The small town of Chittenango, New York is proud to embrace their hometown boy, L. Frank Baum. He spent his first five years in Chittenango, his birthplace. Later, he grew accustomed to seeing the yellowed hemlock plank road that carried salt barrels to Salina, possibly the inspiration for Oz’s Yellow Brick Road. Over a century later, as a tribute to Baum, another Yellow Brick Road winds through downtown Chittenango on Genessee Street.
The town hosts the annual Oz-stravanza the first weekend in June. They are planning a big surprise for next year (2019), the 80th anniversary of the MGM movie The Wizard of Oz.
The Oz-Stravaganza grew from a simple Baum birthday event in 1978 to a three-day festival hosted by Oz historian John Fricke, hosting since 1990. This is the largest and oldest Wizard of Oz themed festival in the world.
As a huge Baum and Oz fan, I had planned to attend the Oz-stravaganza this year but had to delay my trip by two weeks. So in mid-June I drove to Ithaca to visit my friend Nancy. We spent Saturday in Chittenango and “Oz,” and Sunday in Syracuse, where Baum lived for a few years of childhood and as a young man. If you haven’t already, read my previous post about The Wizard of Oz’s impact in literary history and American culture.
Chittenango sits snugly in central New York, between the Finger Lakes region and the Mohawk Valley, surrounded by pastoral beauty, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls.
The All Things Oz Museum, open on Saturdays only, is a delightful collection of almost 15,000 items of Baum and Oz history, one of the three largest public Oz collections. (The other two are in the Wamego, Kansas Oz Museum and the Grand Rapids, Minnesota Judy Garland Museum). About 1350 items are on display here at a time. Others are rotated in for fall and Christmas seasons. Run by volunteers, this non-profit organization opened in 2014.
Before going, I emailed to make sure that the museum would be open when I planned to be in town. Museum secretary and trustee, Marc Baum, assured me it would be. He and L. Frank Baum share the same family tree–on distant limbs, but still a blood connection. Marc’s great-grandfather was a second cousin to Frank.
On Saturday, Dennis, the museum president, greeted us in the gift shop. As our official tour guide, Marc then welcomed us to “Oz”. The normal forty-five minute tour stretched to an hour and a half, due to questions from our little group. Marc’s stories about each highlighted item were fascinating. With his enthusiasm and knowledge, no doubt the tour could have easily stretched to five hours! I thoroughly enjoyed it.
In 1904, Baum’s publisher started a promotion for the second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz, and the subsequent musical extravaganza based on it: The Woggle-Bug. Newspapers featured comic episodes, each ending with a question. In the picture, the Woggle-Bug whispers to his companions. Advertisements ask, ‘What did the Woggle-Bog say?’ The publisher awarded prize money for correct answers. Newsboys everywhere wore yellow pins with the question . . .
“What did the Woggle-Bug say?”
Though the Woggle-Bug is a unique Baum character in the Oz books, unfortunately, the musical flopped, only lasting six weeks. But the promotions of that decade were just the beginning of all the promotions to follow, resulting in Ozmapolitan newspapers, trading cards, diecut Oz figures, board games, and more.
And my question for you today is NOT “What did the Woggle-Bug say?” Instead, I’m asking, “What does Marc say?”
I’m talking about Marc Baum, our Oz Tour Guide. I’m sharing pictures of the multitude of items in the All Things Oz Museum but I don’t want to steal Marc’s thunder (or any other tour guide’s) if you ever make your own visit here. Hopefully, this will whet your appetite enough to come to Chittenango to see things for yourself!
To give you the flavor of what you can see at the museum, come along with me and learn more about the man behind the curtain . . .
First stop is the room about L. Frank Baum. Full of old pictures and his original books, the room is dark and gray, just like the Kansas prairie brewing for a cyclone.
In his twenties, Baum adapted the novel The Maid of Arran for the stage. He wrote both script and lyrics and starred as Hugh Holcombe. The show traveled all over the U.S. and Canada in the1880s. His stage name was Louis F. Baum.
==> Ask Marc about the trading cards for the play and, later, for the baseball team.
This room is a bit dark, but it accentuates the mysterious genius behind Oz and all that channeled from Baum’s creativity through his pen. Imagine the author at work, his cognitive wheels churning like the gray swirls of stormy Kansas clouds. Then walk through the doorway and . . .
Step into the light and brightness of Oz!
If there was ever any doubt that Oz is alive and well, doubt no longer. See how Oz captured the spirit of Americans (and beyond) for the last 118 years, through toys, puzzles, puppets, comics, mugs, Dixie cups, board games, videos, books, clothing, TV, movies, and art. Send your boxtops in for puppets or papercut buildings of the Emerald City. Authors, playwrights, screenplay writers, and artists are still busy trying to capture the magic of Oz in new ways.
Here are some toys . . .
Of course, no toy collection is complete without Potato Heads….
And no child’s bedroom is complete without Oz wallpaper (1974), Oz hangers (1932), and an Oz table set…..
Marc shared several anecdotes about the actors who played the lovable Munckins in the MGM movie. Many of them showed up for various Oz conventions and festivals across the country for decades, including Chittenango’s Oz-stravaganza.
The last surviving Munchkin was actor Jerry Maren, who passed away right before this year’s Oz-stravaganza. At age nineteen, his role was to give Dorothy the lollipop as a member of the Lollipop Guild. He was the only Munchkin who took up acting as a career.
==> Be sure to ask Marc why the Munchkins liked Judy Garland but hated Toto.
Keeping with its name, All Things Oz, the museum has memorabilia from every possible source, including a variety of stage and screen versions/adaptations: The Wizard of Oz musical extravaganza (1902), The Wiz, Wicked (2003), Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful (2013), and more. The 1975 Broadway musical The Wiz followed the book more closely than the MGM movie did. The 1978 movie of The Wiz was very different from either.
The red and white dress below is a replica of Dorothy’s dress from the 1902-1909 Broadway extravaganza The Wizard of Oz (replica by Shawn Ryan). The showcase features original sheet music and production photos. Behind the dress on the left is another replica—from Dorothy’s dress in the 1975 Broadway show The Wiz (dress also by Shawn Ryan). This display contains the original Emerald City glasses, the program, cast T-shirt, and more.
Did you know that Elphaba in Wicked was named after L. Frank Baum (LFB)? If you’ve never seen the show, I highly recommend it. My understanding is that it is only loosely based on the book Wicked (which I never read). The stage musical is wonderful. The songs are singable. The plot is full of clever twists. There is irony, depth, and much to ponder afterward. I absolutely loved it and took all four of my kids when it came to Milwaukee (they were ages 17, 15, 10 and 8 then).
More MGM Oz figures….
Fun Facts about a rare Margaret Hamilton doll . . .
Fun Fact about Oz and the FBI . . . straight from Quantico . . .
The FBI uses concepts from Oz to train every session. After all, one needs brains, heart, and courage to succeed in the FBI.
“The Challenge” proves that We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, with exercises like the Winged Monkey Assault and Lion’s Leap. Participants are awarded a special FBI mug at the end of their training.
According to the FBI.gov website:
“National Academy graduates fondly recall their experience on the “Yellow Brick Road.” The final test of the fitness challenge, the Yellow Brick Road is a grueling 6.1-mile run through a hilly, wooded trail built by the Marines. Along the way, the participants must climb over walls, run through creeks, jump through simulated windows, scale rock faces with ropes, crawl under barbed wire in muddy water, maneuver across a cargo net, and more. When (and if) the students complete this difficult test, they receive an actual yellow brick to memorialize their achievement. The course came to be known as the “Yellow Brick Road” years ago, after the Marines placed yellow bricks at various spots to show runners the way through the wooded trail. The overall fitness challenge began at the National Academy in 1981 and has evolved over the years; we started awarding yellow bricks in 1988.”
In the FBI National Academy Building, you’ll see a J. Edgar Hoover bust, statues of notable people, and several Oz items . . .
==> You’ll have to ask Marc what they are!
Only Marc was allowed to handle this valuable mug. Note the training exercises listed . . .
Then there’s all the fun movie stuff with the MGM Oz stars . . .
Author-historian John Fricke is the Judy Garland expert and All Things Oz Museum blogger. He often hosts Oz festivals and conventions.
Somehow I missed getting pictures of Glinda or the Wizard.
Here’s the display on the way out of the museum . . .
==> Ask Marc why the museum staff won’t let this witch talk anymore.
I wish Baum could have seen the MGM movie. Though it left many events out, it captured much of the book’s flavor–except for one thing. At the end it was all a dream. Baum would’ve been appalled. For to him and his readers, Oz was just as real and vital as the Pettijohn’s Breakfast Cereal that sponsored his Mother and Father Goose books. The Land of Oz was just as healthful and wholesome as Swift’s Oz peanut butter in the 1950s. The food was nourishment for the body; the books nourished the imagination. And still do.
In the 1950s, CBS obtained TV rights to the movie. It aired in 1956, then from 1959 to 1991. Its annual viewing became a family tradition. I first saw it in the 1960s; it was love at first sight. In 1971, Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow, visited my hometown Battle Creek, Michigan (I don’t know why), and spoke to The Wizard of Oz junior theater cast that my cousin was in. A few years later, my mother somehow met him in New Orleans and got his autograph for me.
The town of Chittenango reserves the right to claim Baum as one of their own. And they certainly do. The entire town embraces its connection to Oz. During the museum tour, Marc recommended visiting Dunkin’ Doughnuts, Tops Grocery Store, and even the local casino to experience more of Oz. The casino, which opened in 2015, consulted with the museum as to their decor and unique Oz touches. Nancy and I made it to all but Dunkin Doughnuts.
How would you like to grocery shop here?
Would you like to get pizza here?
Nancy and I aren’t into gambling, but we found the Yellow Brick Road Casino an Ozzy place to have lunch. Our sandwiches were delicious!
If you plan to visit, go for the next Oz-stravaganza (May 31 – June 2, 2019) to see the mystery guest and other special guests and events celebrating the 80th anniversary of the MGM movie. Or stop by on any Saturday all year long for your own personal tour at the museum. All Things Oz is a Blue Star Museum–always free for active military families.
Do you have a favorite Oz book, item, or anecdote?
I’d love to hear from you!
P.S. Next time learn more about L. Frank Baum, the man himself, and his own road to Oz.