WAMEGO, Kan. - Those who think “The Wizard of Oz” is the story of a Kansas farm girl singing about rainbows and skipping down a yellow brick road in red slippers should think again.
There’s a lot more to the world of Munchkins and witches than most people realize, as a trip through the Wizard of Oz Museum in this rural town shows.
The fascination for all things Oz goes back more than a century but was boosted by the 1939 movie classic. Oz festivals are scattered around the country, including one here this month. Oz collectibles are big business. Scores of Web sites are devoted to Oz, and there’s even an International Wizard of Oz Club.
“The mystique is that Oz is the good place, where people are happy and differences are respected,” says Oz scholar Stephen Teller, an English professor at Pittsburg State University. “The place was the American utopia.”
Mr. Teller, who serves on the international Oz club’s board of directors, says though most people know the story through the movie, it was L. Frank Baum who wrote the classic American fairy tale, published in 1900. Baum wrote 14 Oz books, and after his death in 1919, the franchise continued with other writers. There are about 40 Oz books.
The museum isn’t the only Oz place in Kansas. Liberal, Kan., has Dorothy’s House, a relocated farmhouse built in 1907, along with the original model of the house used in the film and a selection of Oz memorabilia.
But Jim Ginavan, executive director of the Columbian Theater Foundation, which operates the Wamego museum, does claim bragging rights in one area. The museum, which opened in November 2003, has more than 2,000 items in its inventory, and about 1,500 of them are on display at any one time.
“I don’t think any other museum has as much Oz material,” Mr. Ginavan says. “I think we are the largest Wizard of Oz museum, and it’s fitting that it’s in Kansas.”
Mr. Ginavan says the idea of an Oz museum — which attracts some 25,000 visitors annually — first came up a decade ago. It became a reality when Tod Machin, who grew up in Wamego and lives in the Kansas City area, lent his collection to the museum.
The entry to the exhibits looks like an old wooden farmhouse, complete with a screen door that opens to a life-size figure of Dorothy and Toto. Scattered throughout are life-size figures of other Oz characters from the movie.
Copies of Baum’s books are on display, including some first editions. There also are paper cutout figures from the 1930s, dolls, figurines, Christmas ornaments, coloring books, Halloween masks, hand puppets and the dress Diana Ross wore in the 1978 movie “The Wiz.” A copy of the 1925 silent-film version of “The Wizard of Oz” even plays.
The museum features a couple of rarities, including one of just three surviving small flying monkeys used as props in the film — fashioned from rubber with a pipe cleaner tail — and a doll based on a TV cartoon show that never took off. Also on view are test photographs of actors in costume and makeup from the 1939 film. Original costume sketches are on display along with marketing tie-ins, such as Oz peanut-butter jars.
One thing the museum lacks, though, is a pair of red slippers worn in the film. Four pairs are known to exist, including one pair on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Another pair sold at Christie’s auction house in 2000 for $666,000.
Mr. Ginavan says the next best thing is on display: a replica pair and the MGM studio blueprints from which they were fashioned, exact in every detail down to the label inside the shoes.