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Wednesday, June 19

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L. Frank Baum may have been born in upstate New York, but his most enduring and memorable book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was written right here in Chicago.

Baum was born in 1856 in Chittenango, New York. As a young man he received his first taste of publishing when his father bought him a printing press. Together with his brother, Henry, Frank began his own local newspaper, The Rose Lawn Home Journal, and several magazines. Frank, who was born Lyman Frank Baum but always went by Frank, also loved the theatre and dabbled in acting. His father owned several theaters in New York and Pennsylvania, and Baum took advantage of the opportunity to begin writing plays.

Baum's first major work was The Maid of Arran, a play based on the novel A Princess of Thule by Scottish writer William Black. The play was a success, and Frank and the acting troupe formed a touring company to take the performance on the road.

In 1882, Baum married Maude Gage, and the two of them lived for a while like nomads -- first with the Maid of Arran touring company, then later settling out west in the Dakota Territory in 1888. There, Frank briefly operated a general store. When the store went bankrupt in 1890, he took a position editing and publishing a local newspaper in Aberdeen, South Dakota.

When the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer also went bankrupt in 1891, Frank moved himself and his family, which now included four sons, to Chicago where he found work as a reporter for the Chicago Evening Post. Baum first settled near Campbell Park and wrote short stories and prose when he wasn't at the Post.

Baum and his family then moved to a home at 1667 N. Humboldt Boulevard after the success of Father Goose, His Book, which Baum published in 1899 in collaboration with illustrator William W. Denslow.

Baum's best-known work, of course, is his seventh book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was published in 1900. The story goes that Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and the rest of the inhabitants of Oz were created when Baum began telling a story to some kids in his Humboldt Park neighborhood. In a fit of inspiration, he soon broke up the storytelling to hurriedly write the story down. The success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz allowed Baum to commit to writing full-time and led to over a dozen Oz sequels.

In 1910 Baum and his family left Chicago for California where they settled in an estate they dubbed Ozcot. In all, Baum wrote more than 60 books in his lifetime before dying just short of his 63rd birthday in 1919.

In Chicago, L. Frank Baum was commemorated in 1976 when a park on Lincoln Avenue, between Webster and Larabee, was named Oz Park in his honor. In 1995, a Tin Man sculpture created by local artist John Kearney was added to the park. The Tin Man sculpture, created entirely out of chrome car bumpers, is nine feet tall and weighs nearly a ton. In 2001, Kearney contributed to the park again with the addition of his bronze sculpture of the Cowardly Lion.

Bibliography and Additional Resources

Baum, Frank Joslyn and Russell P. MacFall. To Please a Child: A Biography of L. Frank Baum, Royal Historian of Oz. Chicago: Reilly & Lee, 1961.

Carpenter, Angelica Shirley and Shirley Jean. L. Frank Baum: Royal Historian of Oz. Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications, 1991.

Holden, Greg. Literary Chicago: A Book Lover's Tour of the Windy City. Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, 2001.

Library of Congress. The Wizard of Oz: An American Fairy Tale. This exhibition from the Library of Congress was created for the 100th Anniversary of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. View letters, documents, original illustrations, and other artifacts from Oz and Baum's other works.

Project Gutenberg Titles by L. Frank Baum. Read more than 20 books by Baum now in the public domain, free online through Project Gutenberg.

Have a topic you would like to see in "Ask the Librarian"? Send your suggestions to librarian@gapersblock and it may be featured in a future column.

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Ramsin / March 25, 2004 11:13 AM

I always thought that Tin-Man statue was weirdly posing like Mick Jagger.

Doesn't the Harold Washington special collections room have some of the originals of the Baum script, Alice? I thought I saw them in there, but it was a long time ago.

And what about the theory that the first Oz story was an allegory of the the silver v. gold controversy? It went something like this, if I remember:

Tin Man = Industry, Scarecrow = Farmers; "Emerald City" = Greed of D.C.; wicked witch of the east was East Coast banking interests; Dorothy wears "silver slippers" to take her to D.C., because the promise of silver standard mobilized people from the heart-land (e.g., Kansas); The cowardly lion = the masses; and someone, maybe the Wizard himself, represented William Jennings Bryan.

Alice / March 25, 2004 2:07 PM

Hey Ramsin,

The Chicago Public Library does have a 1st edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - along with other Baum works and documents - as part of their Special Collections, but I'm not sure about a manuscript. But, I could just call and find out...

However, you can see an image of the cover of that book on this old page from Chicago's own centennial celebration of the Wizard of Oz in October 2000:

And, I should also mention (and thanks for making me think of it) that the Harold Washington Library is currently featuring an exhibition called "Theater That Works: A Chicago Story" in the Special Collections Exhibit Hall on the 9th Floor. This exhibit includes photos from the original musical theater production of the Wizard of Oz, written by Baum and performed at Chicago's Grand Opera House in 1902. You can see one of the photos on their website:

As to your other question, offhand I have no idea, but I can look into it.

Kris / March 25, 2004 2:11 PM

Yeah, I was taught in high school history that Oz was an allegory of Gilded Age politics. I don't remember the specifics, other than the Yellow Brick Road representing the gold standard, but it always seemed a bit of a stretch to me.

Alice / March 25, 2004 3:50 PM

Okay, here we go.

The Wizard of Oz, Monetary Economics, and 19th Century Populism. From the University of New Orleans. Gives a basic summary of some of the arguments.

Bibliography for those interested in the Wizard of Oz as "Monetary Allegory" or "Parable of Populism" (in no particular order):

Hugh Rockoff, "The Wizard of Oz as a Monetary Allegory," Journal of Political Economy, (1990) 98:4, pp. 739-761.

A refutation of the theory:
Bradley Hansen, "The Fable of the Allegory: The Wizard of Oz in Economics" Journal of Economic Education, (2002) 33:3, pp. 254-264.
Available here:

Ranjit S. Dighe, editor. The Historian's Wizard of Oz: Reading L. Frank Baum's Classic as a Political and Monetary Allegory. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002.
Link to book review:

Henry Littlefield, "The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism, American Quarterly 16 (Spring, 1964), p. 50. Full text:

David B. Parker, "The Rise and Fall of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a Parable on Populism," Journal of the Georgia Association of Historians, 15 (1994), pp. 49-63. Full text:

John G. Geer and Thomas R. Rochon, "William Jennings Bryan on the Yellow Brick Road," Journal of American Culture (Winter, 1993).

Well, that should keep you all busy for awhile. This just scratches the surface, but most of the major works on this topic are represented. I haven't read any of these articles so I take no position on these theories, but Happy Reading!


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