus.

If you’re a Baum fan, you’ll get the feel of what it was like to be with him. According to someone who read one of my scenes,

“It is delightful to see how you bring Baum into your story,
and I can see how it will tickle the imagination of your readers.”
—Gita Dorothy Morena, great-granddaughter of L. Frank Baum

If you’re unfamiliar with Baum, you’re in for a treat, for you’ll have the pleasure of getting to know him.

This is a story about about fathers and fairy tales, unrelenting dragons, facing fears, and being oneself. It’s about risk-taking, following your passion, holding fast to both imagination and faith. It’s about discovering grace, finding a true home, and redeeming lost time.

This novel sits at the end of the path I started walking over five years ago. But I hope it’s not the end—rather, only a beginning. And I hope you’ll join me.

RESOURCES:

Do you have places you want to visit related to a hobby?

I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,

Laura

20 thoughts on “My Journey to Oz & Kansas—Part 5: Why so much Oz?

  1. Your amazing post sets the stage for several potential road trips. Over the years we’ve made stops in Wisconsin and Minnesota based on Laura Ingalls Wilder.
    When we go to Michigan and Kansas I will be adding stops to visit Oz related sites. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Glad your appetite was whetted for seeing some Oz sites! And glad you got to drop by the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites. My daughters and I have fond memories of our Little House road trip years ago.

  2. How exciting, Laura. I want to read this book! I love all the travel you’ve done and the detailed history you’ve gathered to flesh out your story.

  3. In college I studied the movement beginning in the Romantic period of literary tourism, wherein people would visit locations and settings they found in literature, as well as locations of famous authors. Shakespeare/ Stratford upon Avon was a popular destination and still is today. This inspired Sir Walter Scott to create his own museum at Abbotsford. I have not made it out to England yet but these locations are on my list!

    1. If you don’t get all the way to England for a while, maybe you can try Stratford, Ontario for their Shakespeare Festival! Any literary trip would be a delight. I hope you get to take one soon.

    1. Makes me wonder how some of these towns get named. What’s the origin of Ixonia? Was there a Mr. Ixonia the town was named after? 🙂

  4. Laura,
    Your posts are so much fun to read. My hobby is collector pins. I’m not sure whether it is the pins that inspire the travel, or the travel that inspires the pins. We just bought a copy of Moon’s guide to USA National Parks. We have been to many parks and monuments. Now I need to get the passport stamped, and buy more pins. Anything that inspires travel is good. There is so much to see. Maybe this should inspire a blog? See what you started 😉

    1. Thanks for sharing, Nancy! How many pins do you have? Do you display them somehow? I’m guessing there are plenty of travel blogs out there, but your comment makes me want to hear some of my readers’ travel stories–including yours.

      When our kids were little, we got those national park passport books, and then we’d forget to pack them for trips! At the parks, I’d stamp little scraps of paper for each kid and tape them into the book when we got home. Proof we’d been there!

  5. I have a cloth, zippered portfolio for my pins. They are on pages according to topics: theme parks, sports, career and awards, and the largest section is travel. I haven’t counted them, but there are probably 1-200. Our daughter-in-law got us started on the park passports. She said you can mail them to ones you missed. Tell them a date and they will stamp and return it. We also bought an America the Beautiful pass. It is for seniors. You pay a one time fee, and your entire car load gets in any park or monument free. We have really saved a ton of money with it. Yes, there are plenty of travel blogs out there. I guess my Facebook posts will be adequate for now.

    1. Wow, that’s a lot of pins! I’m guessing you enjoy perusing that portfolio from time to time, recalling all the memories. I use kitchen magnets for that purpose. I didn’t know you could mail the passports in to get stamped. That’s nicer than taping in scraps of paper! And great you have saved so much money with your pass.

      If you love writing and want to start a travel blog, by all means, do it! I mentioned all the travel blogs because they’d probably be a good source of knowledge for planning a trip. You have a lot of your own travel experience and expertise to share. Not to mention that your readers could enjoy your trips vicariously!

  6. What amazing things you saw! Because of you, I am hyper-aware of all things Oz. Or maybe just enjoying them more. The little 4-H fair we went to Sunday in the western part of the state had an Oz theme. So much fun! I wish I’d taken more photos. And just on the news this past week Walt Disney and his hometown of Marceline were featured. It was fun to hear more about him, and more fun to actually be familiar with the location and history.
    Thank you for the delightful spring and summer for us armchair travelers. And speaking of delightful that is how your book will be! Get that final editing done!

    1. So glad you were along for the ride, Anita! It sounds like you make your own fun, wherever you go, armchair travel or 4-H fair. 🙂 And thanks for the kind words regarding my book!

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