Sunday, October 04, 2009

Toto-ly Ozsome

Warning: Evidence of my complete Wizard of Oz nerdiness ahead.

On Saturday, Jay, WCK, and I traveled to Wamego, Kansas for the town's annual "Oztoberfest". Wamego is a tiny little town about 90 minutes from Kansas City with an incredible Wizard of Oz museum. Every October, the town also throws a huge Oz-themed festival. Guests of honor included four of the surviving Munchkins, the great-grandson of L. Frank Baum, and a couple of world-renowned Judy Garland experts.

I'd never been to Wamego before, so I was very excited. The museum was amazing. I could have spent an entire day there, reading all of the nerdy descriptions on all of the artifacts and spending WCK's entire college fund in the gift shop. I got a couple of t-shirts, a new sign for my Oz-themed bathroom, and a Christmas ornament. The museum displays included life-sized re-creations of all of the characters and scenery. You actually get to walk through the Haunted Forest on the way to the witch's castle, and it truly feels like you're in the Haunted Forest. I do believe in spooks! I do believe in spooks!

We also visited the Oz Winery and bought a bottle of "O.E.O" wine (Get it? It has a picture of the witch's guards on the label) and some Oz Winery wine glasses, and we had dinner at "Toto's Tacoz". In between, we stood in line to get autographs from the Munchkins.

And we stood in line, and stood in line, and stood in line. We spent the entire afternoon standing in line, and the line never moved.

I missed out on all of the Judy Garland lectures because I was standing in line. At one point, I actually saw John Fricke pass by on the street. John Fricke, people!

Yeah, I know nobody knows who John Fricke is. Nobody but me would be impressed by being passed on the street by John Fricke, but he's probably the world's leading expert on Judy Garland, so he's kind of one of my personal heroes. I want to be John Fricke when I grow up, or, at the very least, John Fricke's assistant. Just let me open your mail, John Fricke! Let me get you some coffee! I really regret that I didn't snap a paparazzi-like photo of him.

Anyway. After about three hours of standing in line, when we were three people from the front of the line, the guy in charge came out and announced that the Munchkins were exhausted and had to stop signing autographs promptly at 5 p.m., and that we were not going to get in. This man was obviously hired to protect the Munchkins, and he was not messing around.

"I've already had one Munchkin go down today," he said. "I'm not going to let it happen again."

It's true. Four Muchkins walked into that autograph session, but only three walked out. I don't know what happened to the fourth. I hope she's OK.

He told the crowd that we were all welcome to come back the next day, and that he'd mark our bracelets so we'd get priority admission. Our little family was not able to come back the next day, so we didn't get our autographs. Disappointing, yes, but

a) I already have autographs from all of the Munchkins that were there, plus two others.

b) I really didn't want to be responsible for another Munchkin "going down." I understand the need to protect the Munchkins. They're the last surviving link to the greatest movie of all time, and they've got to be pushing 90 years old. If the Official Munchkin Wrangler says that signing one more autograph could potentially kill them, I take that warning very seriously.

c) How cool is it that we were told to "Go away, and come back tomorrow!" just like the guard at the Emerald City told Dorothy in the movie? How cool is that???

The Official Munchkin Wrangler told us that, as a consolation prize, the Munchkins would step out onto the balcony of the theater where they'd been signing autographs and wave at the crowd. They'd also walk past us on the red carpet on the way to their cars.

"I'll be sure to tell them to walk very slowly," said Munchkin Wrangler, and then he stopped to think about it. "Yeah, they all walk very slowly anyway. It'll be fine."

So we waited and waited some more, and finally the Munchkins -- along with L. Frank Baum's grandson -- appeared on the balcony. The crowd -- all of us who had been sticking it out the entire afternoon -- went wild. Even though we'd been through a lot over the course of the afternoon, I was amazed by how many people stuck around and by how sweet and respectful the crowd was toward the Munchkins, except for the one guy who yelled at Jerry Maren, "THROW THE LOLLIPOP!"

He didn't throw the lollipop, although that would have been pretty cool.

Then the Munchkins were down on the red carpet (walking slowly) and they got into their cars and were whisked away. Oztoberfest was over. I told Jay that I have a whole strategy for getting our autographs next year. Jay's loving response: "WE HAVE TO GO BACK NEXT YEAR??!?!?"

Yes, a good time was had by all.

Now, some photos:

The Munchkins rode to and from autograph sessions in these little cars:

Ruby slipper cookies:

If I owned a dog, I would totally do this:

Where was the lion? It was never explained:

The Witch entertained the crowd waiting for Munchkin autographs. She tormented this little boy for a good five minutes, and he remained completely oblivious:

Myrna Swenson, and L. Frank Baum's great-grandson and his wife:

Lollipop Guild representative Jerry Maren and his wife. Jerry is the one who handed Judy Garland the lollipop in the movie:

Myrna Swenson on the red carpet:

The crowd snapping photos of Jerry Maren:

Munchkin Karl Slover stopped for a minute to talk to the crowd:


John said...

Your husband has a lot of patience!

Glad you had fun...

Jeannie said...

I have been to lots of Oz festivals, I am sure John would be flattered to see this blog post.. Do you mind if I send it to him?
Is this the only place I can contact at or does this blog have a private email?
Glad you had a good time and that you werent upset about standing in line.. been there many times...
Who was the munchkin that went down? Oh yes I need to tell you about one of your photos..

Karen said...

Hi, Jeannie! No, my blog doesn't have a private e-mail (although I should figure out how to do that!). If you send me your e-mail, I can contact you! I believe Ruth Duccini was the one that went down.

Jeannie said...

email me at

Anonymous said...

You're hilarious. John Fricke is DA BOMB!

James C. Wallace II said...

I see you got a nice photo of the winged monkey dog. That's Vito and his owners are Dennis and Linda Anfuso. I had the pleasure of being next to them at Chesterton the week before. Lovely couple and I watched her make that costume on the spot. Most impressive. I wish I could have made Wamego... but No!!!!
Please check out my blog for photos of the Chesterton Festival, including Vito the Winged Monkey Dog.

James C. Wallace II
Royal Liaison to Princess Ozma

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you were able to go to the festival. Thanks for sharing your pictures. I was there also. Just so you know the lady in the picture that you labled as Margaret Pellegrini is actually Myrna Swenson, Clarence Swenson's wife. Margaret was supposed to be there but she has had a stroke. The munchkin that had to leave was Ruth Duccini. She is blind in one eye so they asked people to not use flash photography, but some did anyway and it got to her. Just wanted to share this information with you.

ozfan1961 said...

Hi Karen,

I was at the Wamego event as well. I loved your description of Wamego and the excitement you have for Oz. Jeannie is right. John would be very flattered about this blog post. He is a wonderful person. We have been friends for 20 years, and sometimes I'm not sure he really realizes what he does bring to people just by being himself.

Ruth Duccini is the Munchkin who went "down", although that expression is a bit over the top. She tires very easily and has trouble with her eyes. That is why she wears dark glasses a lot. When too many lights and flash bulbs go off in front of her, she has to get out of that for a while.

Take care, and keep writing of your adventures in Oz!

Ozzily yours,