One of L. Frank Baum’s great grandson’s, Roger S. Baum, writes Oz children’s books. One of which, “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return,” will be a movie set to release in theaters May 9, 2014. To get a head start on all things Oz be sure to visit Wamego, Kan.
Oz Highway, or Kansas highway 99, leads you to Wamego, Kan. Offered downtown is the Oz Winery, Toto’s Tacoz and the Oz Museum. In L. Frank Baum’s book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” written in 1900, no specific place in Kansas is mentioned. This allowed Wamego, Kan., to embrace and adopt Oz.
“When you think of Kansas, you think of Oz,” says Clint Stueve, executive director of The Columbian Theatre in Wamego. Stueve said he overtime he travels overseas people ask him about Dorothy. “They ask you about Toto because the only reason they know about Kansas is because of that book,” he said. “I mean, it’s America’s fairy tail.”
Eight-foot tall Tin Man in the Oz Museum’s gift shop. Photo by Cassidy Ritter
Wamego originally adopted Oz in 1995. It all started with a local man named Todd Machen. Machen had a large Oz collection that was on display in the Crown Center in Kansas City, Mo. During this time, The Columbian Theatre had just opened in Wamego, where Machen lived. Many board members asked Machen if he would be interested in putting some of his collection on display at The Columbian Theatre. Once the collection was on display, tourists flooded to Wamego.
“We had 12,000 people come in over the two-month period that the exhibit was open,” said Stueve. “I mean our gallery was popular, but I’ve never seen that much popularity. I mean, we had visitors [from] overseas and from most of the states.”
Austin Hibbs is the gift shop coordinator at the Oz Museum. Hibbs said that the town needed some extra tourism. Before the town adopted Oz, their tourism came from the Tulip Festival and the windmill in the park. After seeing the amount of tourism one collection brought to Wamego, the board of directors at The Columbian Theatre wanted to do more.
“The decision was made at that point to open a museum so more than just that original group of people could come see [the Oz artifacts],” said Hibbs.
Scarecrow in the Oz Museum. Photo by Cassidy Ritter.
The movement to create the Oz Museum was led by Clark Balderson, currently the owner and president of Dymax in Wamego. Balderson and many board members formed the Oz Museum and purchased its location just a few doors down from The Columbian Theatre. A contract was signed with Machen in 2003, and doors opened in April 2004.
The museum was built with a grant from the state of Kansas and support from people in Wamego.
In 2009, five years after opening, the museum brought in a new collector from Chicago. Most of the collections and artifacts are privately owned; however, the museum also has connections with the Baum family.
Two of L. Frank Baum’s great grandsons both have Oz collections they share with the museum, said Stueve.
The Oz Museum also has collections from all over, including some artifacts from Judy Garland’s son, Joseph Luft. Garland played Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” film by MGM in 1939.
“A few items around here are the museum’s,” says Hibbs. “We are actually building our own collection, as people want to donate and give things to the museum.”
Today the museum has a collection of Baum’s books, board games related to Oz, a small theater showing the movie and many other Oz artifacts. They also have two of the four originally flying monkeys used in “The Wizard of Oz” film.
“The museum houses more than just memorabilia from the famous 1939 MGM musical starring Judy Garland,” says the Oz Museum website. “It encompasses earlier silent films.”
Wicked Witch of the East under Dorothy’s house. Photo by Cassidy Ritter
Stueve says: “I think once your eyes are open to Oz, you don’t realize how much it has impacted our culture until you become intimately aware of Oz, and so now everything I see was in some way inspired by Oz. You don’t watch a television series without seeing an Oz reference. You don’t watch a movie without seeing an Oz reference. The Wizard of Oz, the film by MGM, is the most viewed movie in all history. We see how big of an impact a movie has on our culture, but for it to be the movie that everybody has seen, that’s huge.”
- “The Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum has been around for 114 years.
- Many of the munchkins in “The Wizard of Oz Film” have visited the museum.
- The flying monkeys used in the film are about three or four inches in size.
- In 2013, 30,000 people came to visit the Oz Museum. Three or four thousand visitors came from foreign countries.
- The Columbian Theatre is in phase two of creating a Yellow Brick Road. When phase three is done, the Yellow Brick Road will end in the park with a spiral similar to what was in “The Wizard of Oz” film.
- One of L. Frank Baum’s great grandsons travels doing talks about Oz in character as his great grandfather.
Cassidy Ritter: Wamego, Kansas, is home to all things Oz. There is the Oz Museum, Toto’s Tacoz and the Oz Winery. Kristen Clarke said the winery was built after the museum.
Kristen Clarke: The museum kind of brought the theme of Oz to Wamego specifically.
Ritter: When Noah Wright and Brooke Balderson took over the winery, they re-did the labels to have more of an Oz related theme.
Clarke: Everything is based off the book. That’s why on our “Squished Witch” label it has her little shoes up in the air. They are silver instead of ruby red because in Fank L. Baum’s original work the slivers were silver. They changed it to Technicolor in the movie.
Ritter: In the back of the store is the cellar where the wine is made.
Clarke: We bring the grapes here because we do purchase from a handful of different wineries around northeast Kansas and some other states as well. But we bring the grapes back here, press them and then hand bottle, label, cork, everything.
Ritter: Besides selling wine, the Oz Winery offers tastings and wine pairings. On occasion, they host small parties or events. The winery also has a collection of t-shirts and wine accessories. I’m Cassidy Ritter with Kwirky Kansas.