You’re standing across the street, looking at the facade of emerald and yellow bricks dotted with flying monkeys and the likes of a lion, scarecrow and other fictional characters peeking through the windows.
Yes, you are in Kansas.
More specifically, you’re in Wamego, a quiet burg of fewer than 5,000 residents 50 miles west of Topeka. The building you are facing is the Oz Museum, opened in 2003, which contains the most comprehensive permanent collection of Wizard of Oz memorabilia in the world.
Included in the displays are more than 2,000 artifacts, including costumes and props from the original 1939 MGM movie and subsequent adaptations “The Wiz” and “Wicked”; movie posters; merchandising, such as toys, dolls, cookie jars, ornaments, board games, coloring books and lunch boxes; and accounting documents from MGM’s books pertaining to the movie.
Visitors enter a monochrome lobby, pay their admission through Dorothy’s farmhouse window, open a sepia-colored door and step into a kaleidoscopic wonderland of Munchkins and other beloved characters to learn the history of L. Frank Baum and his 1900 book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” which inspired the classic film, and to glean further information from the displays and exhibits.
One feature not for the faint of heart is the tornado machine, located in the gift shop. For $2 patrons can climb inside and experience the force of 79 mph winds.
A yellow brick walkway in the alley down the block is lined with statues of the movie’s characters, including some of the 15 Toto sculptures located around town.
The town hosts OZtoberFEST! every October, this year on Oct. 1. The festival includes a Toto look-alike contest, classic car show, indoor/outdoor market, barbecue, beer and wine garden and other activities. The signature event is the costume contest, divided into nine categories, held on the Emerald City Stage in front of the nearby Columbian Theatre.
Not surprisingly, a plethora of fascinating trivia attends the epic production:
- L. Frank Baum derived the name “Oz” from an alphabetic filing cabinet label, “O-Z.”
- The cowardly lion’s costume weighed 100 pounds, consisted of a real lion skin and had to be dried every night of actor Burt Lahr’s sweat, as the set routinely reached triple digits from all the lights required to shoot in Technicolor.
- Food played a significant part in the movie’s special effects: the various hues of the “Horse of a Different Color” were created with six colors of Jell-O powder (green, blue, orange, red, yellow and violet); the oil used to lubricate the Tin Man was chocolate syrup; and the flames from Dorothy’s ruby slippers to repel the Wicked Witch’s touch was a spray of apple juice played at high speed.
- The ruby slippers, which were silver in the book, were size 5.
- Dorothy’s dress was pink but showed up white in Technicolor.
- Baum published 13 sequels to his original “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” before he died. Three more books were published posthumously.
- Toto was paid $125 a week; the Munchkins each received $50 a week, half of which was kept by their agent.
- Dorothy was named after Baum’s niece Dorothy Louise Gage, who died in infancy.
- The 1939 movie’s production costs were nearly $2.8 million, more than $58 million in today’s dollars.
- Shirley Temple was the first choice to play Dorothy, but she was under contract with Twentieth Century-Fox so could not make the commitment to MGM.
- Buddy Ebsen was cast as the Tin Man, but was intensely allergic to the aluminum-based silver face paint. Actor Jack Haley, who landed the role for the movie, developed a severe eye infection from the paint.
- The Wicked Witch’s copper-based green face paint was dangerous to ingest, so actress Margaret Hamilton subsisted on an exclusively liquid diet during filming.
- The rubber prosthetic face makeup worn by actor Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow etched creases in his face that took more than a year to heal.
- Most of the flying monkeys in the movie were about 8 inches long and made of rubber and foam, with pipe cleaners serving as their tails.
- Frank Morgan, who portrayed the Wizard, actually played five characters in the movie.
- The ruby slippers on display in the Smithsonian are mismatched.
- The Kansas tornado was actually a 35-foot-high rotating muslin stocking.
- The snow in the poppy scene was made of asbestos.
- The Wicked Witch’s death certificate is dated May 6, 1938, the 19th anniversary of Baum’s death.
The Oz Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The museum closes at 5 p.m. each day during the winter and at 2 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
The museum is closed Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Admission is $10 per adult 13 and older, $8 per child 3-12 and free for those 2 and younger. Adult and children prices for military members and their families are $8 and $6, respectively.
The museum is located at 511 Lincoln Ave., Wamego, Kan. For more information, call (866) 458-TOTO (8686) or visit ozmuseum.com.