There’s no place like (close to) home.
For busy modern families, proximity is as precious as rubies and emeralds, and the Oz Museum fills the bill for a pleasant daytrip.
Just north of Interstate 70 and east of Manhattan, Wamego, Kan., is an easy drive from Kansas City. It takes about an hour and 45 minutes.
Wamego could be any well-preserved western town, except for a preponderance of businesses with names such as Toto’s Tacoz and Scissors of Ahhhz!
The red brick building beneath an oversized yellow “Oz Museum” sign looks Munchkin-sized. But like the collections it houses it is deeper than it seems.
Adults and reading-age children will enjoy the first-rate collections of books and movie memorabilia and thought-provoking background information.
One display recounts how author L. Frank Baum was intensely inspired by the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, known as the World’s Columbian Exposition because it celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus coming to the New World in 1492. Baum modeled his Emerald City on the White City at the exposition, a collection of gleaming Beaux-Arts buildings.
In a nifty happenstance, the Columbian Theatre two doors down from the Oz Museum, was named after the same exposition and contains six massive, spectacular oil paintings romanticizing American industry and agriculture commissioned for the fair. The theater owner bought them when the fair closed and shipped them to Wamego.
At the Oz Museum you won’t find one of the original pairs of ruby slippers made for the movie (the museum says there were seven), but you will learn where the four known remaining pairs ended up. Plus, Debbie Reynolds once owned an Arabian-looking pair with curled toes that was rejected during tests for the movie.
And the ruby slippers on display, a hand-jeweled pair covered in more than 3,500 crystals and created by an artist for the movie’s 50th anniversary, are possibly more dazzling than the originals.
The actual dress Judy Garland wore in the movie is present — at least as a swatch taken from the inside of the hem of the original dress and framed with a photo of the actress.
There are also toys and dolls galore that will set collectors’ hearts racing.
Rare book lovers will drool over W.W. Denslow’s 24 color-illustrated pages from a first edition of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (1900) and beautiful hardbound editions of the book in many languages.
Movie buffs also will get their fill. Pristine glass cases hold scads of memorabilia and artifacts including original movie posters, autographs and miniature flying monkeys used in the movie’s production.
Details about casting and the production of the original movie abound, as well as how it affected later manifestations, “The Wiz” and “Wicked.”
A charming feature is an intimate red velvet curtained screening room with vintage art deco wall sconces where the movie shows on a loop on a theater-size screen. If you haven’t seen it in a while, it’s a pleasant way to relive the adventures of the loveable foursome.