Archive for Monday, August 11, 2014

Kansas so much more than Dorothy’s home

August 11, 2014

While on vacation in Canada, a woman commented that this was the 75th anniversary of the movie “The Wizard of Oz.” Since I was from Kansas, she wondered if I knew if there were a lot of special “Dorothy” celebrations planned. I said that I wasn’t aware of any, although I was tempted to respond like Ebenezer Scrooge: “bah, humbug.”

Don’t get me wrong, the movie is fine and certainly represented a milestone in film technology. I like the song “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and the characters. What I don’t like about the movie is that it is about all that many people know about Kansas. Normally you say you are from Kansas the next question is: “How’s Dorothy?”

It would seem that Dorothy and Toto are worldwide symbols of Kansas. I’ve been asked about the duo from Scandinavia to Australia and in every state we’ve visited. I really think that it is unfortunate that many famous Kansans seem to be forgotten. I mentioned former president and general Dwight D. Eisenhower, and I have gotten the reply “I didn’t know he was from Kansas.”

Our state has an interesting and exciting history. All the famous gunfighters spent time in Kansas. Many believe that the Civil War started in Kansas in the 1850s. Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence was one of the major terrorism acts in history. Kansans were heroically opposed to slavery, which led to a lot of violent attacks from Missouri.

The state produced such famous and influential Americans as Amelia Earhart, William Allen White, Sen. Bob Dole, Sen. Edmond Ross, Damon Runyon, Vice President Charles Curtis, Gov. Alf Landon who ran for president, heavyweight boxing champion Jess Willard and pitching great Walter Johnson. Other famous Kansans include Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle and Vivian Vance of Hollywood fame. Walter Chrysler, businessman; Gordon Parks, film director, Walter Inge, playwright and clown Emmett Kelly were other famous Kansans.

If you want a fictional character to represent Kansas, how about Superman? If you read the Superman comic books, you’ll discover that the super baby landed in Kansas and was found by farmer Jonathan Kent and his wife Martha. He was raised as their son in Smallville, Kansas. Now I have never said I was a Kansan and had someone ask, “What’s the man of steel doing today?” I don’t know why Dorothy is more of a symbol for our state than Clark Kent aka Superman or any of the real life heroes.

The movie, which is a classic, was based on a book. “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was written by L. Frank Baum at the turn of the 20th century and was an instant best seller. It was the first in a series of 13 “Oz” books written by Baum, who was a prolific author. In fact, he produced 55 novels, many short stories and more that 200 poems.

Baum tried to capitalize on the popularity of the “Oz” series and started a theme park, which ultimately failed. If you have been around the area for a number of years, you probably remember when a group wanted to start a “Wizard of Oz” theme park in Wyandotte County. The idea generated a lot of criticism and virtually no enthusiasm or financial support. It quickly passed off the scene.

I was discussing this with a friend who pointed out that the Wizard of Oz and many Kansas politicians have one thing in common. They rely on smoke and mirrors to get their message out.

I know that I’m in the minority here and there are millions of Dorothy and Toto lovers. It is a good movie with a fine message, and I’m glad it’s still popular. I only wish that more people knew Kansas history.


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