Dorothy, I don’t think you’re in Kansas anymore! The city of Oz has moved to Holland – Holland, Michigan, that is. Holland is a charming small town perhaps best known for its tulip festival held every spring. Acres and acres of tulips celebrate the arrival of spring to the joy of visitors and residents alike. Traditional Dutch windmills are a common sight around the town, adding to the feel you have stepped back to the old world. It helps make the town a popular stop on cruises that travel Lake Michigan out of nearby Chicago and almost directly across the lake from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The town has recently completed a tribute to author L. Frank Baum, who wrote the well loved story, The Wizard of Oz.
If the town isn’t in Kansas, and it isn’t Dutch, why choose the Wizard of Oz? L. Frank Baum was actually from the area. He lived and worked in Chicago and spent his summers vacationing at Macatawa Park on the shores of Lake Michigan just outside of Holland. This is the area that inspired him to write the classic story. The story is about appreciating the place you are from – the people and places that touch your heart. Rather than always longing for something bigger and better, what matters the most are those people in your life. His fanciful tale was written for the enjoyment of children – the excitement of a new place, a new fantasy world filled with talking animals and colorful characters. This story was written decades before similar fantasy stories such as The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937) and The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (1950).
“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written solely to pleasure the children of to-day. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and heart-aches and nightmares are left out.”
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
L. Frank Baum, 1900
Of course, the story had to have a nemesis, and a wicked witch was a perfect character for that. Depicted in the story as a witch with only one eye who carried an umbrella rather than a broomstick, she is different from the image we came to know following the 1939 Hollywood movie. When the nemesis can be dispatched with no visible bloodshed, such as having a house drop on top of her, or melting by getting wet, all the better. Children’s books shouldn’t have any bloodshed, although traditional fairy tales popular at the time often contained a surprising amount of cruelty (think Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel.) The original storybook may not have been quite as traumatizing to youngsters as the movie filmed in 1939 was – the visual of seeing those winged monkeys flying off with Scarecrow frightened many a young child. Yet the original story is much darker than the Hollywood movie version. There are any number of differences – including no “ruby red” slippers (in the book they are silver.) If you’ve only ever watched the movie version, it is well worth your time to read the original novel itself. You might be surprised!
The Wizard of Oz was L. Frank Baum’s second best-selling book. His first was titled Father Goose written the year before in 1899. He wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz the following year. Not many realize that The Wizard of Oz is just one story in a series – he went on to write 13 more Oz books before his death in 1919. Baum was born in New York to a comfortably well off middle class family. He was taught by tutors and attended military school for a short time until he left for health reasons. He never graduated from high school which makes his writing career all the more surprising. He went on to write as a newspaper journalist first in South Dakota and later in Chicago, not taking up writing children stories until he was in his forties. After the popularity of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum turned it into a stage play and moved to Hollywood. The Oz series were the Harry Potter novels of their day. In addition to his Oz series, Baum wrote more children’s titles under various pseudonyms, including the name Edith Van Dyne for his Aunt Jane’s Nieces series. In total he wrote over 50 novels, over 80 short stories, 200 poems, and over 40 scripts. He may not have been educated as such, but he sure must have had good work ethics to produce so many stories in such a short period.
And so it is entirely appropriate that Holland Michigan chose to honor this
prolific writer, who loved the area so much that he would take his family
there on vacation every summer. The story was probably written while
vacationing at the family’s cabin, dubbed “The Sign of the Goose.” To
create a tribute to this man, the city could have chosen to put up a statue,
like so many cities have done to honor hometown heroes. Yet Holland
chose to go just a step further and create a series of seven sculptures
depicting many of the characters in the book. Rather than locate them
outside city hall, the usual location for such statues, they chose to honor
the author’s intended audience – not people in cars traveling past a
monument or office workers in the downtown core, but rather the children.
They placed the statues right outside the main library where children
learning to read and learning to appreciate the art of writing will see every
time they visit.
The park nearby is home to a living tribute – a 10’ x 12’ living mosaic depicting the book itself in full color. Planted each year with annuals, it will be moved to the city’s greenhouse every winter and returned in the spring to delight visitors to the park all summer long. The iconic Yellow Brick Road will transport you from Centennial Park to the Herrick Library where you find the seven bronze sculptures of the Oz characters. These statues are on permanent display and make for a great photo opportunity where you can relive your childhood. The city of Holland may not be big, but it sure has a big personality!
Visit Holland Michigan and be entertained by these wonderful characters on the following Lake Michigan cruises:
- 15 Nights
- June 4, 2022,June 18, 2022
- From $6,699
- Victory I