Saturday, June 11, 2011

Big Bash in Baum’s Birthplace

Today Hungry Tiger Talk presents the following guest blog by Eric Shanower, cartoonist.

For the past thirty-three years the village of Chittenango, New York, has held an Oz festival each spring. Why Chittenango? Well, in 1856 L. Frank Baum, author of the Oz books, was born there. Last weekend, June 3-5, the folks in Chittenango and the surrounding area celebrated their native son with Oz-Stravaganza! 2011.

Oz-Stravaganza! 2011 guests, left to right, front row: Eric Shanower, Michael Siewert, Karl Slover, Margaret Pellegrini, Myrna Swenson, Clare Baum, Robert A. Baum, Caren Marsh-Doll. Back row: Gwendolyn Tennille Adams, Ron Baxley Jr., James C. Wallace II. Photo © 2011 Jennifer Baum.

I was invited as a special guest because of the Oz comics I’ve written and drawn and the many other Oz works I’ve been associated with. The other guests included Grand Marshall Caren Marsh-Doll, who was Judy Garland’s stand in during the filming of the 1939 MGM Wizard of Oz motion picture; Robert A. Baum, great grandson of L. Frank Baum, and his wife Clare Baum; Margaret Pellegrini and Karl Slover, Munchkin actors from the ’39 movie; Myrna Swenson, the wife of Munchkin actor Clarence Swenson; Michael Siewert, prominent collector of Judy Garland’s movie and stage costumes; and as emcee for the weekend, Oz expert John Fricke.

Other authors featured at this year’s Oz-Stravaganza! were Paul Bienvenue, author of the spectacular Collector’s Guide to Oz and L. Frank Baum; Paul Miles Schnieder, author of the novel Silver Shoes in which L. Frank Baum is a secret agent; Rick Ewigleben and Joe Shipbaugh, who debuted their new Wizard of Oz Coloring Book; Dennis Anfuso, author of The Astonishing Tale of the Gump of Oz and other books; and Ron Baxley, Jr. and James C. Wallace II, co-authors of Of Cabbages and Kings and Even (Odd) Queens, along with that book’s illustrator, Gwendolyn Tennille Adams.

The event organizers Barb Evans and Colleen Zimmer asked whether I’d be interested in making presentations to local schools on the Thursday before Oz-Stravaganza. I’m used to speaking to adults about Age of Bronze. Speaking to kids I find a little nerve-wracking, but I know that if I just start drawing for them, they’ll be interested. So I said I was willing to do it. Barb didn’t tell me until a few days previous to the event that the school visits were confirmed. And when she did, I understood her to say that I’d be doing four school presentations. But when I got to Chittenango and saw my schedule, there were six!

Well, despite the fact that my hay fever had kicked into high gear as soon as I arrived at the Syracuse airport, so that my throat was scratchy and my sinuses clogged, I tackled the school visits and made it through them. The first one was a little rough, but by the time I got to the sixth, they went pretty smoothly. The kids were great—especially the fifth graders at Boliver Elementary. When I asked a class at Chittenango Middle School whether they were going to be attending the Oz festival over the weekend, a significant number said they weren’t. “Are you too cool for it?” I asked. They confirmed that they were. No big surprise, but I found it amusing.

Friday I had an interview at a local radio station, along with Michael Siewert and Colleen Zimmer, then a signing with the other guests and some vendors at Chittenango High School, followed by entertaining interviews on stage with all the guests. I was particularly impressed with Caren Marsh-Doll, who’s ninety-two years old, looks fabulous, and has all her wits about her.

Immediately following the program a gentleman introduced himself to me. He was Michael Montgomery, great nephew of David C. Montgomery, the actor who starred at the Tin Woodman in the 1903 Broadway Wizard of Oz musical extravaganza. He was a nice guy and his three kids, who were there too, seemed really sharp.

Along with John Fricke, Bob Baum, and Michael Siewert, I was raffled off as brunch companion for the next morning. I didn’t set my hotel alarm clock correctly and was awakened Saturday morning by my driver, the attentive Theresa Vincelette, knocking on my hotel room door. Jumped in the shower, dragged my clothes half on, grabbed some food from the hospitality room, and finished eating and dressing in Theresa’s car. The highlight of the brunch was one of the raffle winners, a teenage boy with Down’s Syndrome who loves all aspects of Oz. He was there with his parents and the three of them were a joy to experience.

The weather was a little drizzly, but by parade time it cleared up. Everyone connected with Oz-Stravaganza had been telling me for weeks that my biggest fan in the world was an Oz-Stravaganza committee member who was dying to meet me, Marc Baum (no relation to L. Frank). The build-up to my meeting Marc that folks had been giving me was over the top, so when Marc and I finally shook hands, it seemed perfectly low-key. He drove the go-cart-type vehicle that I rode in the parade. When we were instructed to get into line, Marc tried several times to start the vehicle, but the ignition didn’t make a sound. While he went to find someone to help, I decided to give it a try. Turned the key, gave it a touch of gas, and it started right up. Marc drove us into parade position where we waited for it to begin as the light rain cleared up. Michael Siewert was in the car ahead of us, a Volkswagen beetle. I went over and asked Michael how he rated an actual automobile while I just got the golf-cart thing.

Eric Shanower and Marc Baum. Photo © 2011 Louis Berillo.
When the parade started, Marc tried the ignition. It wouldn’t work. Tried several times. He was getting a little worried. I tried it—but my magic touch didn’t work this time. I started to worry that the engine was flooded. Marc put it into nuetral—that was the trick. I tried the key again and the engine caught. Off we went!

It’s funny being in a parade because one doesn’t get to see any of it. At the judges stand a local radio station had sent a reporter to interview the guests as they passed. I answered the reporter’s question by speaking into a microphone someone stuck into my face. The echo from the sound equipment was really startling—I hate that sort of thing—so the distracted answer I gave probably made me seem like an idiot.

More signings in “Glinda’s Magic Tent” on Chittenango’s village green. Did that on Sunday, too. I ended up selling out of all the books I’d brought. I hadn’t brought much to sell because the previous time I’d been to the Chittenango Oz festival—back in 1996—David and I hadn’t sold much at all. But this time the merchandise was just enough and I sold the last book toward the end of the signing on Sunday.

During the closing ceremony the local high school woodwind ensemble played a medley of Harburg/Arlen tunes from the 1939 Wizard of Oz movie version. While they played “Over the Rainbow” I was impressed by the thought that L. Frank Baum was born in that place in 1856 and now 155 years later some kids who never knew him were playing music inspired by his creations to a crowd gathered to celebrate him and his influence.

One thing more to mention—in downtown Chittenango there’s a brand new museum and shop called All Things Oz. The Oz-Stravaganza Committee worked hard during the past month to get it ready for the festival. Artifacts from all aspects of Oz and L. Frank Baum’s career are featured there—from tchotchkes featuring imagery from the 1939 movie to a reproduction of the contract between Baum and W. W. Denslow for the book that became The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to The Last Egyptian to Return to Oz to Wicked. It’s just a start on what the village of Chittenango hopes will become a major Oz and L. Frank Baum center, serving those with a casual interest, serious scholars, and everyone in between. The Chittenango Oz festival has for a long time centered mostly on the 1939 MGM movie version of The Wizard of Oz. But there have always been those who realize that Oz is a whole lot more, and now they’re trying to show all that Oz is. All Things Oz is a great start to honor the entire massive phenomenon that Chittenango’s native son began. I applaud it and the efforts, intents, hopes, and dreams of those behind it.

The Gift Shop section of All Things Oz. Photo © 2011 Blair Frodelius.


Sam said...

I wish I knew what the 'Return to Oz' artifacts were . . . I have the "All Things Oz" book.

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