The Wonderful Wizard of … West Michigan?

2019 Holland Michigan by Erik

2019 Holland Michigan by Erik

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written solely to pleasure the children of to-day. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and heart-aches and nightmares are left out.”
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
L. Frank Baum, 1900

L. Frank Baum was born 144 years ago today, and this Sunday marks the 110th anniversary of the publication of his classic fairy tale, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The Holland Sentinel’s excellent article L. Frank Baum and the Macatawa Goose Man: Celebrating the origins of “The Wizard of Oz” explores the author’s connection to West Michigan, saying in part:

He was named after his uncle, Lyman Spalding Baum, but never liked Lyman and always was known as Frank to family and friends. As an actor and playwright, he was Louis F. Baum. As a newspaper editor, L.F. Baum, and as the children’s book author most famously known for “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” he was known as L. Frank Baum. But to the folks in Macatawa, he was simply known as “The Goose Man.”

…In 1899, Baum published “Father Goose: His Book.” The collection of children’s poems exploded in popularity and provided Baum with wealth and prestige for the first time in his life, his great-grandson, Bob Baum, recalled.

The author used the profits from his book to rent a large, multi-story Victorian summer home nestled on the southern end of the Macatawa peninsula on Lake Michigan. The home, which he eventually purchased, came to be known as the Sign of the Goose, an ever-present reminder of the fame that came along with “Father Goose.”

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” supposedly was written in Chicago, but some of the forest scenes look just like the pathways that run through the dunes, the younger Baum said.

He assumes Macatawa was where part of the book had been worked on or written, as Baum might have found inspiration from the castle in Castle Park for the yellow brick road, some say, or even based some of the characters in the book on personalities he encountered in the small lakeshore community.

“Especially in the Oz stories, a lot of characters and situations that we may not recognize … he drew lots of inspiration from Macatawa for the book.”

According to an undated newspaper article detailing one reporter’s visit to the Sign of the Goose, Baum not only was popular and well-known among the adults in the area, but children were quite fond of him as he allowed them into his home to read fairy tales, which occupied one of the shelves of his large bookcase.

The Holland Oz Project launched last summer with the installation of this floral living mosaic book, a yellow brick road, and colorful landscaping in Centennial Park with bronze sculptures on the grounds of the Herrick Library across the street. A funding campaign to support the project uses personalized engraved yellow bricks for placement along the yellow brick road.

To learn more about the Oz Project, visit their website or call the Holland Area Visitors Bureau at 616.394.0000.

You can see more in Erik’s Holland 2019 gallery on Flickr.

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