Unlike Elton John, we did not find ourselves beyond the enchanted pathway, instead we found ourselves right in the middle of it, and privy to the secrets behind the making of the most magical road movie of all time.
Yes Dorothy, we were in Kansas anymore, Wamego to be exact.
As the home of The Oz Museum, this little burg between Topeka and Manhattan has become quite a Mecca for fans of The Wizard of Oz. We entered the main street storefront into a fairly typical gift shop, with a couple of exceptions. There was a tornado machine in one corner and a very familiar-looking, sepia-toned house along the far wall.
To set the mood, we stepped into the machine and was buffeted by gale force winds. We say gale, as opposed to tornado, not only because it is Dorothy’s last name, but also because was must admit to being a little disappointed by the lack of vortex. The wind blew straight down on our heads. Nevertheless, we felt ready to enter Auntie Em’s front door.
In a very effective nod to the movie’s switch from black & white to technicolor, everything beyond the doorway was properly retina-burningly bright.
Our journey began with the books behind the film, including a first edition of the one that started it all, L. Frank Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz from 1900.
Baum went on to pen thirteen more Oz books, but the tales continued even after he passed away, as the publisher sanctioned over twenty more titles, mostly written by Ruth Plumly Thompson. In all, the series spanned five decades.
From the literary beginnings we moved on to the displays about the beloved 1939 movie that brought Oz to life for so many millions of people. Each of the main characters is given a space which includes signed memorabilia, letters, notes, and fascinating behind-the-scenes stories.
We learned that several of the actors were not the first choice for their roles – W. C. Fields was originally cast as the wizard, played by Frank Morgan, but contract disputes got in the way; and Buddy Ebsen, of Jed Clampett and Barnaby Jones fame, was the first pick for The Tin Man until the silver makeup made him ill, giving the part to Jack Haley.
Many of the film’s special effects are explained too. The tornado was made of a gauze-like muslin fabric wrapped around a wire coil, and the wicked witches’ “Surrender Dorothy” sky writing was achieved by an ink-filled medical needle and water in a glass tank.
Most interesting to David, especially since he can finally stop being terrified of them, were the little models used to create the army of flying monkeys.
There are several replicas of the ruby slippers, which were originally meant to be silver but changed because red looked so much better against the yellow brick road, but an original pair destined to be displayed at the Oz Museum fell prey to thieves back in 2005.
Unfortunately, one of the five known pairs used in the movie was stolen from The Judy Garland Museum two weeks before they were scheduled to be delivered. While some of the other shoes have been auctioned for over half a million dollars, the stolen ones have never surfaced.
In the back of the building a theater runs a pristine copy of the MGM classic, but we’ve seen it hundreds of times so we headed into the Haunted Forest, lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Just as in the movie, beyond the forest we came to Glenda The Good Witch and the hot air balloon. But we didn’t need a ride back to Kansas, it was right outside the door.
The museum has spawned several other Oz based businesses in Wamego. Right next door we grabbed a bite at Toto’s Tacoz.
We knew it had to be good because they spelled tacos with a Z.
About a block down Lincoln Street we found the Oz Winery. They make a wide variety of wines right on site, many with fanciful Oz based names like Squished Witch, Flying Monkeys, Drunken Munchkin, and Wine of a Different Color.
In fact, Oz has become such an integral part of the town that each year they host a giant Oztoberfest combining the classic Bavarian festival with thousands of fans, many decked out as their favorite fantasy characters from the merry old land of Oz.
We’re not positive about this, but speculation is that this might be where the winery got the idea for the name Drunken Munchkin.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com