Living in Oz's Many Settings
Events found in "The Wonderful
Wizard of Oz" were likely inspire by L. Frank Baum's Boyhood in Central New
June 5, 2003
by Sue Ferrara
reader of L. Frank Baum's most famous American fairy tale, "The Wonderful
Wizard of Oz," find glimpses of Central New York in his book?
L. Frank Baum (1856 - 1919)
Indeed. Most writers and storytellers would readily admit that life
experiences have a way of creeping into a story, and Baum's Oz story is a
case in point.
the yellow brick road, to the Wizard himself, a careful reader who knows
local history will find several shadows of Baum's 19th century life in
Upstate New York.
annual OzFest celebrates the fact that Baum was born in Chittenango on May
15, 1856. Benjamin Baum, the author's father, ran the Baum Barrel Factory
with his brothers, Adam Clark and Lyman Spaulding. The factory, and the Baum
home, sat on what is now Route 13 in Chittenango.
child, I spent many summer days lazing at my grandmother's home in
Chittenango. While researching my book on Baum's family, I learned that I
had often played at his Chittenango home, which was then owned by my
grandmother's best friend. What I remember most about Chittenango is the
lush green hills that surround the village. I especially loved the view
while coming over the crest of Route 173 from Manlius to Chittenango.
Chittenango in Baum's book is problematic. Baum left Chittenango at the age
of 4 1/2, when his mother bought a home on 1 Rust St. in Syracuse. But Baum
returned to Chittenango as a young adult many times. If I could interview
Mr. Baum, however, my first question would be: Was the Emerald City created
out of your memory of the green hills of Chittenango?
careful reader can find in "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," however, are events
and experiences that occurred during Baum's adolescent years when he lived
in what is now Mattydale.
1866, Baum's parents purchased an estate outside of the city of Syracuse
where they would move to in 1868, just as the author was entering
adolescence. It is here, at Roselawn, that Baum seemed to begin learning his
craft and storing his experiences for use later in his first Oz adventure.
fires destroyed the home at Roselawn in the 1950s. Action Sports and Skate
Center is now located on the site of the former Roselawn home on Brewerton
Road (Route 11).
experiences, or influences, that seemingly appear in "The Wonderful Wizard
of Oz" include the gardens of Roselawn; the plank road; the Cardiff giant;
and Professor C.C. Coe. Baum also began to learn the joys of writing and
publishing at his family's new country home.
story of Roselawn begins with three nursery men who purchased 114 acres of
contiguous land between 1854 and 1866. The nursery firm Smith, Thorpe and
Hanchett was known in Syracuse for its numerous varieties of fruit and
ornamental trees. At the 1852 New York State Fair, the company boasted "88
varieties of pears, 35 varieties of apples, and 20 of plum." All these trees
were grown on the land around Roselawn.
1853 newspaper story about the nursery noted that the nursery greenhouse
contained "a large number of cuttings of rose lately introduced to this
section by these enterprising gentlemen called the Augusta Rose." This new
variety of rose was yellow, and again, was nurtured on the grounds around
Nov. 10, 1866, Benjamin and Cynthia Baum purchased 3.75 acres of the 114
acre parcel for $5,000. Family lore says that Cynthia named the estate
Roselawn because of the glorious rose bushes around the property.
rose bushes and the fruit trees, so tenderly nourished by Smith, Thorpe and
Hanchett, seem to come alive in Baum's writing. In "The Wonderful Wizard of
Oz," when Dorothy lands "in the midst of a country of marvelous beauty," the
beauty is described this way:
were lovely patches of green sward all about, with stately trees bearing
rich and luscious fruits. Banks of gorgeous flowers were on every hand, and
birds with rare and brilliant plumage sang and fluttered in the trees and
bushes. A little way off was a small brook, rushing and sparkling along
between green banks.
location of Roselawn apparently had an impact on Baum, too. The estate stood
"about one half mile from the first toll gate on the Centreville Road,"
according to an 1885 press clip from the Syracuse Herald. The Centreville
Road was the first plank road built in the United States. The road had
wooden planks only on the west side, and those planks were made of hemlock.
The building of this road was quite an achievement in its time and played an
important role in Syracuse's salt industry.
plank road, which ran right in front of Baum's house, extended more than 16
miles running from Syracuse north to Central Square, and cost about $1,500
per mile to construct. The total cost of the project was about $25,000. A
reporter writing for the Onondaga Standard in 1847 noted of the plank road,
"it is decidedly the most agreeable road to ride over that we ever saw."
the plank road played a pivotal role in the lives of Central New Yorkers is
without dispute. The fact that Baum lived on the road as a teenager must
have left an impact on him. But what really ties the plank road to road so
key in "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" is the hue of the planks. The hemlock
planks were golden-colored.
house at Roselawn was wrapped in wide porches, places where Baum reportedly
loved to read.
estate provided many happy moments for the Baum family. Here, brothers L.
Frank and Harry published their juvenile newspaper known as the Roselawn
Home Journal. Publishing a newspaper was a common activity for children
during the 1870s, and press associations sprouted on both a state and
national level. In New York state, juvenile journalists could join the
Empire State Press Association which was formed in 1873, and held its first
convention at City Hall in Syracuse on Aug. 26, 1873.
Press Association Convention was presided over by William A. Fiske, one of a
number of Syracuse-based amateur journalists who was active in the state
association. Fiske published a paper called Our Gem, along with Charles
Reginal Sherlock. In 1870, Sherlock had published a paper called The Empire
with friends Thomas Gold Alvord, son of the lieutenant governor, and Eugene
B. McClelland. Sherlock eventually became the editor of the Syracuse Courier
in 1875 at the age of 17. He later worked as the managing editor of the
Roselawn Home Journal contained stories, poems and other prose written by
Baum or a member of his family. Baum and his younger brother initially
printed their newspaper on a Novelty printing press, purchased by their
father, Benjamin. They later upgraded their press to a Young America Press
that Baum loved. He even took the time to write a letter to the Adams Press
company to extol the virtues of his new printing press.
July 1871 issue of the Roselawn Home Journal carried a most important piece
written by Baum titled "The True Origin of the Cardiff Giant." In 1869,
George Hull, a cigar manufacturer from Binghamton, decided to have a giant
created out of gypsum, and had that giant buried on a farm in Cardiff, just
south of Syracuse.
The Cardiff Giant
"discovery" of the giant captured people's imaginations, especially since it
measured "12 feet by 22 inches," according to a news story in the Syracuse
giant's body was eventually displayed in Syracuse and when the time came to
send the giant to Albany, Benjamin Baum, L. Frank's father, was one of a
number of Syracuse business people to sign a petition demanding the body
remain in Syracuse. The influx of tourists to see the giant had been a boon
for local business.
giant must have been the talk around Roselawn, too, because the piece "The
True Origin of the Cardiff Giant," is a nine-stanza poem that claimed the
giant had drown during the floods that covered the earth, despite an attempt
by Noah to reason with the giant.
Readers of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," I believe, can see the influence of
the Cardiff Giant hoax in a passage from the book:
interested Dorothy the most was the big throne of green marble that stood in
the middle of the room. It was shaped like a chair and sparkled with gems,
as did everything else. In the center of the chair was an enormous head
without a body to support it or any arms or legs whatever. There was no hair
upon this head, but it had eyes and a nose and mouth, and was much bigger
than the head of the biggest giant.
Oz, the Great and Terrible."
is the Wizard of Oz, but a great hoax the size of the Cardiff Giant?
that hoax of a wizard makes his escape in a hot air balloon, another scene
that probably has roots in a 19th century Central New York event.
Professor Coe's balloon in Clinton
1871, Professor C.C. Coe, of Rome, brought his hot air balloon, called the
New World, to downtown Syracuse for a race. In this race, the person
traveling the greatest distance would claim a $500 prize.
balloon had a length of 120 feet and a capacity of 95,500 cubic feet. In
pictures from the Onondaga Historical Association collection, the balloon
seems to dwarf Syracuse's tallest buildings at the time. Hundreds of people
were gathered in Clinton Square to witness the event.
winds blew through Clinton Square in downtown Syracuse on that September
1871 day, and Coe's challenger decided to stay on the ground. But the lack
of a challenger and high winds did not deter Professor Coe from making a
flight eastward. A report described it this way:
tangling the basket in telephone wires, the balloon was got over them, then
collided with the Kimber Block just north of the Warren Street canal bridge
Finally the monster was over Clinton Square, swaying one way then the other,
as if uneasy ...
rope was cast off, and up, up, went the great air ship, keeping almost over
its starting point until an altitude of near two miles was reached, when a
southeasterly current was struck and away went the voyagers, passing
villages and rising above the clouds to catch a view there that none but
balloon passengers ever see.
flight ended in Oneida where Professor Coe's passengers, Edward B. Griswold,
Charles D. Smith and George C. Becker hopped a train back to Syracuse.
are actually two passages in "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" that refer to hot
air balloons. Every one knows that Dorothy is to return to Kansas with
the Wizard in a hot air balloon. However, missing Toto, Dorothy goes looking
for her dog. After finding Toto, Dorothy races to the balloon and is nearly
in the basket when "crack! went the ropes, and the balloon rose into the air
without her." She calls for the Wizard to return and of course, he can't.
Earlier in the story, when Dorothy discovers that the Wizard of Oz is a mere
mortal, the Wizard tells Dorothy that he is from Omaha. He tells her that he
was a balloonist in the circus, and that one day the "the ropes got twisted"
and he couldn't come back to earth. "For a night and a day," the Wizard
tells Dorothy, "I traveled through the air, and on the morning of the second
day I awoke and found the balloon floating over a strange and beautiful
the beautiful country Baum wrote of so lovingly must have been Central New
York. Five years after the family moved to Roselawn, the author's father
began to suffer from health problems. Financial problems apparently followed
and Roselawn, the family's beloved home, went up for auction on March 11,
1880. L. Frank Baum purchased the house, while a member of the famous
Syracuse Crouse family bought most of the land around the estate.
owned Roselawn until 1883. By then, Baum was married to Maud Gage and living
in Syracuse. He and Maud were expecting their first child. Baum's mother
purchased the house from her son for $1. She sold Roselawn on Sept. 24,
1887, seven months after the death of her husband.
ultimately left Syracuse in 1888, moving with Maud and their children to
Aberdeen, S.D. But clearly Roselawn, and selected events during Baum's life,
infused the author's works. He never forgot his days at Roselawn, which were
clearly some of his happiest and most settled times. And maybe this is why
when the Scarecrow asks Dorothy why she would want to leave the beauty of Oz
to return to Kansas, Dorothy replies:
matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would
rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There
is no place like home."
Sue Ferrara is author of "The Family
of the Wizard: The Baums of Syracuse." She now lives in Princeton, N.J.
© 2003 The Post-Standard.
Road Goes On and On
A Syracuse woman is extending the Chittenango Yellow
Brick Road to Little Italy and beyond.
Sunday, May 16, 2004
by Aaron Gifford, Staff writer
Kathleen Sorbello Di Scenna hosted the grand opening of her Land of Oz
Preservation Company on Saturday at 415 N. Salina St., Syracuse. It's a
resource center dedicated to Wizard of Oz author and Central New York native
L. Frank Baum.
"I wanted to concentrate on the life of L. Frank Baum in Syracuse," said
Di Scenna, who, like Baum, was born in Chittenango and later moved to the
She would like to see Syracuse embrace its Oz heritage as Chittenango
has. The Madison County village is the site of an annual OzFest that draws
thousands of visitors and has a yellow brick sidewalk through its downtown,
an Oz museum and several Oz-themed businesses, like the OzCream parlor, the
Emerald City Grill and the Land of Oz and Ends.
Baum moved to Syracuse at the age of 5 after his father made a fortune in
the oil business. The Baums opened several businesses in Syracuse, Di Scenna
said, including a bank.
The Baums owned a dry goods store in what is now the Syracuse Suds
Factory on South Clinton Street and another business in Armory Square where
Hendricks Photo Supply is, Di Scenna said. The family's Syracuse home at "1
Rust Street" is now the Dollar Store on Midland Avenue, she added.
"There are 14 books of Oz and 300 characters," Di Scenna said. "It's time
we learned more about the man who did this. We live where he lived."
Di Scenna eventually wants to organize Oz children and family events in
Syracuse and sell merchandise. She dreams of opening an Oz Theme park in
Central New York someday.
Di Scenna, who works at her mother-in-law's Di Scenna Travel Service,
will run a "Follow the Road of Yellow Brick" bus tour on June 6. It stops at
Baum's birthplace in Chittenango, the Fayetteville home where he married
Maud Gage in 1882 and the house of his grandparents in New Woodstock, which is
now the Stanton Bed and Breakfast.
She said she's planning a re-enactment of Baum's introduction to Gage,
which took place at what is now 678 W. Onondaga St.
Di Scenna, who is a big fan of the books and the movie, said adults and
children alike are eager to learn about Baum because his work influenced
other great writers, including Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling.
John W. Di Marco and Faith Groesbeck, both 11, said they learned "a ton"
about Baum on Saturday. Both have seen the "Wizard of Oz" movie several
times and plan to attend next month's OzFest in Chittenango.
Di Marco, who sported a scarecrow costume, said the 1939 classic was way
ahead of its time. He was astonished to learn that Baum made four of his own
movies before MGM's production.
"When I was little, I couldn't watch the whole thing," Di Marco said,
adding that he has watched "The Wizard of Oz" video "too many" times, but
never saw it on a big screen. "Whenever the witch came out, that's when I
went to get chocolate chip cookies."
© 2004 The Post-Standard.