We're off to see the Wizard...along with Dorothy, Toto, and all of her friends as they make their way onto the What Is the Story of? list.
When L. Frank Baum wrote about the adventures of a young farm girl named Dorothy and her pet dog in the magical Land of Oz in 1900, he wanted to create a beautiful story based on the America he knew and treasured. But he had no idea his book would become a bestseller and grow into the cultural phenomenon that it is today. After the iconic 1939 film, numerous sequels, retellings, and musicals, it's easy to see why The Wizard of Oz has been called "America's greatest and best-loved homegrown fairytale." From Baum's first book through Wicked, the story of The Wizard of Oz is as fascinating as the tale itself.
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What Is the Story of The Wizard of Oz?
The very high point—the moment everyone in the audience waits for—in one of the most popular musicals on Broadway comes as a young woman stands alone onstage. She begins singing about how tired she is of trying to do what others want her to do and be who they want her to be. It’s time for her to believe in herself and to fight for what she thinks is right.
Many of the people in the audience share her struggle. They, too, want to believe in themselves, but may not have the confidence. They feel just like the young woman singing “Everyone deserves the chance to fly!”
And then she rises into the air and flies. And their spirits soar with her.
This isn’t just any young woman. She has green skin, wears a tall, pointy hat, and holds a broom. She is a witch—the evil witch who battled Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.
But this is Wicked, the hit musical that tells the true story of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, and her friendship with Glinda the Good Witch. In this version, Elphaba is the star, and she is not as “wicked” as she appeared in The Wizard of Oz. This is Elphaba’s big moment, where she sings “Defying Gravity.” The song and the flying are the high points of the show, and something audiences cheer every night.
Wicked opened on Broadway in 2003 and has been attracting huge crowds ever since. But the story of Oz, the witches, Dorothy, and the Wizard goes back even further. Beyond the famous 1939 movie, where Dorothy is the hero who sings about finding a special place over the rainbow. Even earlier than 1900, when a book called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published and became a beloved classic.
It goes back to the 1800s. To a little boy with a big imagination, who had nightmares about being chased by a scarecrow.
Chapter 1: Frankie
Lyman Frank Baum was born on May 15, 1856, in Chittenango, New York. His parents were Benjamin and Cynthia Baum, and he had two sisters and two brothers. Frankie, as he was known, was lucky to survive. He was born in the middle of a diphtheria epidemic. Two of his cousins and his three-year-old brother had died from the disease (which is a very serious infection) right around the time Frankie was born. The Baums had another son, Henry, known as Harry, in 1859.
The Baums did not have much money when Frankie was very young. But then Benjamin started working in the oil business and became wealthy. In 1861, the family bought a mansion in the city of Syracuse. And five years later, the Baums moved to a grand estate called Rose Lawn, just outside of town.
In the fall of 1868, twelve-year-old Frankie was sent away to military school. He hated the rules and strict teachers. In 1870, he became sick at school and collapsed. His family took him home for good, which was fine with Frankie. He much preferred life at Rose Lawn, where he could read the fairy tales he loved, and daydream as much as he wanted.
Not all of his dreams were good, though. For a while, Frankie kept having the same nightmare. A scarecrow was chasing him through the fields around Rose Lawn. Just as it was about to catch him, it would collapse into a pile of straw and clothes. He never forgot that dream.
When Frankie was fourteen, his father bought him a small printing press. He and his brother Harry began to print the Rose Lawn Home Journal, a newspaper for the family. They wrote stories, news, and puzzles for it. Frankie also wrote poems and stories for himself, and even started a novel.
In 1873, a financial crisis struck the United States. All over the country, people lost money, businesses, and their homes. Benjamin Baum was deeply in debt and out of money. Seventeen-year-old Frankie had to drop out of school and go to work in a store owned by his older sister and her husband.
Frank did not like working in the store. He had always loved the theater, and in 1878, he decided to go to New York to become an actor. He got a few parts in plays, but wasn’t earning enough to make a living. He left New York for Bradford, Pennsylvania, where he worked on a weekly journal.
Eventually, his father let him manage a group of theaters he still owned from his wealthier days, and Frank started his own theater company. In 1882, Frank wrote a play called The Maid of Arran. He also played the lead role. The play was popular, and was performed around the East Coast and the Midwest.
That year, Frank married Maud Gage, a well-educated young woman.
In 1883, Maud gave birth to their son Frank Joslyn. Frank wasn’t making enough money with his theater company, so he went into business with his older brother Benjamin Jr. They sold a type of oil that helped machines run smoothly. Maud and Frank had another son, Robert Stanton, in 1886. Afterward, Maud had to spend months in bed. Frank took care of Frank Jr. and Robert, and became very close to his sons.
Frank and Benjamin’s business wasn’t doing well. Maud’s brother Clarkson and sisters Julia and Helen had moved out west to the territory that would become North and South Dakota. Their letters to Maud made life in the West sound exciting. Maybe a little too exciting: Helen described a frightening cyclone that lifted a house right off the ground! Frank’s business in Syracuse wasn’t very successful. So in the fall of 1888, he decided to move his family to Aberdeen, South Dakota.