Summer of Fun: There’s no place like the Oz Museum in Wamego

This is one in a series of “Summer of Fun” articles by The Heartlander showcasing fun things to do across Missouri and Kansas.

WAMEGO, Ks. – Even Dorothy Gale would agree: There’s no place like the Oz Museum in Wamego, which tells the remarkable history of Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum’s life and famous novel.

The legendary children’s book was, of course, later adapted into the beloved 1939 MGM musical starring Judy Garland that generations have come to love.

The nonprofit museum at 511 Lincoln Avenue has an intricate past that includes collaborating with Wamego’s Colombian Theatre. In the summer of 1995, the theater held a locally owned Oz exhibit that attracted over 13,000 visitors from 14 countries. 

Townsfolk started talking and discovered that neither the book nor the film specified the town where the story unfolded. With the assistance of grants, personal donations and volunteer work, the decision was made to construct the renowned Oz Museum.

This year marks the 21st anniversary of the museum’s opening in 2003. With roughly 40,000 annual visitors, it showcases a collection of 2,000 original pieces and replicas. The museum has a collection of 40,000 memorabilia items, and changes displays every six months.

The museum showcases Baum’s original print of Wizard of Oz and explores the history of various adaptations, including the first stage play, a 1925 silent film, the original 1939 film, The Wiz (1978), Disney’s Return to Oz (1985), The Dreamer of Oz: The L. Frank Baum Story (1990), The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz (2005), and many others.

For three consecutive years, the Oz Museum has been recognized by USA Today as one of the Top 10 pop culture museums in the United States, and this year it is ranked number six.

Caiti Roush, a lifelong Wamego resident and gift shop coordinator at the museum, spoke with The Heartlander and revealed that the museum will showcase a temporary and thrilling item Friday, June 7. Since 2018, the Oz Museum has been showcasing new original artifacts, such as the musket wielded by the Emerald City guard in the original movie.

Other items on display are hand-jeweled ruby slippers covered in crystals, a reproduction of the Haunted Forest sign that warned Dorothy and her peers to “turn back,” doors and windows from a Munchkin house used on the set of The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz, hand-painted character masks from the original film, rare autographs, rare Oz artifacts, props from the Broadway musical Wicked and more. 

If you’re a fan or collector of Wizard of Oz memorabilia, you can donate items to the museum after contacting the curator and providing a description and pictures and completing necessary paperwork.

“The museum is very near and dear to my heart,” Roush said. “I grew up here in Wamego. In my personal and professional opinion, if the museum hadn’t started, I don’t know how Wamego would be doing now. Since we do have so many people coming into town to see the museum, the town has adapted to having its own yellow brick road, the Oz Winery and Toto’s TacOz.

“All of these things have come to be because of the museum and the inspiration people have from the 1939 film.”

If you head two doors north from the Oz Museum to 515 Lincoln Avenue, you’ll find Toto’s TacOz. The restaurant offers a variety of Oz-inspired dishes, such as the Yellow Brick Burrito, Dorothy’s Quesadilla, and the Munchkin Burrito for kids.

Head a block south and you’ll come across The Oz Winery at 417 Lincoln Avenue, where you can enjoy wines that are, you guessed it, Oz-themed.

Some of the original film’s actors and actresses have come to Wamego to visit the museum and attend the annual OZtoberfest on the first Saturday of October. Inside and outside the museum, you can find handprints left by the cast’s Munchkins.

Roush says the museum also has been visited by various adaptation authors, Wizard of Oz historians such as John Fricke, and even actress Shanice Williams, who played Dorothy in The Wiz Live (2015).

OZtoberfest is a one-day festival and the busiest day of the year for the Oz Museum. Two blocks are designated for live music, special guests, vendors, guided tours, Oz cosplay characters, look-alike contests, and other enjoyable activities. The Columbian Theatre is open for OZtoberfest and showcases original 1893 Chicago World’s Fair artifacts, as well as Wizard of Oz memorabilia.

“Without them, the museum would not have been here,” Roush says. “That is something that is really important to us, sharing the history of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and everything that came from that, as well as sharing L. Frank Baum’s legacy and the connection to Oz and Kansas.”

For travelers and vacationers, the Oz Museum is pet-friendly, too. While the museum permits mostly small animals, pet sitting (based on staff availability) is provided for larger pets or animals that visitors prefer not to carry.

For details on admission rates, hours, and location, refer to the Oz Museum website.

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