The Wonderful Weekend of OZ[TOBERFEST]!


Wamego  # 16




Oct 3, 2014    The Wonderful Weekend of OZ[TOBERFEST]!


Although they used different words and different phrases, any number of people offered much the same glowing summation of last weekend's edition of Wamego's annual OZTOBERFEST.


Each in his or her own way observed that, come Monday morning, they'd be returning to “the real world” –or “Kansas” -- the latter quite literally, in some cases. But that meant, as one and all also acknowledged, that they'd delightedly and proudly just spent two or three days in Oz: the very real Oz on this side of the rainbow.


Perhaps most tellingly, their final confessions noted that it was a toss-up as to which locale they'd most or best embrace when endorsing, "There's no place like home”!


Oz has that effect, of course. And it’s no exaggeration to state that Wamego, its impressive Oz Museum, and its welcoming Oz-bedecked environs provided the closest, alternate route to Oz one could have envisioned across September 26th, 27th, and 28th.


Imagine masses of Kansas "locals," flanked by hundreds of visitors from (among other places) Texas, Connecticut, West Virginia, Missouri, Colorado, California, and Wisconsin -- with a tip of the Fricke topper here to long-time, long-term friend Erin Hennen, whose new husband John brought her down from our mutual hometown in Milwaukee to see hoztory in the making.


Imagine a range of ages extending from babes in arms (and strollers)…all the way up to a diminutive senior citizen in her eighties, who regaled fellow-traveler family members -- and fascinated museum onlookers -- with the proud statement that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's THE WIZARD OF OZ was the first motion picture she ever saw, on its original release seventy-five years ago


Imagine forty-three (forty-three!) store and business office windows up and down Wamego’s main street, colorfully painted with diverse, creative Oz illustrations.


Imagine a half-dozen or more comical displays of crafty Oz “street theater art.”


Imagine a whirling, beauteous Oz ballet, performed by a company of kids and students, all masterfully showcased onstage at the legendary Columbian Theatre.




Those are just a few overall Oz-associated highlights that come to mind – and, as by now must be apparent, it’s impossible to recount every magical moment, exchange, and encounter. Speaking personally, though, I would like to offer a few more, from my specific vantage point:

  • Friday’s benefit event, “Night at the Museum,” was beyond sold-out, and a crowd of fans and friends enjoyed massive amounts of exceptional hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, rich and satisfying desserts, delicious assorted beverages (hic!), and the opportunity to explore the extraordinary collectibles on every side. What really made the evening, however (and quite literally brought it to life), was the clever artistry and preplanning that saw the museum’s Oz character mannequins removed from their settings for the occasion -- prior to the arrival of the guests. The replacements for the statues were beautifully costumed, “frozen in place” actors, who maintained their stationary illusion until the party peaked. They then began to move, in turn stepping out of their alcoves, reenacting songs and dialogue moments from the MGM film, and leading visitors through the hallways of Oz. It was alchemy, witchery, sorcery, necromancy…and Ozzy: a chance to watch, in outstanding “action,” Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion, Glinda, the Wizard, the Wicked Witch, and even two Winkie Guards.
  • All five of Saturday’s lectures (two of which were repeated on Sunday) packed the miniature screening room at the rear of Oz Museum – to the extent that, at times, a number of eager devotees were delightedly forced to perch on available floor space. I know this was uber-gratifying to all three “presenters,” and such attention and participation resulted in superlative book and souvenir sales, much Oz-related questioning and conversation, and multiple, personal memories for everyone in the room. As a result, the day was filled with alternately smiling, tear-touched, laughing, and/or bittersweet faces, whether inspired by Oz books, Oz treasures, Margaret Hamilton, Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, or (especially) the many MGM Munchkins who are no longer with us, but who graced and glorified so many Oz proceedings beginning in the late 1980s.
  • Finally, I have to confess the rush of quietly ecstatic Oz emotion that accompanied so many of the activities I was privileged to relish: the forty-minute phone interview with OZ-CAT (!) Radio, based in Northern California; the time spent with a thorough and adroit interviewer from the Manhattan (KS) MERCURY newspaper; the two mini-concert presentations on Friday night, with a sparkling Kally McConkey in estimable support from the keyboard; and the treat of singing five MGM-tangential songs: “Look to the Rainbow” (from FINIAN’S RAINBOW, with a lyric by OZ songwriter “Yip” Harburg), three Broadway tunes originally introduced by Tin Man Jack Haley, Cowardly Lion Bert Lahr, and Scarecrow Ray Bolger (respectively, “Button Up Your Overcoat,” “Friendship,” and “Once in Love With Amy”), and the sweetly philosophical “Little Drops of Rain,” written for Judy Garland by Harburg and OZ composer Harold Arlen.


At the conclusion of Friday’s party, I also was honored to be selected to present plaque, flowers, and a commemorative card to Donna Herman for her decade-plus of service as the museum’s meet-er/greeter and visitors’ mainstay. She later confided that, when she saw both her sons in attendance that night, she suspected something might be in the works – but her joy and pride at the deserved recognition was shared by the greater Oz family as well.


All of this verbiage barely does justice to the tangible, palpable, omnipresent fun of the weekend. But I had to try to convey some of the singular pleasure that is generated by Oz itself…a pleasure that then is doubled, tripled, quadrupled, multiplied, and squared by the presence of those who love it – or who are almost immediately swept away by it in a setting such as the Oz Museum or by an affair like OZTOBERFEST.


Perhaps best of all: the people who packed the museum this year topped the number of those who attended last year. And the 2013 crowds had topped those for 2012.


That everything is going in the right direction easily can be seen.


So…here’s to the savvy use of those Highway 70 “billboards of Oz” (referenced by many people as their “draw” into Wamego) and to the increased use of social media and internet reach-out on behalf of those in charge (more! more! more! of that, please).


Most of all, here’s to the dedicated, on-their-toes, dedicated, unflappable, dedicated, patient, dedicated, ebullient, dedicated, tireless, capaciously-hearted, and…er, dedicated Oz Museum and Columbian Theatre staff members – and all of the indefatigable volunteers!


Heartfelt appreciation, as well, to one and all who attended – and to all of you who are going to start planning NOW for OZTOBERFEST 2015.


You won’t want to miss it!




For photographic proof of some of last weekend’s merry madness, please visit:  


Article by John Fricke


OZ Museum
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Wamego, Kansas 66547

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