Follow the Yellow Brick Road to the All Things Oz Museum in Chittenango
July 8, 2021
Lions, tigers, bears, oh my! You’ll find all that and more when you visit the All Things Oz Museum in Chittenango, New York. The volunteer-run museum is home to over 15,000 pieces of memorabilia from the Oz world. Movie props, costumes, books, games, newspaper clippings, collectibles – more than you could ever imagine! Between 1,200 and 1,600 pieces are on display at any given time. It’s a must-visit for any Wizard of Oz fan.
A special thank you goes to Marc Baum, the secretary of All Things Oz Museum for giving me a tour of the collection.
Why is the Oz Museum in Chittenango?
L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, was born in Chittenango and lived a good part of his life there. And he’s not the only famous person in his family. Frank married the daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, a fierce feminist and abolitionist. So it’s no coincidence that Frank created a world revolving around a strong female lead character. The family home in Fayetteville is now a museum dedicated to the Gage and Baum families. When you visit, be sure to check out the Oz display in the front parlor.
About the All Things Oz Museum
The museum was started in 2012 when a private collector sold off his collection at a fraction of the cost. The museum was originally located in an old video store in town. After getting the property next door donated in 2013, the museum moved to the larger location.
The collection contains Oz memorabilia from around the world – sourced through gifts, online sales, donations, and more. You’ll find the most obscure items to the obvious. And for many of the rarer pieces, the All Things Oz Museum is the only place in the world that has them. Like a set of 4 children’s clothing hangers. Once sold for a nickel a piece in the 1930s, the set is now valued so high that a UV-protected glass case now houses them. The case itself cost over $7,000! It also houses old glow-in-the-dark Oz wallpaper, Judy Garland’s autograph, and a few other rarities.
Unlike most museums, volunteers run the All Things Oz Museum, and it is funded through their 501(c)3. The official name of the organization is the International L. Frank Baum & All Things Oz Historical Foundation. As a nonprofit, the museum is open for very limited hours. Be sure to plan accordingly so you’re not disappointed!
All Things Oz Museum is open Wednesdays 11am – 3pm and Saturdays 10am – 3pm.
Admission is just $5; free for members and children under 10. AAA members get half of their admission, and active military families are always free. (Become a member for just $20 and get free admission, 10% off the gift shop, and exclusive access to events and online sales.)
You may think that Marc Baum, my tour guide at the museum, volunteers there as a family member of L. Frank Baum. But, surprise! That’s not why. Marc previously volunteered at the Gage house, but changed to the Oz Museum when he heard “that’s where the crazy people were” – exactly where he fit in! With his exuberant personality and love of everything Oz-related, it was meant to be. A few years later, a person who’d done the genealogy research on L. Frank Baum and his family met Marc. She knew he had to be related. Lo and behold, they were! Marc is the 7th cousin, twice removed, of the famous author.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is just the beginning
Did you know that there are 40 books about Oz?? Yep! The movie we all know and love is based on just the first one. L. Frank Baum actually wrote 14 books in the series. After his death, the remaining 26 books were written by Ruth Plumly Thompson, John R. Neill, Jack Snow, Rachel Cosgrove Payes, and Eloise Jarvis McGraw & Lauren Lynn McGraw. There are even an additional 3 books by Sherwood Smith that the Baum Family Trust has approved as canon. In addition to these 43, there are several more based on the imaginary world.
With so many books, it should come as no surprise that there are an incredible about of movies as well. And not just movies – but musicals and plays too! The 1939 film was actually not that first. In fact, it was preceded by several other films based on the Oz books, including a few silent movies. Since then, other notable sequels and reinterpretations include The Wiz, Return to Oz, Oz the Great and Powerful, and the Broadway smash hit Wicked.
If you have Disney+, you can stream Return to Oz. But, fair warning, this movie is creeeeeeepy. Seriously. So watch it for yourself and let me know what you think.
While visiting the museum, you’ll learn lots of interesting facts about the famous film and the Oz empire. I won’t spoil everything for you, but here are a few of my favorite fun facts:
Terry, the Cairn terrier who played Toto, was paid $125 per week. Conversely, the munchkins were only paid between $50 and $100 weekly.
Dorothy’s famous ruby slippers were not that way in the books! The movie producers decided to make them red to take advantage of the new technicolor film. Now you can see one of the pairs used for filming in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
Buddy Ebsen was originally cast as the Tin Man. For his costume, he was painted white and then coated with aluminum powder. Unfortunately the powder got in his lungs and landed him into the hospital and out of the film. Because of this, Jack Haley took over the role.
Tik-Tok, a character featured later in the Oz series, was one of the first robots to be written about in literature.
The first weekend of June every year the village of Chittenango turns into Oz! The tradition started in 1978 when the village librarian, Clara Houck, wanted to honorary the legacy of L. Frank Baum on his birthday in May. The yearly event slowly grew larger, including retellings of his stories, costumes, parades, and birthday cake. Over time “Oz-fest” turned into a multiple-day event. Eventually the organizers changed the name to “Oz-Stravanganza” so as not to be confused with the famous rock star.
The festival used to be a yearly reunion of the munchkins, until the last one passed in 2013. Now, the festival is as popular as ever, drawing 30,000 to 35,000 visitors over the course of three days. Guest appearances by actors from the Oz world are a regular occurrence. Diehard fans will wait for hours to get their autographs. It’s truly a unique event that you have to check out!