More than 100 years ago, author L. Frank Baum created a fantasy world that's still beloved today. As the author of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” Baum created Dorothy Gale, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion and sent them on a trek down the yellow brick road to see the Wizard.
The book, which inspired the classic 1939 film, still resonates today. “Spider-Man” director Sam Raimi is creating a prequel of sorts with his film “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” starring James Franco, about how the Wizard arrived in Oz. Baum went on to write 14 books about Oz; dozens more have been written since.
Dorothy famously says in the movie, “We're not in Kansas anymore,” as she surveys the marvelous Land of Oz. Dorothy, who wants nothing more than to return home to Kansas, is a beloved fictional icon in her home state. Liberal, Kan., hosts Dorothy's House and the Land of Oz. Meanwhile, the town of Wamego, Kan., boasts the Oz Museum among its attractions.
The town is located about 16 miles east of Manhattan, Kan., at the intersection of U.S. 24 and Kansas Highway 99. Wamego has an estimated population of 4,680, and its streets are dotted with churches, some dating back to the 1800s.
Stepping into the Oz Museum, 511 Lincoln in Wamego, pulls visitors into the magical land, where life-size figures of the main Oz characters gaze at visitors.
Greeting visitors as they enter is a giant Tin Man, signed by Roger S. Baum, great-grandson of L. Frank Baum. Roger S. Baum has written multiple “Oz” books, including “Lion of Oz and the Badge of Courage,” which was adapted into the animated feature, “Lion of Oz.”
Once visitors pass through the gift shop to the inner museum, memorabilia from the Oz books and films dating back a century await inside. More than 2,000 artifacts are on hand, from both the book and movie, as well as earlier filmed adaptations. There's a theater inside where patrons can catch their breath and watch the classic Judy Garland film. There's also a tornado machine in the lobby, where for a fee, visitors can experience gale-force winds like those that sent Dorothy's house on its journey. The lobby and gift shop are sepia-toned like Dorothy's farm house, while the inner museum pops with green lights.
The museum is open March through October, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Admission for those 13 and up is $7, children 4-12 cost $4, and children 3 and under are admitted free.
Next to the Oz Museum is Toto's Tacoz, which serves Tex-Mex food with a Wizard of Oz flair. Murals in the restaurant feature Toto hidden throughout; hot sauces sold include the Cryin' Lion (for the Cowardly Lion) and the Ticker Kicker (for the Tin Man).
The Oz Winery, just up Lincoln at 417A, sells limited edition Oz-themed wines, as well as affordable options including “Ding, Dong, the Wine is Red” and the “Drunken Munchkin.” More information is available at www.ozwinerykansas.com.
The Columbian Theatre Museum and Art Center, at 521 Lincoln, will again put on “The Wizard of Oz” performances this fall. The performances will be the weekends of Sept. 28-30, Oct. 5-7 and 12-14. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 and Sunday performances are at 2 p.m.
That's part of Wamego's “OzToberfest,” which this year runs Sept. 28-30. It includes a street festival, children's activities, a bike ride and an entertainment stage.
Wamego is also home to The Dutch Mill on E Fourth Street. The mill was originally built in 1879 and moved to the Wamego city park in the 1920s. It is now the only functional grinding mill in the state.