WAMEGO Those who think "The Wizard of Oz" is the story of a Kansas farm girl singing about rainbows and skipping down a yellow brick road in red slippers should think again.
There's a lot more to the world of Munchkins and witches than most people realize, as a trip through the Wizard of Oz Museum in this rural town shows.
The fascination for all things Oz goes back more than a century but was boosted by the 1939 movie classic. Oz festivals are scattered around the country, including one here in October. Oz collectables are big business. Scores of Web sites are devoted to Oz, and there's even the International Wizard of Oz Club.
As just about any Kansan knows, mention the state beyond its borders and there always seems to be some obligatory Oz reference, such as: "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."
"The mystique is that Oz is the good place, where people are happy and differences are respected," said Oz scholar Stephen Teller, an English professor at Pittsburg State University. "The place was the American utopia."
Teller, on the international Oz club's board of directors, said that while most people know the story through the movie, it was L. Frank Baum who wrote the classic American fairy tale, published in 1900. Baum wrote 14 Oz books, and after his death in 1919, the franchise continued with other writers. There are now some 40 Oz books.
"The books were written to amuse children. That is what Baum wanted to do," Teller said. "He wanted to write stories that weren't moralistic and not too frightening like many European fairy tales."
Book vs. movie
Teller said there are some significant differences between the book and the movie, including the ending.
"The one thing Oz book fans don't like about the movie is the trip was a dream, where the book was a real place. The filmmakers may have been influenced by Alice in Wonderland, which was a dream, and thought people might not accept Oz being a real place," he said.
The movie put Dorothy in red slippers, but in the book, they're silver.
"The red shoes were visually striking on the screen. They had Technicolor and, by golly, they were going to use it," said Anne Phillips, a Kansas State University English professor, also an Oz scholar.
Many Oz museums
The museum isn't the only Oz venue in Kansas.
Liberal has Dorothy's House, a relocated farmhouse built in 1907, along with the original model of the house used in the film and a selection of Oz memorabilia.
But Jim Ginavan, executive director of the Columbian Theater Foundation, which operates the Wamego museum that opened in November 2003, does claim bragging rights in one area.
The museum has more than 2,000 items in its inventory and about 1,500 of them are on display at any one time.
"I don't think any other museum has as much Oz material," Ginavan said. "I think we are the largest Wizard of Oz museum, and it's fitting that it's in Kansas."
Neither Baum nor the movie mention specifically where Dorothy lived in Kansas.
"That's good for us," Ginavan said. "If it was Hutchinson, what claim would we have to place the museum here? It's the notion of Kansas."
Ginavan said the idea of an Oz museum first came up a decade ago. It became a reality when Tod Machin, who grew up in Wamego and lives in the Kansas City area, loaned his collection to the museum.
Moral of the story
It's the story itself that attracts the visitors - some 25,000 annually.
"They apply the values Dorothy learned to their own lives - wanting something better and seeking it out and then finding they had it the whole time at home," Ginavan said. "That's the universal appeal."
The entry to the exhibits looks like an old wooden farmhouse, complete with a screendoor that opens to a life-size figure of Dorothy and Toto. Scattered throughout are life-size figures of other Oz characters from the movie.
Items on display include copies of Baum's books, including some first editions. There are paper cutout figures from the 1930s, dolls, figurines, Christmas ornaments, coloring books, Halloween masks, hand puppets, and the dress Diana Ross wore in the 1978 movie "The Wiz."
There's even a copy of the 1925 silent film version of "The Wizard of Oz" playing.
There are a couple of rarities, including one of only three surviving small flying monkeys used as a prop in the film, fashioned from rubber with a pipe cleaner tail. There's also a doll based on a cartoon television show that never took off.
From the 1939 film are test photographs of actors in costume and makeup. Original costume sketches are on display along with marketing tie-ins, such as Oz peanut butter jars.
Marketing tie-ins came long before the movie classic, said Phillips, the Kansas State professor. She said that from 1913 until his death, Baum wrote a new Oz book every year, in time for Christmas shoppers.
"It was the Cabbage Patch doll and Tickle Me Elmo of its time - the thing you really hoped would be under the tree when you got up Christmas morning," Phillips said.
The one thing the museum lacks are the red slippers worn in the movie, of which four pairs are known to exist. A pair scheduled to be displayed at the museum in October was stolen last month from a Minnesota museum.
But Ginavan has the next best thing on display - a replica pair and the MGM studio blueprints they were fashioned from, exact in every detail down to the label inside the shoes.