15 Wonderful Things You Might Not Know About L. Frank Baum

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

In 1900, L. Frank Baum published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a book that has never been out of print and that has been produced as movies, theatrical plays and musicals, and led to further cultural phenomena like The Wiz and Wicked. In honor of his 162nd birthday, here are 15 facts about the actual man behind the curtain.

1. HIS HOMETOWN HOSTS AN OZ-FEST (BUT NOT THAT OZZFEST).

Lyman Frank Baum was born on May 15, 1856 in Chittenango, New York, to a wealthy family and raised on an estate called Rose Lawn in Mattydale, New York, just outside Syracuse. In honor of Baum, Chittenango holds an annual festival of all things Oz called Oz-Stavaganza.

2. THE FIRST ANIMALS HE WROTE ABOUT WERE CHICKENS.

Baum was a sickly child and his father indulged his hobbies, including buying him a small printing press that he used to produce a newspaper. Another hobby was raising fancy chickens called Hamburgs. At 23, he started his own chicken trade journal, which he soon sold to a rival. He stayed on as a column writer, and contributed a long, serialized article on breeding and rearing Hamburgs. Later, when Baum was 30, the magazine (supposedly without Baum's knowledge) published that original article in full, making it Baum's first published book.

3. DOROTHY'S "YELLOW BRICK ROAD" MIGHT HAVE BEEN BASED ON A CHILDHOOD MEMORY.

When he was 12, Baum was sent to the Peekskill Military Academy in Peekskill, New York, for two years, where he was absolutely miserable. But it is also where he may have first seen a yellow brick road—at that time many of the streets of Peekskill were paved with yellow Dutch bricks. And for a young teen who just wanted to go home, the memory might have provided future inspiration. An alternative hypothesis is that when he was living in Syracuse, a plank road was installed made out of a yellow colored wood.

4. BAUM HAD A BRIEF CAREER AS AN ACTOR.

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Baum’s first ambition as a young man was to be an actor and playwright. He wrote several plays, including The Maid of Arran, which was successfully produced and in which he acted. The only time that Baum was known to have been in Kansas was when he toured in this play in 1882. However, his love of and involvement with the theater lasted throughout his life.

5. BAUM WAS A FEMINIST, AS WERE HIS WIFE AND IN-LAWS.

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In 1882, Baum married Maud Gage, daughter of the noted feminist and suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage. He had a warm relationship with his mother-in-law, who, along with his new wife, helped him become a lifelong suffragist and feminist. According to biographer Katharine M. Rogers, Baum was "a secure man who did not worry about asserting his masculine authority." In fact, most of his books had girls as the heroes. Matilda Gage was the person who convinced Baum to write for children, having listened to him tell his children the stories that he created.

6. MOST OF HIS CAREER PATHS, INCLUDING RUNNING A NEWSPAPER, FAILED.

After several financial reverses—Baum failed as an actor, as a salesman, and in other careers—he moved his family in 1888 to Aberdeen, Dakota Territory, in what is now South Dakota. He opened a store (which failed) and a newspaper (which failed, too). In his newspaper, he strongly supported women’s suffrage, but he is also thought to have written two racist editorials calling for extermination of Native Americans. (In 2006, two of Baum’s descendants apologized to the Sioux Nation for the editorials.) In 1891, Baum lost the newspaper and he and his family moved to Chicago.

7. HE STARTED WRITING CHILDREN'S BOOKS IN HIS FORTIES.

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In 1897, at the age of 41, Baum published his first book for children, Mother Goose in Prose, with illustrations by Maxfield Parrish (his first big commission; Parrish went on to become a top illustrator for books and magazines). It was a success. Baum followed it up in 1899 with Father Goose: His Book, which also sold very well. He then wrote two alphabet books, and publishers began to consider him an important children’s author.

8. THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ IS CONSIDERED THE FIRST TRUE AMERICAN FAIRYTALE.

In 1900, Baum published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, with illustrations by William Wallace Denslow. It was an instant hit. Although there have been many theories on how the book is an allusion to the politics of the United States in the late 1800s, there is no conclusive proof that Baum intended any such connections. But Baum did create the Land of Oz as a distinctly American utopia, making it the first truly American fairytale.

9. THE LAND OF OZ WAS NAMED FOR A FILING CABINET.

Baum’s original title for the book was “The Emerald City,” but publishers had a superstition that a jewel in a book title was bad luck and asked Baum to change it. Baum got the name for his fairy country off a drawer on a file cabinet that was marked “O-Z.” He named his plucky heroine Dorothy Gale after an infant niece named Dorothy Louise Gage who died while he was writing the book.

10. WICKED WAS NOT THE FIRST OZ ADAPTATION ON BROADWAY.

In 1902, Baum collaborated on a stage version called The Wizard of Oz that ran on Broadway for two years and toured until 1911. The plot was decidedly different from the book, with Toto being replaced by a cow and more people from Kansas traveling to Oz along with Dorothy. Because of the success of the play and subsequent Oscar-winning movie, the book has often been published without “wonderful” in the title.

11. THERE ARE 40 OFFICIAL 'OZ' BOOKS.

Baum continued writing Oz books—14 in total—until the end of his life, with a new book usually coming out in time for Christmas. In his later years, he answered children’s letters on letterhead that proclaimed him as the "Royal Historian of Oz." He often used suggestions from children when creating the Oz books. The series was continued after his death by Ruth Plumly Thompson, who wrote an additional 19 Oz books, and several other authors who added seven more.

12. BAUM WROTE UNDER A VARIETY OF PSEUDONYMS.

In addition to the Oz series, Baum wrote other books for children and teenagers, including romances and science fiction, under an assortment of pen names. Under the name Edith Van Dyne, he wrote a successful series of books called Aunt Jane’s Nieces that were as popular as the Oz books. Other pseudonyms included Laura Bancroft, Floyd Akers, Schuyler Staunton, and Capt. Hugh Fitzgerald.

13. BAUM LOST THE RIGHTS TO HIS MOST FAMOUS BOOK BECAUSE OF FINANCIAL DIFFICULTIES.

Baum created a stage show in 1908 called “The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays” that combined a lecture by him with live actors, a movie, and projected slides. Critics and audiences loved it, but it cost more to produce than it brought in. Baum declared bankruptcy, which caused him to lose his royalty rights to his earlier books, including The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

14. BAUM WROTE AND DIRECTED A NUMBER OF OZ FILMS HIMSELF.

In 1914, Baum started a film company. The Oz Film Manufacturing Company lasted only for a few years, but it produced several Oz-related movies, including His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz. For once, Baum didn’t lose any money on this business venture.

15. HIS FINAL WORDS WERE IN REFERENCE TO OZ.

Baum’s health began to fail in 1917, and he died two years later after suffering a stroke. Just before he passed, he had some interesting last words for his wife. In his books, the land of Oz is cut off from the rest of the world by impassable wastelands, including a desert called the Shifting Sands. As Baum lay dying, he supposedly referenced the work that made his legacy: “Now we can cross the Shifting Sands.”

Additional sources: The Making of the Wizard of OzThe Oz Scrapbook.

Get Into the Halloween Spirit With Harry Potter and Star Wars Costumes and Accessories From Hot Topic

Hot Topic
Hot Topic

Halloween is fast approaching, and that means it's time to start picking up those decorations, planning your costume, and settling down for a few monster movie marathons. Hot Topic is already way ahead of you, with a selection of costumes and accessories based on fan-favorite movies and TV shows like Harry Potter, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Stranger Things, and Hocus Pocus. We've picked out some of our favorites for you to check out below.

Harry Potter

1. Beauxbatons Hat and Cape Uniform; $60

Hot Topic

If Fleur Delacour is your favorite character from the Triwizard Tournament, then this look is for you. Beauxbatons baby blue hat and cape can now be yours to prance around in and pretend you're from the magical French academy for young witches.

Buy it: Beauxbatons Hat, Beauxbatons Cape

2. Hogwarts Zip-Up Hoodie Cloak; $55

Hot Topic

One of the most iconic parts of the Hogwarts uniform is the cloak. The sweeping black robes looked so official and mystical in the movies that it almost seems wrong not to wear one if you want to be a Hogwarts student for Halloween. These hoodie cloaks are available in all four house colors.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. Hogwarts Cardigan Sweater; $49

Hot Topic

Much like the cloak, the sweater vests and cardigans the students at Hogwarts got to wear are essential to any costume. You can choose from the four house crests and colors, so you can show your allegiance while also making a fashion statement.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Hogwarts Plaid Skirtall; $45

Hot Topic

Though this isn't a look you'd recognize from the Harry Potter movies, these plaid skirtalls—skirt overalls, basically—feature the crest and colors of whichever house you represent.

Buy it: Hot Topic

Star Wars

1. The Mandalorian Helmet; $17

Hot Topic

With the second season of The Mandalorian coming out right in time for Halloween, going as one of the show's main characters is a no-brainer. And since you probably can't pull off the Baby Yoda look, this simple Mando helmet is your best option.

Buy it: Hot Topic

2. Yoda Pet Costume; $20

Hot Topic

Baby Yoda is easily the cutest thing to emerge from the new Disney+ series, and there's no shortage of merchandise with that little green face plastered across it. From Amazon Echo Dots to slippers to LEGO sets, the little rascal is everywhere. But if you're more a fan of classic Yoda, you can impose your love of the character on your dog with this costume, complete with floppy green ears and tiny Jedi robe.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. The Force Awakens Rey Costume; $48

Hot Topic

Rey represents a new generation of Star Wars hero, and her costume during her time on Jakku from The Force Awakens is still her most iconic look. It's also a costume that's simple enough to throw on for Halloween and still feel comfortable in.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. R2-D2 with Pumpkin Decoration; $50

Hot Topic

When trick-or-treaters stop to collect candy from your house, greet them with this inflatable R2-D2 decoration that's primed for Halloween. Standing around 3 feet tall, this will show off your love for a galaxy far, far away and your holiday spirit.

Buy it: Hot Topic

The Nightmare Before Christmas

1. Sally Scrunchies Set; $10

Hot Topic

If you're looking to embrace your The Nightmare Before Christmas love in a more subtle way, opt for these Sally-approved scrunchies that embody the colors of the movie without going too far overboard.

Buy it: Hot Topic

2. Jack Skellington Button-Up Shirt; $35

Hot Topic

If Jack Skellington is your ultimate fashion hero, then this button-up pinstriped shirt is the ticket for you. It mimics Jack's look right down to the unique bat-shaped collar.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. Jack and Sally 'Love is Eternal' Eyeshadow Palette; $17

Hot Topic

Makeup inspired by your favorite characters is the key to completing a Halloween look, and this palette will help you make a colorful, smokey eye featuring shades seen in The Nightmare Before Christmas. You can even use these colors long after Halloween is over once you've mastered your favorite style.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Zero Dog Costume; $29

Hot Topic

The real star of The Nightmare Before Christmas has to be the dog, Zero, and now you can drape your own pooch in the ghostly visage for under $30.

Buy it: Hop Topic

Other Categories

- Stranger Things
- Coraline
- Disney
- Haunted Mansion
- Hocus Pocus
- The Craft

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30 Offbeat Holidays to Celebrate In October

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October—the spookiest month of the year—is upon, and with it, a calendar full of offbeat holidays. Between your autumnal walks, horror movie marathons, and oh, National Cat Day on October 29 (which is basically the year's most important holiday here at Mental Floss), see if you can squeeze in a few of these unconventional celebrations.

1. October 1: World Vegetarian Day

It's easy enough to eat meat-free for a day, but this celebration is intended to kick off a month of vegetarian awareness and encourage more lasting change.

2. October 2: World Farm Animals Day

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This may seem at odds with World Vegetarian Day, until you consider that this is actually a day to protest the farm in farm animal and the cruel conditions it implies.

3. October 2: National Custodian Day

Because really, we should be celebrating them every day.

4. October 2: World Smile Day

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If the calendar says you have to do it, you have to do it.

5. October 4: Ten-Four Day

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The fourth day of the 10th month of the year is the day the world celebrates radio operators, to which we say, “Ten-Four.”

6. October 4: National Ships-In-Bottles Day

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Someone spent a lot of time making this art happen, so let's take a little time to appreciate it.

7. October 8: National Pierogi Day

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On this day in 1952, pierogies were first delivered to a grocery store in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, and we’ve been devouring them ever since.

8. October 10: National Handbag Day

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We carry them around, but in many ways, it’s the handbags that carry us.

9. October 10: National Cake Decorating Day

Making a boxed cake recipe and applying the frosting with a butter knife definitely counts.

10. October 11: Southern Food Heritage Day

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Sorry, but if you're not eating a plate of chicken and waffles like the one above (or something equally Southern) on October 11, you're doing it wrong.

11. October 14: International Top Spinning Day

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A good day to head to the toy store and take a spin.

12. October 15: National Grouch Day

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For those who love one, and those who are one.

13. October 15: Get Smart About Credit Day

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This American Bankers Association holiday is all about educating the public on credit—and if that stresses you out, you should probably be observing this quirky commemoration.

14. October 16: Dictionary Day

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October 16th is Noah Webster’s birthday, so take a break from your lackadaisical use of the English language, k?

15. October 17: Sweetest Day

Traditionally celebrated in the Midwest and Northeastern United States, Sweetest Day is a lot like Valentine's Day, which—depending on your outlook—is either a very good thing or a very bad thing.

16. October 19: Evaluate Your Life Day

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It’s time.

17. October 21: Hagfish Day

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These eel-shaped, slime-producing fish are fairly disgusting (seriously), but they're also kind of awesome. They have four hearts, have been around for hundreds of millions of years, and can feed through their skin. So while it might not be beautiful, the humble hagfish does deserve a little love and respect.

18. October 22: Smart Is Cool Day

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This is one that holiday that Mental Floss HQ can really get behind.

19. October 23: National Mole Day

Neither a tribute to the animal, nor a skin feature, nor an undercover spy, Mole Day honors Avogadro's Number, which is a basic measuring unit in chemistry.

20. October 23: Canning Day

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Nicolas Appert—the inventor of hermetically sealed food preservation and the "father of canning"—was born around this time circa 1750, and this day celebrates all things that come in jars. So, you know, put a lid on it.

21. October 25: Mother-in-Law Day

Unfortunately, this comes after National Forgiveness Day, so if you forget to give her a call it might be a long year before she forgives you.

22. October 26: National Mule Day

Now that you’ve celebrated moles, give a tip of the hat to mules—literal ones this time. On October 26, 1785, a pair of Spanish mules arrived in the U.S. as a gift from King Charles III. They’re said to have been the first mules bred in this country, by George Washington himself.

23. October 27: Cranky Co-workers Day

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Not that you have any of those ...

24. October 29: National Cat Day

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We know you don’t need a date in the calendar for this, but it makes your cat-filled Instagram feeds all that much more justified.

25. October 30: National Candy Corn Day

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Feel free to debate the merits of a holiday for this highly controversial, tricolored confection.

26. October 30: Checklists Day

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Put this one on your to-do list!

27. October 30: Create A Great Funeral Day

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Much of October is spent focused on ghouls and goblins, but this day is all about confronting the scariest thing of all: mortality. Between your apple orchard outings and haunted house trips, make sure you and your loved ones have a plan for after you've shuffled off this mortal coil. Happy October?

28. October 30: Haunted Refrigerator Night

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This offbeat holi-night is about exploring the darker corners and containers of your fridge. After all, we've all got some metaphorical skeletons lurking in there.

29. October 31: National Magic Day

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Halloween, shmalloween. This holiday is fittingly held on the anniversary of the death of Harry Houdini.

30. October 31: National Knock-Knock Jokes Day

There's no better time than the spookiest day of the year to tell some good (or bad) knock-knock jokes.