Frank Baum

If you ever wondered what landscape gave birth to those technicolored ruby slippers, that fierce black-and-white, flying farmhouse, or those terrifying flying monkeys, look to the east and drive about 15 miles. L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wonderful World of Oz and 13 other Oz books, was born in Chittenango. The 5,000-person village commemorates Baum’s birthplace year-round: yellow brick sidewalks, Oz character cutouts around the city’s welcome sign, the All Things Oz Museum, and a gift store called the Land of Oz and Ends. But for those in need of a more intense Oz fix, the village devotes three days each year to the magic and wonder, or whatever, of Oz. Called “Oz-stravagana,” it features a costume contest, coloring contest, Munchkin Mile Fun Run, and a parade. For decades it also included an opportunity to have a spaghetti dinner with former munchkins from the movie; the passage of time has removed that opportunity. But the festival continues almost 100 years after Baum’s death in 1919.

He tried many occupations while living in Central New York — raising chickens, writing plays, and running a business. But after visiting his brother-in-law in South Dakota, Baum decided that the Midwest offered more opportunities and moved his family there in 1888. Failure followed (running a bazaar and then a newspaper company). But he finally met success when he published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900. Baum quickly earned the title of “best-selling children’s book author in the country” and simultaneously founded the American genre of children’s literature, according to Chloe Schama of Smithsonian Magazine. Despite the genre, his work tackled adult-sized issues. “With his skepticism toward God — or men posing as gods — Baum affirmed the idea of human fallibility, but also the idea of human divinity,” Shama wrote.

Here, an excerpt from The Wonderful World of Oz:
“Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a diploma.”

— Danielle Roth