This article was published in The Wichita Eagle’s Travel Section.
Ooohs and Oz
Kansas museum dedicated to all things Oz
Jim Ginavan frequently hears two comments when guests finish touring the new Oz Museum in Wamego, Kan.: “I didn’t realize the Oz story was more than the movie” and “What’s this big city attraction doing in such a small town?”
L. Frank Baum wrote “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in 1900, but the Oz story didn’t attract widespread commercial success until MGM released the movie in 1939. The classic children’s story starring Judy Garland became a hit and inspired Broadway plays, music, more movies, television shows, books and a horde of promotional products. The buzz was rekindled in 1989 when the film celebrated its 50th anniversary.
“Who would’ve thought that a movie made in 1939 would still have people clamoring after it?” said Ginavan, curator of the museum that will hold its grand opening ceremony with special guests from 1 to 5 p.m. on April 3, 2003. “But this museum is about more than just the movie; it’s an all-things-Oz museum.”
The majority of the 3,000 artifacts are from the private collection of Tod Machin, a 1985 Kansas State graduate who grew up in Wamego and the answer to why the museum opened in this town of 4,500 located 85 miles west of Kansas City.
Machin began collecting Wizard of Oz memorabilia after writing a paper for a history of costume class while working on his degree in drawing and print making. He became immersed in collecting, befriended several cast members and earned a reputation as an Oz costume authority. He was commissioned by Hallmark to recreate the ruby slippers as well as many other costumes from the movie to exacting detail. That meant counting the rows of squares on the gingham pattern and copying the hemming glitch in Dorothy’s original dress.
A ruby slipper exhibit is just one of many imaginative displays in the 6,000-square-foot Oz Museum that was built with a $100,000 state tourism grant and $400,000 from the community. The idea for the permanent housing of the collection came from businessman Clark Balderson after a successful summer exhibit in 1995 at Wamego’s Columbian Theatre that drew 20,000 paying visitors in just three months. Machin was reluctant when first approached about loaning his collection to the museum because he was still collecting. But soon afterward, he stopped collecting as memorabilia prices skyrocketed.
“He’d thought about it and decided he wanted people to enjoy his collection,” said Jane Boys, manager of the museum’s gift shop. “Thousands of volunteers’ hours and nearly eight years later, the museum is a first-class attraction.”
Machin’s method of collecting makes the museum unique, along with the sheer volume of items. Not only does he have a rare Judy Garland doll, but he has the original magazine article from which it could be ordered. He has a sequin from an original pair of ruby slippers worn in the movie, along with a signed letter from the shoe’s owner.
“Rather than saying ‘here it is, we have it,’ we are able to say ‘here it is, we have it and here’s how we’ve documented it,’ ” Ginavan said. “The way Tod authenticated his collection makes it very special.”
Everything at the Oz Museum – from the choice of buildings to the color palette used by muralist Cynthia Martin – was carefully chosen to connect to the Oz legend. Baum wrote the original book from his mercantile store in South Dakota, so the museum is in a restored 19th century building typical of a Kansas general store. The fictional Dorothy Gale had very little color in her life on the farm, so the scenes of her Kansas homestead are painted in shades of brown and color isn’t introduced until guests open the door to the museum’s galleries and enter the Technicolor world of Oz.
Before entering the galleries, guests stand amid a farm scene with a swirling tornado airbrushed on the wall and a bicycle resting on the roof of the Gale home. The story comes to life through four galleries that follow the sequence of the film – along the yellow brick road to Munchkinland, through the haunted forest, into the wicked witch’s castle and, finally, to Emerald City. Life-size statues of the main characters lead the way.
Simultaneously, Gallery One showcases the books chronologically starting with first edition copies of the 40 original books of Oz and ending with the current works of Baum’s great grandson, Roger S. Baum. Original illustrations from the first book are displayed, as well as modern photos of the “Seinfeld” cast dressed as Oz characters. Also in the first gallery is the munchkin display containing several personal pieces given to Machin by the actors.
Gallery Two contains thousands of relics like rare dolls in excellent condition, original and replica costumes and an actor’s display with notes, documents and photos from the MGM vaults that provide a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s production. Throughout the museum are video kiosks and text placards that share Machin’s intimate stories about the pieces and the history of Oz.
Commercialization of the Oz tale and its characters took off once the film was shown on television in 1956. In Gallery Three visitors will find objects revolving around spin-offs of the movie such as Richard Pryor’s signed script from the 1978 film “The Wiz” starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, collectible toys and one of Machin’s most prized possessions, a Dorothy doll from a short-lived 1960 cartoon. Gallery Four stores the latest items, including Flying Monkey beer that is still brewed in Kansas City and displays on the artists who have contributed to the museum.
As guests exit the galleries, they find themselves back on the Kansas farm where normalcy has returned. They also find they are standing in the middle of the museum’s gift shop, stocked with the next generation of Oz collectibles.
“The museum will continue to grow with new displays and new programs so we anticipate visitors coming back again and again,” Boys said. “There’s something here that appeals to every age because the story continues to thrive more than 100 years after Baum created it.”
IF YOU GO
What: Oz Museum
Where: 511 Lincoln in Wamego, Kan.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday
Admission: $7, 13 & older; $4, ages 4-12; free, ages 3 & younger. Group rates available.
More info: Call (866) 458-TOTO or visit www.ozmuseum.com
This article was published in The Wichita Eagle in 2003 just prior to the museum’s grand opening in April.