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20 February 2010 @ 12:40 pm
Loose Transcript of Summers in Oz; L. Frank Baum and Macatawa, MI  
Below is a loose transcript of my Library of Congress talk. The accompanying slides have been uploaded on Facebook. It lacks the attributions that I would give in a paper, and is intended only for my curious friends. If I do anything further with this material, I will of course list all sources.

Summers in Oz: L. Frank Baum and Macatawa, MI.

[1. opening]

I grew up in a land of Oz. Or at least I spent summers there. [2. map]

My Oz was here in Macatawa [point at map], a small beach resort community near Holland, Michigan. [I’m wearing a Holland MI T-shirt.][3. slide of sat view] Here, L. Frank Baum had also spent his summers from 1899 until 1910.

In biographies of Baum, Macatawa only gets a few pages at most. In one of the most recent bios, Finding Oz, which focuses on Baum’s life prior to The Wonderful Wizard, there’s no mention of Macatawa at all. But in the Macatawa area, the connection to Baum and Oz has been important, generating stories, arguments, festivities, and magic. I’m going to discuss how that connection came about, its facts and fictions, and its continued meaning for those in the world creation biz.

[4. early view of beach] Macatawa Park opened as a resort in July 1898--originally just a half-mile row of cottages in the liminal space between woods and beach. Baum heard about Macatawa from friends at the Chicago Athletic Club. (Baum was a big joiner.) Ads also appeared for the resort in the trade magazine of store window design that Baum was publishing, The Show Window.

[5. baum on backporch] In the summer of 1899, when he was perhaps midway through writing what would become The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum and his family visited Macatawa for the first time. They crossed from Chicago to Holland in an overnight excursion steamer, which took about five hours and ran nightly during the summer. Baum had not yet achieved success as a writer, so he rented a cottage. He named that first cottage Hyperoodon rostratus, after the skeleton of a bottlenose whale he had seen at the Chicago’s World’s Fair. After the fair, the Baum family used “Hyperoodon rostratus” to describe all things strange and mysterious. For the Baums, there was something magical about Macatawa.

(This photo may be from that summer in Macatawa, though the first draft of Oz was handwritten--Baum even memorialized the pencil.)

I’ll get to the supposed specific inspirations later, but I want to note in passing that the natural setting of Macatawa may have inspired Baum in several general ways. The environment must have reminded him of his young life in upstate New York, particularly after his later years in the stark Dakotas and the bustling city of Chicago.

Several times, balloonists disappeared without a trace over Lake Michigan (think of how the Wizard came and went from Oz). Water spouts, the Lake Michigan equivalent of the twisters of the plains, were common, but were more safely observed than tornadoes, as they simply collapsed or jumped over the Macatawa beach area. The great lake, which Baum appropriately called a great inland sea, often has waves on the scale of ocean surf, and its waves have the same meditative effect as any seaside. Dense woods like a fairyland forest were all around, even though the logging industry was having its way with Michigan’s lower peninsula. And hot sand dunes could easily bring to mind vast impassable sand deserts like those that surrounded Oz.

Overall, Baum’s style from Oz on would have a stronger mesh of location with story than his previous efforts.

In his Show Window magazine, Baum wrote a review of Macatawa, calling it the “the most original and wonderful place in all the world.” (Baum did have a saleman’s knack for hyperbole, even when he wasn’t selling the item in question.) He described “the great bluffs covered with dense forest” that rose above the beach (he seems to be describing both the hills and sand dunes of the area).

[6. cover of Wizard] As with treason, influence is a question of dates. Baum finished writing a draft of The Wizard of Oz in October 1899. It was published in September 1900. So, leaving aside Macatawa’s influence on later Oz books, any influence on that first Oz story would’ve had to occur that first summer.

[7. Baum’s books] By 1902, Baum was a successful writer. So, instead of continuing to rent, he bought a cottage in Macatawa. [8. Father Goose cover] Father Goose: His Book was Baum’s big success before Oz, and its royalties provided the means for the purchase. [9. View of cottage.] So Baum named the cottage “The Sign of the Goose.” Around the same time, he suffered from a bout of Bell’s Palsy. His doctor encouraged him to do physical rather than mental work. Instead of writing, Baum built his own furniture with custom geese-shaped nail heads and decorated the entire cottage with goose motifs. [10. interior of cottage] A reporter noted: “Incidents in the Father Goose story are reproduced in this summer retreat, life sized. Flocks of excited geese chase each other around the frescoing, and a large animated goose forever flaps its wings over the porch. A whole swarm of them in accommodating attitudes not as a rule assumed by geese constituted the furniture of the house, and others in colors that no decoy goose would ever dare assume do service as sugar bowls, andirons, and souvenir spoons.” He had a custom built stained glassed window featuring a goose.

[11. Baum reading] Baum would write on the porch facing the lake. (point out the goose sign). The cottage had a “fantastic air.”

It also had fantastic air for breathing. In a 1903 letter, Baum invited friends to his cottage for “a dose of ozone” (ozone meant “fresh and pure air” back then).

Ever the joiner, Baum joined the Macatawa Bay Yacht Club, headed the Macatawa Cottagers Association and helped organize the Regatta Week and other festivities.

In 1907, Baum published two tributes (?) to the summer community he loved. The less controversial was a poem under his own name in the Grand Rapids Sunday Herald. One couplet ran:

[animation 12. couplet] “Happy the boy or girl who knows

This land of rainbows.”

But he wasn’t talking about Oz. The poem was entitled, “To Macatawa.”

In another nod to the “Ozziness” of Macawata, the poem also contained the following lines [13. lines]:

I beg to ask where else you'll find
A summer haven that's designed
So perfectly to charm mankind
And tone the liver, heart and mind?
That is, one’s brain, heart, and courage.

The other homage was more controversial: [14. Tamawaca cover] A short novel entitled Tamawaca Folks: A Summer Comedy. In Tamawaca Folks, he made fun of some of the Macatawans like he made fun of everything else. Despite this, the town reveled in his mockery.

As with “Tamawaca,” an anagram of Macatawa, this is a book of false names that fooled no one. He wrote under a pseudonym--John Estes Cooke. He did this with many other books for marketing purposes. (For example, he would take a female name for women’s stories.) For Tamawaca Folks, he had another reason for disguise--he satirized fellow cottagers under fictional names as he described a real dispute for control of the community. Again, these false names did not deceive. There’s even an error in the book where Tamawaca is called Macatawa! But his biggest targets in the book didn’t seem to mind that much. Baum also poked a good deal of fun at himself. Quote:

“The author fellow, Mr. Wright, was another hard proposition. He was stubborn, loud-mouthed and pig-headed, and wanted to carry everything with a high hand, the way they do in novels. He had about as much diplomacy as a cannon-ball, and his fellow members had to sit on him twice a minute to keep him from spoiling everything.”

I’m going to read you another extended quote from Tamawaca Folks about Macatawa’s Venetian Evening, both because it describes the resort at its Ragtime height and because I drew on this description for my own story, “The Wizard of Macatawa.” Venetian Evening was: “the one really famous attraction of the year. On this occasion the entire bay was enclosed with lines of gorgeous Japanese lanterns placed in artistic designs along the shore. The Yacht Club, the hotels at Iroquois Bay and Tamawaca and all the buildings facing the bay were elaborately decorated with bunting and lanterns, while the sail-boats anchored upon the mirror-like surface of the water displayed a like splendor. Bands played on the ferry-boats, bonfires on the neighboring heights glared and twinkled, many launches brilliant with colored lights moved slowly over the bay, while rockets and roman candles sent their spluttering displays into the dim sky overhead. All the world was there to see the sight and the popcorn and peanut men reaped a harvest.”

“It has been seriously asserted that Venice in its palmiest days has never been able to compete with Tamawaca on ‘Venetian Evening.’”

Of course, Baum helped organize the Venetian Evenings.

[15. The Baums] For Baum’s final tribute to Macatawa, I quote his introduction to Tamawaca Folks: “Tamawaca exists, and is as beautiful as I have described it. I chose it as the scene of my story because I ... was fascinated by its incomparable charm. The middle West has no spot that can compete with it in loveliness.”

So for eleven years, the Baums spent their summers in Macatawa.

[16. Fairylogue] In nearby Grand Rapids, Frank Baum had the first trial showing of his so-called “Fairylogue and Radio-Plays.” (A “fairylogue” being like a travelogue, but the Radio-plays had nothing to do with radio.) This is an image of one of the colored slides from the Fairylogue --a true multimedia show that was perhaps ahead of its time. It was certainly too expensive for his time. Ironically, this locally debuted production would accrue the lion’s share of the debt that would cost him the Macatawa cottage.

After the summer of 1910, face with protesting creditors, Baum had to sell his Chicago apartment and the cottage in Macatawa. The remaining nine years of his life would be concentrated in Hollywood, California--the town which would eventually make the most decisive claim to his legacy.

[17. image of Baum’s boys]

Even after the sale of the cottage and their father’s death, the Baum sons continued to remember their summers in Macatawa fondly. In 1901, the boys were 18, 15, 12, and 10. That year in Macatawa, the second son, Robert, met the 14-year-old Edna Ducker. They became close friends and eventually married. Their friendship may have inspired two of the character names in Ozma of Oz (one of the Oz sequels): Evrob and Evedna, children of the Queen of Ev.

Frank Joslyn Baum, his eldest son, remembered the excellent fishing, boating, and swimming. He also remembered the antics of his other brothers (and I unwittingly had something similar in my story--which shows how things haven’t changed). “One day Robert was detected sliding down the porch roof into the sand. His punishment was a spanking with a hairbrush. A few hours later Harry tried the forbidden stunt. He was caught, too, and the same punishment, even the same number of licks, was decreed. But in the meantime the hairbrush used to spank Robert had disappeared. Maud [their mother], in her strict, meticulously just way, decided the sentence could not be carried out unless she had the identical hairbrush. So Harry got off Scot free.”

This same Harry himself recalled “most pleasant memories... of family gatherings around the dining table where fun, jokes, atrocious puns, and even learned discussions flowed fast and furiously. My three brothers and I were home from various schools and, when the family was together around one large table, Mother often said that there were five boys to gang together against her instead of four.... To settle the frequent points of dispute which arose, a small shelf was built in the dining room where a dictionary, a single-volumed encyclopedia, and an atlas were kept for quick convenient reference and decision. We had a good time always. When Father made an especially far-fetched pun, we would all laugh uproariously and then reach out our hand to him for any loose change as a reward for laughing.”

[18. Bob] And Robert A. Baum, Jr., Frank’s great-grandson, continues with his wife Clare to put on educational shows dressed in character as the author and his wife Maud, and one of their shows focuses on the Macatawa years.

[19. Baum with kids] Some of the Macatawan stories about Baum are relatively uncontroversial recollections that were passed down or recorded. Berenice Lowe of nearby Central Park remembered the author as the “goose man” who was a good customer of her florist father. The poet and fellow cottager Eunice Tietjens recorded that Baum “was a character. He was tall and rangy, with an imagination and vitality which constantly ran away with him. Constantly exercising his imagination as he did, he had come to the place where he could honestly not tell the difference between what he had done and what he imagined. Everything he said had to be taken with at least a half pound of salt. But he was a fascinating companion.

“He was never without a cigar in his mouth, but it was always unlit. His doctor had forbidden him to smoke, so he chewed up six cigars a day instead. There was one exception... Before he took his swim in the lake in the afternoon he would light a cigar and walk immediately into the water. He would solemnly wade out until the water was up to his neck and there walk parallel to the shore, moving his arms to give the impression that he was swimming. When a wave splashed on the cigar and put it out he at once came in and dressed.”

Macatawa residents recalled that Baum was frequently seen entertaining children at the “Sign of the Goose.” Kids could not resist his fascinating cottage and fanciful tales.

All this is the extent to which the Baum family and scholars would acknowledge a connection between Frank Baum’s work and Macatawa.

[20. Oz books] Baum wrote 13 sequels to the Wizard of Oz, and many other fantasies besides. Macatawa had a broad influence on him and those works (for example, the fairyland forest of Burzee that appears in several stories), but the Macatawa lore has never been very concerned with that. The focus has always been on the influence of Macatawa on the first Oz book, combined with an odd conflation of the images from the 1939 film with those of the original story.

So now we turn to the more interesting but far less likely claims.

[21. Sign of the Goose] First, claims regarding Baum’s cottage. When I went back to Macatawa in the summer of 2003, I asked which cottage was Baum’s. I was given a few stories, and one older woman spoke with authority and pointed out a likely looking gray cottage.

None of these stories were true. The real “Sign of the Goose” had burned in 1927, then a few years later a winter storm accelerated the perennial erosion and washed the site into Lake Michigan (the biographies are contradictory, but all agree on destruction). Here’s a quote from Baum’s son that I like about this incident: “Just as a tornado carried Dorothy and her cottage into the Land of Oz, so perhaps by fire and storm the cottage where several of the Oz stories were born found its safe haven in the same enchanted realm.” (My further fictional speculations about this destruction are likely to run a different direction entirely.)

[22. Hotel] Perhaps because of the absence of the actual cottage, one of the stories we were told as kids was that Baum stayed in the Hotel Macatawa (shown here), though we had confused ideas that existing large cottages might have been the long-gone hotel.

Now for the Oz sites. First, the yellow brick road. No, it’s not the gold standard. Please, let’s drop the Oz as allegory of populism theory. Short answer: Baum was a lifelong Republican whose only involvement with populism was through the one political issue that deeply concerned him and his family: women’s suffrage. So, at lunch, if you’d like to discuss the influence of early feminism on Oz, that would be more interesting.

But the Macatawa-centered theories aren’t more likely than the political. [23. Crescent Walk] Wooded paths such as Crescent Walk (aka Lover’s Lane) are offered as yellow brink road candidates (but I’m unclear why some reports say that during Baum’s summers in Macatawa, these paths were yellow--with sunlight or what?). At least Baum’s choice of brick color might have a local connection. [24. Veneklasen] Dutch towns, and towns settled by the Dutch in America, used yellow brick for buildings and even road paving. Finding Oz notes how the young Baum would have seen such yellow brick roads in Peekskill, New York on his way to military school. But he may have seen such brick again, during that summer of 1899, in the local structures built using Veneklasen company bricks.

Munchkinland was supposedly inspired by Macatawa’s quaint Victorian-era cottages gathered around squares (originally one called Perry’s Circle). My generation moved the likely square to the top of a wooded bluff that may not have even been developed by 1900.

[25. Castle Park] A folly in nearby Castle Park (and not Chicago’s White City) was said to be the model for the Emerald City or the Witch’s castle, depending on whom you asked. Full disclosure: I still resent Castle Park. The Macatawa Park cottagers played softball against the Castle Park team, and Castle Park usually won (though they had a good candy store, I admit).

A Castle Park resident remembers that the castle was once used “as a late summer/early fall gathering place for Wizard of Oz fanatics.” Indeed, from 1969 until it closed in 1985, the Castle Club hosted the annual conventions of the International Wizard of Oz Club.

But there’s more to this story. [26. Brenda Baum] Brenda Baum, wife of Frank’s third son, Harry Neal Baum, helped Harry host the earliest Oz club meetings at their resort in Indiana. When Harry died, Brenda became a hostess at the Castle Park folly hotel, and the conventions followed her there until the hotel became a private residence again. The chicken and egg of these associations becomes almost impossible to sort out.

(And still another tale: the castle is supposedly haunted. I remember the excitement as a kid, wanting to see the spooky Castle. But my elders told me there was nothing to see.)

Castle Park also claims that they used to have an actual road of yellow bricks (if you can trust those guys).

I’ll add my own speculations regarding the colors of Oz: perhaps the pervasive blue of Dutch Delft ware in the area eventually suggested the blue color scheme of Munchkinland, and that the fields of red tulips in Holland would suggest fields of red poppies.

A former Holland Michigan bookstore owner has gathered some local Oz lore. The most amusing respondent reported that her father believed that his mother-in-law was the model for (pause) Wicked Witch of the West! Apparently, his family took this story seriously.

But what’s the question that everyone here really wants the answer to? [27. Dorothy] Who was Dorothy? Macatawa had not just one, but two claimants. Baum’s family always insisted that he did not model his little girl on anyone in particular. Frank Joslyn Baum wrote that:

“[M]any rumors have circulated and some have been printed too, to the effect that my father, L. Frank Baum, had named “Dorothy” of the book after some particular child he knew. One such claim, made by a certain woman [Dorothy Hall Martindale of Michigan] in the Midwest, recently came to my attention. There is no truth in any of the stories. At the time he wrote The Wizard of Oz he did not know any girl or woman by the name of Dorothy. It was a name he selected because he liked the sound of it. ... And he wanted very much to have a daughter of his own. ... [H]e had only four boys. But several times, just before the arrival of a child, he had selected a possible name, trusting it would be a girl. The name of “Dorothy” was one such name he hoped to give to a daughter.”

Well, the younger Frank isn’t always the best source. His biography of his father has been criticized. He had fallen out with the rest of the family, and wasn’t able to consult with them about his father’s life. He shared his father’s gift for fabulizing--when he didn’t know something, he made it up (including his father’s supposed support for William Jennings Bryan that would cause such confusion).

Furthermore, his quote as edited conflates two Dorothys--Dorothy Hall and Dorothy Martindale. It’s obviously untrue that Baum didn’t know any girls or women named Dorothy. Among the several he knew, the biographies now point to a niece named Dorothy Louise Gage who died as an infant shortly before the Wizard was written.

But this identification of Baum’s niece hasn’t stopped others, including local Macatawans, from being assigned or claiming the role. Lewis Carroll’s Alice books have conditioned readers to expect real life models for their favorite fantasy stories with contemporary protagonists. Alice had Alice Liddell, Peter Pan and the Darlings had the Davies’ boys, so why shouldn’t there be a real Dorothy somewhere?

The Holland bookstore owner turned folklorist noted that “It seemed that the longer I was in the store, the more people I met who sincerely believed that the main character, Dorothy, was a relative of theirs (it must have been a very large family).” But, she continued, “nothing is harmed by maintaining that family lore!”

[28. Dorothy Hall] The best-known Dorothy of Macatawa was Dorothy Hall. Here’s a quote from the “Song of Macatawa,” a book of local history on all our cottages’ shelves. “In her mind’s eye, when she ponders over her adventures during childhood days in Macatawa, Dorothy Hall is likely sitting on the front porch of a cottage on the lakefront, south of Griswold, in a spacious, goose-shaped rocker, with Frank Baum, a nearby neighbor, listening, as he sits beside her spinning story after story, with the same imagination that dreamed up another Dorothy.” (I’ve try to avoid falling into the artificial rhythm of this passage, which is in trochaic tetrameter modeled on the Song of Hiawatha.)

In a set of interviews in the late 1970s (when she about 80 years old), Dorothy Hall denied believing that she had inspired Dorothy Gale, herself pointing out the greatest problem--that she was born in 1897 and was only a three year old when Oz was published, so only two at the time of the first draft, and one in 1898 when Baum’s son first remembers hearing Dorothy stories--so she was an unlikely inspiration.

But her Macatawa neighbors continued to believe. “Everybody’s convinced,” said the wife of the postmaster who ran the quaint old Macatawa post office. “She was always the Dorothy, the little girl Dorothy. That’s an absolute, known fact.” Burton McRoy Jr., Hall’s relative and guardian in later years, said that Hall was “a child at heart. We all accepted the stories. We believed.” (The woman who told me about the supposed “Sign of the Goose” also knew about Dorothy Hall.)

Somewhat sadly, in later interviews in the 1980s, when she was about 90, Hall seemed to succumb to the wishes of those around her, and advocated the case that she was indeed the unique inspiration for Dorothy.

Hall did have a real connection with Baum, who seems to have watched her for her parents from time to time. Hall remembered many details of the Sign of the Goose, and also confirmed that Baum said that if he had had a daughter, he would have named her Dorothy.

[29. old and young hall] It appears that, when young, Dorothy Hall may have looked like some people’s vision of Dorothy Gale.

The other Dorothy claimant, Dorothy Martindale, has a different problem with her case. Her son said that Baum met Martindale one summer when he found her picking flowers from his garden. Quote: “She would go next door and pick flowers from his flower bed and one day he discovered her and they became friends.” [30. Sign of the Goose.] Can anyone guess what Hall’s supporters say is the problem with this story? That’s right--they say no flower garden at the Sign of the Goose. As Dorothy Hall pointed out, “He had a sandlot.” I know from family experience that it’s difficult to have a garden immediately on the beach in Macatawa.

Well, there are further complications. In Rebecca Loncraine’s biography of Baum, she quotes a contemporary interview with him in Macatawa. “I found... Mr. Frank Baum, hovering over the beautiful flower bed which graces the front yard of his pretty cottage.” (From descriptions, the front is the side facing away from the beach.)

Loncraine unfortunately does not include her specific sources, which is extremely annoying for us as we try to verify Martindale’s account.

Dorothy Hall had few other words for this rival contender, denying that she even remembered there being another Dorothy in the community. For popularizing her claim, Hall had the advantage of living three decades longer than her rival. Martindale passed away in 1965. And Dorothy Hall passed away in 1996, at the age of 98.

[31. Baum Paradox] In fairness to the Dorothys and all the Macatawa Oz lore masters, Baum contributed to these contentions. When he told Oz stories to Dorothy Hall (and probably Dorothy Martindale) in the years after the first book (when Hall grew old enough to hear such tales), he would tell the tales in the second person, saying “you” instead of Dorothy.

“You were in the house; you were drowsy. And then the winds came up and shook the house, and your house was lifted off the ground and it went right through the air. And when you came down, you were in Oz.” Kinda weird hearing it that way, isn’t it?

This actually made the stories more into role play, and Dorothy Hall recalled feeling as though it were her feet that skipped along the yellow brick road. She said, “Bit by bit, he would tell me the various stories of Oz, as if I was there. And I thought I was. I believed it, and I do still, which is ridiculous. I know better now, but I can’t say I don’t believe it.”

Everyone who was a kid in Macatawa understands a little of this feeling.

[32. Ozma cover] Baum did something similar in his books, dedicating Ozma of Oz, which he wrote in Macatawa in 1906, to all his readers, but “especially to the Dorothys.”

Macatawa had enchanted Baum, and Baum in turn enchanted its landscape. A fragment of an unpublished Oz book begins with description of Ozma’s lake that probably would have enchanted Lake Michigan itself for us.

Macatawa hasn’t been the only place to lay claim to being an Oz. Most everywhere Baum lived tries to connect itself with the Oz stories. And even places Baum never got near but sound like Oz assert a connection. Australian soldiers sang “We’re off to the see the Wizard” in the deserts of North Africa as they chased after Rommel during World War II (Churchill thought it was one of the most magnificent things he’d ever seen).

But what Baum did with the Dorothys, and the community of Macatawa, he did with America as a whole. Baum knew how to sell his stories to his audience. From P.T. Barnum and his own life experience, Baum had learned that Americans want to be humbugged, if only in this benign way. He told modern Americans that this story was especially for and about them. The locations were inspired by the sights he had seen, and Oz originally was just conceived as an undiscovered part of America. Dorothy was a quintessentially American girl--rural poor, yet presenting herself as the equal of anyone. (In this way) we all grew up in a land of Oz.

In the study of folklore and mythology, one of the first things one learns is to drop the idea or distinction of a valid original tale versus invalid imitations. So I’m not that interested in coming to a resolution of what did or did not inspire Baum in his writing of Oz. I’m more interested in the process of how stories beget stories, not just in fictional worlds, but in our own backyards.

[animation 33. Coroner] 49 and 50 years after the Oz film, Macatawa imported the surviving Munchkin actors to sign autographs, including the actor who played the coroner, the legendary Meinhardt Raabe.

As Coroner I must aver, I thoroughly examined her.
And she's not only merely dead, she's really most sincerely dead.

My little sister attended the celebration. [34. Kendalyn] Her daughter, my niece, is already Oz crazy at age 2 and ½.

Under the principle that when local legend becomes fact, teach the legend. a Holland high school teacher used to teach his class about the area’s connection to the Wizard of Oz. Later that teacher became mayor, and continued to advocate the legend.

Picking up on L. Frank Baum’s Holland connection and Wizard of Oz theme, a Washington lobbyist recently urged Holland area business and community leaders to get on the “green brick road” to sustainability, energy efficiency and green jobs.

Finally, it appears that an Oz convention may be occurring in Macatawa this year.

So, we reach my own childhood in Macatawa and Oz. [35. Doyle cottage] We had the same urban legends and ghost stories as other summer residences, but another layer of Oz stories on top of those. Stories were passed down from older kids to younger ones, and from the young summer sitters. This meant little concern for the truth of any tale. With no internet, we have few resources to check the flow of story.

As kids, we created our own associations with Oz. A dark house at the top of Maksaba Trail largely hidden by woods became the witch’s castle (even when we knew the family that lived there). We also conflated that large house with the old Macatawa Hotel. Every winding road up those wooded hills struck us as a yellow brick road.

Our landscape was enchanted.

One summer, a local girl (Holly Baker) put together a production of the wizard of oz with all the other cottage kids. [36. me on horse] I was 5 or 6 years old. “I was the Mayor of Munchkin City.” I’m pretty sure the reason we were performing Oz was Baum’s connection to Macatawa.

When I started reading as a boy, I was not a big fan of the actual Oz story--my reading list quickly went beyond “little kid’s stuff.” I was more likely to think of Tolkien’s trees than Baum’s. But I remained interested in questions of the differences between book and film, and their local inspiration.

We would debate these myths as kids, and sing “Off to See the Wizard,” and skip badly down the street. We had no real idea of what Baum looked like or when he lived. Our edition of the Wizard book was a later one, and thinking back on it, I believe it was somewhat bowdlerized.

In some sense, Macatawa was bigger than Oz to us. It had its own store of magic not tied to any particular mythos, so applicable to all. The dangerous roads made winding paths up steep forested bluffs, an ancient concrete stairway curved up through the woods to the top of the hill (that one also made me think of Tolkien in later years). Hidden in the forest, a giant old water tower lay burst and rusted, its escaped water had cut a path to it. Thunderstorms and perfect sunsets both could be seen to the west over the great inland sea.

[37. cover] So how and why did I decide to write a fictional story about Baum and Macatawa?

Preparing for Clarion, the six week science fiction writing workshop that coincidently was held in my home town of East Lansing, Michigan, I was looking for new story ideas, and I thought I might connect my memories of Macatawa and its Oz folklore with Oz’s creator.

(It was then I inquired about the location of the Sign of the Goose in Macatawa). I realized I wouldn’t complete an Oz story in the Clarion timeframe. But I took time out from writing and critiquing to research Baum’s life at the Library of Michigan, which had a copy of the very rare (and not yet digitized) Tamawaca Folks.

Kind friends of my family had given me as a child what I believe is a first edition of the sequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Marvelous Land of Oz. Its age and strange art were not attractive to me then, but are very appreciated now.

So, I wrote a story, “The Wizard of Macatawa.” The story takes place in the years 1899 and 1979. I nudged both dates. Yes, Baum’s was in Macatawa in 1899, but it was his first summer, so he wasn’t as settled there as he would be in later years. But the date of 1899 was important to me as coming prior to the completion of The Wizard of Oz and as a year with end-of-century millennial expectations. So I had to stretch things regarding the Baums’ presence in Macatawa that summer. The situation is more like 1907. My Frank Baum is a big part of Macatawa life, the Regatta Week and Venetian Evening are in full swing. Perhaps the Baums are even living in the Sign of the Goose, though I don’t answer that question. And there’s a little girl named Dorothy who listens with other children on Baum’s porch to his stories of Oz, but I gave this Dorothy the more local name of Vandermay instead of Hall, Martindale, Gage, or Gale (and I make it clear that this Dorothy wasn’t the inspiration). My Baum has finished a draft of his Oz story, but it’s a very different story from the final version.

I perhaps make Baum more of the man behind the curtain, and explicitly address our contemporary (and in this instance anachronistic) concerns about men who take an unusual interest in children by emphasizing his own childlike aspects and his hatred of seeing kids hurt.

The things I didn’t change were his interest in theosophy, his love for his wife and sons, his joy at telling stories to all the children in the neighborhood, and his instinct for showmanship.

For the late 1970s part of my story, I moved the Oz festival in Macatawa with the Munchkin actors ten years earlier. I also decided early on that the 1970s child protagonist would not be me (as that would be boring), but someone else (who is a surprise that I leave for you to discover). I used some adult language, as I think we’ve lost our ideas of childhood being very innocent for many kids.

The story was published in a magazine that specialized in speculative fiction with historical content. I admit that, after publication, I had a vision of being pursued by angry little representatives of the Lollipop League with sharp farm tools and torches. But the reviews were all quite good except for the Baum Bugle’s, which seemed a bit defensive about Baum’s personal legacy. Most serious Oz fans have seemed to enjoy it. In 2008, “The Wizard of Macatawa” received the Washington Science Fiction Association’s Small Press Award. The judging of the stories was blind as to the authors, and the previous year’s winner was Peter S. Beagle of “The Last Unicorn” fame.

I’m working on a novel-length extension of my short story. It will go to other parts of Baum’s life and writing, but after this talk, I expect it will also deepen the exploration of his connection to my childhood summer home.

Fantasy writers are losing the real life examples of distinct and magical places, as things become homogenized. Tolkien had his English Midlands, Susan Cooper had her Cornwall and Wales. To create his distinctly American fantasies, Baum had upstate NY, the Dakotas, Chicago, southern California, and Macatawa, and his brief unpleasant travel through Kansas--when these were very distinct places, each contributing a different part of the geography of Oz and his other writings

[38. new cottage] Now, when I return to Macatawa, the quaint Queen Anne style cottages have been remodeled or replaced with broad windowed McMansion summer homes that look the same as those in Malibu or any number of other waterfronts across the country [maybe not this one]. Amway money has taken over the area where Baum’s the Sign of the Goose was, Erik Prince and Donald Rumsfeld have walked the beaches. Gated communities with guard houses limit the mix that used to happen between the year-round townies and summer tourists. The store, the hotel with its bar and restaurant, the post office that served the community are gone. The woods have thinned as more homes are added, and the great dunes are decapitated to add cottages and gutted to add beach sand.

The loss of distinct settings has noticeably affected the quality of modern fantasy writing--critics and authors have both remarked on it.

So the question I’ll leave you with is: can today’s fantasy writers still help information-savvy children become enchanted with their own small corner of the world? Can children still grow up in their own land of Oz?

After thoughts and notes:

[39. Acknowldgements] My acknowledgments. I don’t think it’s necessary to point out the continued value of libraries and their collections to many in this audience, but I’ll praised them again anyway--there are of course the digital online collections (the Library of Congress has an excellent collection of early photos of Macatawa), but despite appearances, not everything is digitized. The local newspaper clippings gathered on these topics are not available online, as the local papers do not have the time nor money for such projects. The progress of these sorts of tales is very ephemeral--without this documentation, I would only have my own unreliable childhood memories as sources.

We have a few copies the Paradox magazine issue with the “The Wizard of Macatawa” on sale here, or you can listen to me read it for free at www.tomdoylewriter.com [40. site]. There’s also on online pdf version, but it’s not the easiest to read.



[One postscript--I’ve brushed over some disagreements about dates in the biographies. They don’t fundamentally affect the Baum connection to Macatawa.]

[“Along the shore trees covered the slopes of the hills and grew down to the water’s edge.”] [“From the board walk along the lake shore, paths ran up into the hills to cottages half-hidden in the foliage.”]

[Baum’s work came relatively early in the history of publishing for a children’s market. Now, it sometimes seems like the only thriving market is publishing for children, and even that is continually undermined by all the new toys of our age.

Today, we’re used to the infiltration of our real world by fictional ones. 221B Baker Street, Platform 9 and 3/4s, the entirety of Middle Earth or Narnia in New Zeeland.]
 
 
 
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Morris BoucherMorris Boucher on December 29th, 2012 03:01 pm (UTC)
I would like to know the exact cottage at the top of Maksaba Trail that you are referring to in your writings. We "The Boucher Family" were willed the large red cottage at the top of Maksaba Trail by Win and Johnny Blacklock....Local artists who had lived there for years. My children used to call them Aunt Win and Uncle Johnny. Is this the "castle" to which you refer....
If so we would like to confer with you directly as both Johnny and Win made both very artistic drawings and photographs of the cottage which I believe you are talking about. We would love to share these with you if you are interested.

There were only 3 houses at the top of the hill. A white one with a shuffleboard court on one side of us....a blue 2 story which a doctors family owned on our other side....and then our cottage which was the large 3 story red and white cottage in the middle.

Please contact us with any information you may have regarding this......

Best Wishes and a Happy Holidays.

The Boucher Family.

Morris Boucher
102 Jones Street
Bastrop, Texas 78602
(512) 303-6520
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )