It’s a strange feeling to be home in Kansas one minute and then suddenly whisked away over the clouds to a curious land where the sidewalks are paved with yellow bricks, fascinating little people greet you with flowerpots on their heads and other such colorful attire, and, soon after, you’re escorted down the main boulevard waving and smiling at hoards of townspeople in a parade. Suffice it to say that after this last weekend, I can relate even more to young Dorothy Gale and her extraordinary adventures in a faraway land.
Chittenango, NY—the birthplace of L. Frank Baum—may not be Oz, but, for one weekend each year, it’s the closest we’ll get to it in this world.
Looking back now, I think it’s easy to sum up what makes this annual festival so satisfying and unique. It’s the people—everyone who has a hand in putting it together: the committees, hosts, sponsors, guests, exhibitors, vendors, ride operators, shop owners, and all-around magic-makers who collectively create the unique events, as well as those who attend from near and far with open hearts and smiling faces.
My adventures began immediately after the plane ride with a quick stop Friday afternoon at the Sullivan Free Library, in Chittenango, for a gathering and presentation with fellow Oz authors. Then it was straight to the high school for the official kickoff of the weekend festival. I had my first book-signing seated right next to the MGM Munchkins: Karl Slover, Margaret Pellegrini, and Myrna Swenson. Caren Marsh-Doll was also there from the 1939 movie. She had been Judy Garland’s stand-in as Dorothy and would also serve as grand marshall for Saturday’s parade. There were other wonderful authors, illustrators, and Oz luminaries stretching down the hallway just outside the auditorium.
The signing was followed by a “Let’s-Make-a-Deal”-style game show, hosted by Marc R. Baum, a spaghetti dinner with the Munchkins, and the opening ceremonies, hosted by John Fricke, who interviewed the Munchkins and Caren about their experiences working on the film, as well as an informative chat with Clare and Robert Baum (great-grandson of L. Frank Baum) and best-selling author and illustrator Eric Shanower.
Saturday’s schedule began bright and early with a pancake breakfast and book event at the First Presbyterian Church, located right next to the festival grounds. I met some wonderful people there, including the mayor and his wife, and former mayor and his wife. Everyone was turning out to enjoy the day. Then I found my spot in the main tent for our first scheduled signing.
Time seemed to fly by, selling books and chatting with the patrons and other authors and illustrators in the “Alley,” including James C. Wallace II, Ron Baxley, Jr., Gwendolyn Tennille Adams, Dennis Anfuso, and Paul Bienvenue. I did find a few moments between signings to check out the festival and have a look around.
Before I knew it, it was time to get ready for the afternoon parade down the main street of town.
Thousands of people showed up to watch us smile and wave. I had never been in a parade before, and I must say the experience was both exhilarating and surreal.
After the parade we had a second book-signing session in the main tent. Then it was back to the hotel. The guests for the festival were staying at the Craftsman Inn, just one town over in Fayetteville, NY. I should have known from the name, but this lovely hotel was chock full of Craftsman-style furniture, which comes from the famous Stickley Furniture Factory, located a few miles away in Manlius, NY.
I spent the evening at dinner with John Fricke, Paul Bienvenue, Jonathan Shirshekan and his sister Jessica, plus International Wizard of Oz Club luminaries Jane Albright, Lynn Beltz, and Carrie Hedges. We had a great time swapping stories and getting to know each other better, and it was the perfect way to end the day.
There was another signing session on Sunday, but I did manage to make it over first to the new Oz museum and gift shop called All Things Oz, which was housing Michael Siewert’s incredible collection of screen-worn Judy Garland costumes during the festival.
That evening, our wonderful wrap party dinner was hosted by the American Legion in Chittenango. There were lots of hugs, much-deserved congratulations, and promises to see each other again soon!
Before I left for the airport on Monday, I had a few hours in the morning to look around the area. And boy, was I glad I seized that opportunity! After a great breakfast at Hullar’s Coffee Shop with my highly knowledgeable and personable tour guide Ryan Zlomek, we checked out the Matilda Joslyn Gage home and foundation in Fayetteville. In addition to being celebrated in her own right as an abolitionist and women’s rights advocate, Matilda was also the mother-in-law of Oz creator L. Frank Baum. In fact, Frank and his bride Maud Gage were married in the front parlor of this house.
After a quick tour inside, we decided to cross the street and walked half a block to the boyhood home of U.S. President Grover Cleveland.
Then we checked out the Fayetteville Free Library, which houses the Stickley Furniture Museum on its second floor. This building used to be the old furniture factory itself before they moved it to nearby Manlius, NY. Having a genuine love for the Craftsman style, my jaw was on the ground for the whole tour.
All too soon, I was on an airplane again, heading home to Kansas. My “Sliver Shoes” had led me on an incredible adventure to a distant land. I hope to return again very soon. It was truly unforgettable.