By Theresa St. John
“That proves you are unusual,” returned the Scarecrow; “and I am convinced that the only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones. For the common folks are like the leaves of a tree, and live and die unnoticed.” ~ L. Frank Baum
It wasn’t just children, huddled together in the dark, tucked into blankets on the floor in front of the living room couch year after year. Families from all over the country paused from the everyday business of living and waited. Mesmerized, we sat with baited breath, anticipating the annual televised broadcast of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
But, who knew when Dorothy said the words “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” meant they were 1,375 miles away, in Chittenango, New York-at least that’s where the beloved book’s author, L. Frank Baum, called home.
When “The Wizard of Oz” debuted on the big screen in 1939 it was to mostly good reviews. It earned six academy award nominations. Judy Garland was only 16 in the starring role and won an Oscar for best song, “Over the Rainbow.” It also won the best score, but lost the Best Picture category to “Gone With the Wind.” At the end of the day though, the movie was not considered profitable. It was television that transformed it into the classic we all know and love today. “The Wizard of Oz” first aired in our homes November 3rd, 1956 and beginning in 1959 was televised once a year until 1991.
In Chittenango, New York, it’s an entirely different story. Every single day is a celebration of L. Frank Baum, culminating each June in an extravaganza that draws visitors from all over the country and many corners of the world.
This past June marked the 41st multi-day festival in this small suburb of Syracuse. Upwards of 32,000 visitors made their way to the festival over that weekend. The OZ parade boasted 82 participating acts and seemed to go on and on and on, lasting forever. It was delightful, watching characters from the book come to life on the streets of Chittenango.
Alongside fair food, games and a genuine yellow brick road that winds its lazy way through the common, Chittenango offers an extensive historical background of the author and his stories inside the All Things OZ Museum. Opened in 2011, it claims to have over 1,000 Baum and other Oz-related items in its vast collection.
Amazingly, the museum is a 100% volunteer-organization. They are open every Saturday from 10am-3pm and by appointment. During the Winter, hours may be different.
Down the road, just a short drive away, an old strip mall has been cleverly converted into The Yellow Brick Road Casino. Filled with Oz-inspired fun, more than 400 of New York’s hottest slots, and the infamous Cyclone of Cash, there are countless opportunities to leave a winner, 24/7.
Visitors can enjoy happy hour at The Heart and Courage Saloon and The Winged Monkey, choose from weekly home-cooked specials inside Dorothy’s Farm House restaurant or order up a slice of seriously good pizza from a comfortable booth at Wicked Good Pizza.
“A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.” ~ L. Frank Baum
By the looks of it, Mr. Baum, our collective hearts are filled with love and childlike wonder. Thanks to you.
All photos by Theresa St. John