A Day in Oz: A Report on the Dedication Ceremony for Ruth Plumly Thompson’s Historical Marker

Ruth Plumly Thompson on her front porch, circa 1920s

Guest blog contributed by Atticus Gannaway 

Ruth Plumly Thompson, the second Royal Historian of Oz, isn’t exactly a household name outside the rarefied world of avid Oz enthusiasts. So when I learned about the impending unveiling of a historical marker in front of the West Philadelphia row house where she had lived when she wrote her first 19 Oz books, I was as surprised as I was pleased. Having grown up reading the Thompson books along with L. Frank Baum’s, I knew I couldn’t miss such a special moment.

That’s how I found myself on a 7:00 a.m. train from New York to Philadelphia with fellow Oz enthusiast Brady Schwind on November 4. A short trolley trip from Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station brought us within walking distance of the University City Arts League (UCAL), a nonprofit arts education organization housed in a charming four-story Victorian twin on Spruce Street. The festivities kicked off at 10:00 a.m. with the UCAL’s annual Hot Mugs! fundraising event. For a $15 donation, attendees could select a unique handmade mug made in the UCAL pottery studio and enjoy unlimited coffee and pastries.

We had no complaints about the doughnuts and java refills, but we also knew that Ozzy fun was transpiring above us on the second floor. Joined by Lynn Beltz, the International Wizard of Oz Club’s development liaison and former vice president, we climbed the handsome wooden stairs. Alongside the handrail were strung color reproductions of the cover labels of some dozen Thompson Oz books. When I reached the last step before the second floor, Skamperoo and Chalk were gazing at me from the cover of The Wishing Horse of Oz, one of my favorite Oz novels.

As it turned out, Lisa Weidman, who lives next door to Thompson’s former home and spearheaded the effort to place the marker, had recruited her own daughter, Lucia, to portray Dorothy in a Wishing Horse playlet. To be precise, it was a costumed reading from the book of a dialogue between Dorothy and Pigasus, the flying poetical pig. A small Emerald City backdrop mounted on cardboard set the scene. Dorothy wore blue and white gingham, a tiara, and silver sneakers, while her fellow actress sported a porcine nose and ears along with a pair of wings. What the thespians lacked in polish they made up for with earnest feeling and non-MGM footwear.

At several activity tables, children could add to an ongoing Oz story, color black and white Oz art by Dick Martin, or make crafts with materials reflecting the geographical hues of Oz (purple, yellow, blue, and red). The latter table included placards explaining that the quadrants of Oz are ruled by Glinda, the Tin Woodman, Joe King and Queen Hyacinth, and King Cheeriobed and Queen Orin. Attendees could also select an Oz book from an assortment provided by the International Wizard of Oz Club.

About a quarter to one, a gleefully cacophonous parade of children with noisemakers, accompanied by their adults, set off for the historical marker site. The celebrants marched under a cloudless blue sky in balmy weather for a little less than half a mile. When we reached Ruth Plumly Thompson’s former home at 254 South Farragut Street, we found a 10-foot-tall, steel-blue cast aluminum marker planted before the house. The placard at the top was hidden by a canvas cover emblazoned with the logo of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Lisa Weidman gave a short speech on the steps of the row house, acknowledging the support of Florence Selvin, the current resident of 254 South Farragut Street, and a host of other individuals and organizations, the International Wizard of Oz Club among them. The Oz Club contributed to the cost of the marker and also donated books, including a box of Thompson’s The Wizard of Way-Up and Other Wonders contributed by member Suzanne Call. Copies of Way-Up went to every interested person at the ceremony.

After brief remarks on behalf of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission by Cory Kegerise, community preservation coordinator for Eastern Pennsylvania, Representative Jim Roebuck of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives climbed a tall ladder to unveil the marker in all its glory. The gold-colored text on top read as follows:

RUTH PLUMLY THOMPSON
(1891-1976)

An author of children’s literature, she wrote 19 Oz books (1921-1939), including The Royal Book of Oz, in the series begun by L. Frank Baum with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. She maintained the popularity of the stories beyond the 1939 classic MGM film. She lived and wrote here.

In his remarks, Kegerise had suggested that the marker will engender a broader knowledge of the Oz phenomenon in the numerous folks who make a point of visiting as many of Pennsylvania’s 2,000-plus historical markers as humanly possible. Certainly the marker is destined to provide a similar education to anyone young or young at heart who happens to wander down a pleasant tree-lined street in West Philadelphia that looks much as it did in the 1920s. On South Farragut Street, the Ozzy magic that originated there is still very much alive.

Story and photos by Atticus Gannaway

Wamego, Kansas, delivered a wonderful weekend in Oz

The Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas, opened its doors Oct. 7 for a wonderful weekend of Oz.  Perfect weather and family-friendly programming attracted the crowds for a truly unforgettable time. For the second year, author Paul Schneider and I were able to spend two days leading up to the event speaking about Oz in area schools.  Joining the community outreach this year were other special guests and Oz Club members John Fricke, Gabe Gale, Aaron Harburg, and Ryan Jay.  Six speakers!  Classes and civic groups were treated to the full breadth of Oz from the original book to the most recent entertainment productions.  I am so grateful that the Oz Club can provide the festival’s community with educational programming that engages kids.

The days started with introductions, emceed by John Fricke, then offered presentations, museum tours, and incredibly magical moments. My favorite?  When special guest Shanice Williams ended her interview with Ryan Jay by singing “Home” with all the emotion and talent she’d poured into that song as Dorothy in The Wiz, Live!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2jDaLfjUhc

The Oz Museum features the collection of Johnpaul Cafiero. His participation in the festival is always cause to celebrate.  This year we also had some visual treats; artist Vince Myrand was on hand with original paintings and prints, and Lego Master Builder artist, Allen T. Hickmon shared some amazing Oz pieces.  The Swogger Art Gallery at the Columbian Theater mounted “Dorothy’s Closet”, an exhibition of Oz themed pieces many of which were for sale. One display showcased costumes from a recent production of The Wiz in St. Louis. I was pleased to see many Oz Club members and other Oz friends in the crowd, including Karen Owens and Deb Dwyer who returned to Oztoberfest after a few years away.  On a personal note, my friend Lynn Beltz came to provide me with back up.

A Murder in Oz

A Murder in Oz

A Murder in Oz, a who-done-it comedy written and produced for the event, performed to sold out audiences (and different endings) each evening.  This show would be a hit in any community; I hope other Oz festivals consider it.

This festival offers everything–car shows and costume characters, beer garden, bouncy houses and barbeque contests. The street comes to life with children’s activities, music and entertainment. When the Wicked Witch of the West isn’t throwing “fire balls” at the crowd she’s trying to avoid the dunk tank. Through it all Toto’s is serving up Tacoz and the Oz Winery is pouring tastes. The tireless Oz Museum staff and volunteers make it weekend to remember.

We were all disappointed to miss Hamilton Meserve when illness cancelled his appearance, but hope we’ll see him at Oztoberfest 2018.  I’d like to see you, too; pencil it in next October!

Jane Albright

Royal Historian of Oz and Radio Pioneer Jack Snow to be Honored on August 15 in Piqua, Ohio—Public Invited

SnowPhotoLowResPiqua-born “Royal Historian of Oz” Jack Snow will be honored at a memorial dedication and headstone unveiling on Tuesday, August 15, 2017, at 10:30 a.m. in Forest Hill Cemetery, 8660 North State Route 66 (Broadway Street), Piqua, Ohio. The ceremony is free and open to the public. The ceremony will mark the 110th anniversary of Snow’s birth.

Forest Hill Cemetery is just north of the City of Piqua and about 30 miles north of Dayton, Ohio.

For more information, contact Bev Drudy.

Speaking at the ceremony will be a representative of the Snow family; James C. Oda, director, Piqua Public Library; and Michael Gessel, a researcher on Snow’s life and officer of the International Wizard of Oz Club.

The headstone was supported by a grant from the International Wizard of Oz Club.

Snow achieved success as the author of The Magical Mimics in Oz and The Shaggy Man of Oz in the popular “Wizard of Oz” series, an acclaimed writer of short stories of speculative fiction, a pioneering reviewer of early radio programs, and the man who came up with the name for Dayton’s radio station WING. But Snow, who died in 1956, is little known in his hometown.

Snow was one of the foremost experts on Baum, and he assembled an outstanding collection of Baum first editions and Oz rarities. His work to promote Baum and Oz led to the founding of the International Wizard of Oz Club the year after he died.

He also achieved acclaim in science fiction circles. Snow published short stories of speculative fiction, some of which continue to be reprinted in anthologies of great works of the genre.

In addition to Oz, radio was a lifelong interest for Snow. While attending Piqua High School, he wrote what is believed to be the nation’s first regular newspaper column of radio reviews, for the Cincinnati Enquirer. As publicity director for the Dayton radio station WSMK, he came up with the idea for the new station call letters, WING, which are still used today.

After graduating from high school in 1925, Snow wrote features and a weekly radio review column for the Piqua Daily Call.

Snow died in New York City on July 11, 1956, and is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, Piqua, Ohio.