We're Off to See the Wizard
“When I was young I longed to write a great novel that should win me fame. Now that I am getting old, my first book is written to amuse children. For, aside from my evident inability to do anything ‘great,’ I have learned to regard fame as a will-o-wisp which, when caught, is not worth the possession; but to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one’s heart and brings its own reward. I hope my book will succeed in that way – that the children will like it.”
-- L. Frank Baum
As the calendar rolls around to the first Saturday in October you just might want to click your heels together three times, say “There’s no place like home,” and follow the yellow brick road to a small town roughly halfway between Manhattan and Topeka, Kansas.
There you’ll find yourself transported to the wonderful Land of Oz, in Wamego, Kansas, as the town hosts its annual Oztoberfest, a day totally devoted to all things Wizard of Oz.
To sum up Oztoberfest, imagine your typical small town festival, pump it up a good amount, and add in a huge measure of Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Wicked Witch.
But it takes more than a few words to describe Oztoberfest. Wamego has gone all in on everything Wizard of Oz, including a museum devoted to the movie located right in the middle of the town’s main street.
One look at the exterior of the museum lets you know immediately this is no small town museum. This museum was obviously professionally designed. Standing two stories tall you can’t miss it with it’s signature green and yellow Oz colors, and caricatures of the story’s characters peering out through the windows.
Inside, the displays are just as first class, featuring a treasure trove of related memorabilia and countless bits of trivia. For instance, who knew:
The tornado in the movie was really 35 feet tall and made of muslin sewn together with piano wire.
In the scene where the Wicked Witch writes “Surrender Dorothy” in the sky, the writing was created by using a glass tank filled with a thick, tinted watery substance and a needle spreading black in it on the bottom.
To get visitors even more into the mood, everyone was handed a pair of emerald colored glasses that magically turned everything green when worn.
I definitely give the museum two thumbs up. It’s well worth the price of admission and, if you’re even the slightest Wizard of Oz fan, is worth stopping by anytime of the year, even if it’s not during Oztoberfest.
If you’d like to stroll down the yellow brick road yourself, Wamego recently added a new feature just for you. Across the street from the museum, a narrow alleyway between the stores has been redone as the yellow brick road with large murals depicting scenes from the movie painted on the buildings’ exterior walls.
Elsewhere, throughout the town are Toto statues, with the little dog standing on his hind legs, painted up in clever ways during a contest a few years back. There’s one painted in lollipops, reminiscent of the movie’s Lollipop Guild, one laminated with pages from the book and wearing glasses entitled Somewhere Over the Reading Rainbow, another painted in emerald shades and more.
Stores along the main street have joined in the spirit with signs giving a wink to the movie. The Oz Winery, just a block down from the museum, was an especially popular place during the festival, featuring such wines as the Drunken Munckin, Flying Monkey and Can’t Find My Way Home.
Oztoberfest began this year on Friday night with an outdoor silent showing of the movie set to the music Dark Side of the Moon and fittingly entitled Darkside of the Rainbow.
Really, the Pink Floyd album. They started the music with the opening of the movie and it’s amazing how the two match up. For instance, during the part where Dorothy first meets the Tin Man and his heart is supposed to be beating, you’ll hear deep rhythmic, heart-like, beats emanating from the music. It’s pretty wild.
I guess this has been a “thing” that’s been around for years. What I want to know is how the original person ever even dreamed of trying this out and what they were taking at the time.
Oh, and if you doubt me on this one, someone has graciously provided a YouTube video of the film set to the music so you can see for yourself.
The movie showing was staged in an empty courtyard area, not far from the museum, that pulled double duty as the beer garden for the festival. By the way, the people of Wamego are great. I like to think it’s the friendliness you’ll see from people throughout the Midwest, but then I might be a little biased.
I was sitting alone at the end of a picnic table just before the movie began but soon was joined by a young couple. I have to admit that once the movie was underway we spent a lot more time talking than we did watching the movie. They even bought me a beer. Yes, I can be bought for beer.
Saturday is the actual day of the festival and is filled with all sorts of events. There’s a craft fair, art show, children’s games, a large variety of food vendors, classic car show, live music and actors dressed up as the movie characters roaming around and more than willing to pose for “selfies”.
Some of the most fun is the costume contests. Oztoberfest visitors are encouraged to dress up as their favorite characters from the movie and awards for both young and old alike are presented to the best. There’s even a Toto look-a-like competition.
In addition, the festival traditionally brings in special guests with connections to the movie. This past year they included John Fricke and Gabriel Gale.
Fricke is a well-known historian and author who has won two Emmy Awards and written a number of Oz-related books. Gale is co-author of Ages of Oz, a Simon & Schuster book trilogy for children and young adults.
There is an admission fee for entering the museum but the festival is free, what a deal!
Finally, thanks to my new-found friends from the Dark Side movie who pointed out to me, on the edge of town, right next to the McDonald’s, some local wag had placed the Wicked Witch’s legs under an empty house. My guess is they will be gone by the next Oztoberfest but you might want to check and see for yourself. Let me know if you see them.
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