Chittenango is a small village about 40 miles east of Syracuse, New York. We just got back from a trip to this little town because of Oz. Chittenango is where L. Frank Baum was born in 1856, and he is still its very favorite son. For the last 30 years, the town has held an OzFest, complete with Munchkins, musical entertainment, various guests associated with the MGM movie, an outdoor arts festival, and a great parade with floats, marching bands, and hand-waving-officials.
Thousands of people come to Chittenango every year for this celebration (last week there was an addition 20,000 souls lining the streets), and—this year— it's where the International Wizard of Oz Club decided to hold its annual meeting. Naturally, I dragged my husband across the United States to join hundreds of fellow travelers for not only a board meeting, a club convention, but also Chittenango's OzFest where, as Oz Club officials, we got to ride in the parade and were treated like royalty.
Seven miles to the west of Chittenango is another small burg: Fayetteville. It, too, is famous for its Oz connections. It is where L. Frank Baum's mother-in-law, Matilda Joslyn Gage, grew up. Like her son-in-law, Matilda would live to have a great impact on this country.
We also have Matilda to thank for L. Frank's greatest achievement. After her husband passed away, she spent part of the year living with L. Frank and Maud and their four sons in Aberdeen and then Chicago. It is well documented that she was L. Frank's staunchest admirer and constantly urged him to publish the stories he told to his sons and other children. It's not clear that, without her prodding, he would have sought publication, first for Mother Goose in Prose, his initial best seller and then for the book that would make him immortal: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Quite a lot to pack into one woman's lifetime, don't you think?
This is Gina Wickwar.