The popular musical Wicked is playing at the Landmark Theatre, but when it leaves town on December 9th, the magic of Oz will stay in Central New York, where it has been for more than 100 years.
L. Frank Baum, the imagination behind the Land of Oz, was born in Chittenango in 1856, and the Baum family owned nearly three dozen properties in Central New York at the time. Much of Baum's inspiration for his Land of Oz books came from the scenery in Central New York, but the family says the missing piece was his wife Maude Gage, who he met at his sister's house (the Neal House) on 678 West Onondaga Street in Syracuse in the late 1800's.
Maude Gage's mother was famous women's suffragist Matilda Joselyn Gage. Maude and Baum were actually married at Gage's home in Fayetteville, another Central New York landmark. Baum was inspired by his mother-in-law's beliefs, and coupled with the rich Central New York scenery, Baum's Land of Oz, featuring female characters and beautiful landscapes, was born. The family says if the two never met at the Neal House, the Land of Oz may have never existed.
"This particular property is very significant," Kathleen Sorbello-DiScenna, a 30 year Central New York L. Frank Baum historian, says. "If the two of them hadn't met, there may have never been a writing of the Wizard of Oz, and there wouldn't have been anything other than that, not even a Wicked."
Built in 1880, the Neal House was declared a protected city landmark in 2010, recognizing its historical significance. Now in disrepair, the Lyman Frank Baum Foundation is trying to raise $8,000 to purchase the property from the city. They say they have about $2000 now, and they plan on making the house into their location for the foundation, featuring exhibits, galleries, a writing program and more, all in an effort to preserve and instill Baum's imagination in the community.
"They have a precious jewel here," Sorbello-DiScenna says. "Kids can come here, and adults can come here, we can have fun in this house, it's not a relic, it's not something where you're going to walk in and just look and take off, you're going to do things here, and you're going to have fun here, and the idea is to continue to use your imagination."
Sorbello-DiScenna says another Central New York location close to Baum's heart was Roselawn in Mattydale, where Baum lived for about 20 years. Sorbello-DiScenna says that in the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy opens her door going into Munchkin Land, the beautiful scenery of roses, trees, birds and the forest are indeed inspired by Roselawn in Mattydale.
"We just love people to know of all the wonderful connections we have," Sorbello-DiScenna says. "Right here in Frank's backyard."