Featured in the 2004 Summer issue
Editor's Note: Some exhibits and artifacts mentioned in this article may no longer be on display.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road to Wamego and check out one of the largest private collections of OZ Memorabilia at Wamego’s OZ Museum
The Oz Museum opened last fall in the heart of Wamego’s business district and is the newest installment honoring the state’s connection of L. Frank Baum’s ageless fairy tale, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The book that started it all, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was self-published by Baum in 1900 and has since sold over seven million copies worldwide.
The museum features the collection of Wamego native Tod Machin who began collecting Oz memorabilia in the early 1980s while attending Kansas State University. With over 2,000 pieces, the collection is now out where everyone can marvel at the worldwide appeal of the story of Dorothy Gale, and her little dog Toto, and their travels through Oz and back.
Open the heavy doors of the museum and step into the sepia-tones of the The Wizard of Oz movie’s Gale family barnyard. The Farmyard Gift Shop features a wide variety of gifts from t-shirts and mugs to limited edition Oz collector items. Swing open the screen door on the Gale’s porch and you’re greeted by a life-size Dorothy and Toto and the Technicolor world of Oz.
With four galleries, eight alcoves, and 20 display cabinets, all bursting with Oz artifacts from all over the world, there’s plenty to see and experience. Narratives are located near the displays, outlining the history of the book and other interesting tidbits and facts about Oz and its creation.
The museum also offers a look at just how the Oz phenomenon has spread throughout the world. Foreign language posters announce showings of the movie, and one display case features Oz books in German, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, and other languages.
In addition to items from the book and the movie, Richard Pryor’s script book and the dress worn by Diana Ross in The Wiz are also on display, along with a number of Oz-inspired products like Emerald City Ale, Tine Man Organic Juice, Oz Peanut Butter, and Wizard of Oz Shampoo.
The life-size Dorothy and Toto are joined throughout the museum by sculptures of the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion, all by artist Tim Wolak of Hammond, Ind. The background murals were painted by Cindy Martin of Onaga. Numerous photos and autographs from the stars of the movie, and even a copy of the Wicked Witches’ death certificate, are on display. You’ll also see Oz-themed toys from every generation inspired by the 1939 movie and all of its later forms.
According to museum curator Jim Ginavan, the museum will continue adding to the collection and making sure there’s something for everyone.
“I hope people find it’s not just about the movie, but it’s about everything that has to do with Oz,” Ginavan said. “Each generation had made the story of Oz theirs, and that’s created a life of its own.”
The museum was created by the Columbian Theatre Foundation, Inc. with a $100,000 Attraction Development grant from Kansas Tourism and $400,000 in funds committed from the community. According to Clark Balderson, vice president of the Columbian Foundation responsible for the Oz Museum, more than 5,000 hours of volunteer labor also went into transforming the 1880s mercantile building into the museum.
The idea for a permanent home for Machin’s collection began in 1995 after a small portion of it was shown at the Columbian Theatre just a few doors north of the present museum. With little promotion, over 20,000 people dropped in to see the collection in the three months it was there.
That, coupled with being questioned by a customs agent in northern Portugal shortly thereafter about the whereabouts of Dorothy, started Balderson thinking about how the state needed to stop feeling embarrassed by its connection to The Wizard of Oz and begin to embrace it.
“You can travel anywhere in the world and once people find out you’re from Kansas they will ask about Oz, or Dorothy, or about ruby slippers,” Balderson said.
Wamego’s connection to the Oz story doesn’t end at the museum. The historic Columbian Theatre houses several museums from the 1893 Columbian Exposition and World’s Fair. The fair, referred to as the “White City,” featured elaborate walkways and ornate exhibits, which became the inspiration for Baum’s creation of the Emerald City of Oz. Ginavan believes Baum’s classic children’s story had such an enduring place in our lives because the story is so heartfelt and has such a good message.
“It’s about family. It’s about roots,” he said. “And it’s about how sometimes the best things in life are in your own backyard.”
As Dorothy said, “There’s no place home.”