Dorothy's House and Land of Oz
Kansas isn't shy about promoting its flatness, quirky history, or lovely women. But of its many attributes, the state seems proudest of its motivational role in the film The Wizard of Oz. All Dorothy wanted -- after her one brief runaway fling -- was to go home. To Kansas.
But where in Kansas? The film didn't say, and the question was tactfully avoided for decades. In 1981 the city of Liberal answered it. A small, old farm house outside of town was hauled in and christened "Dorothy's House," since it sort of resembled the one in the movie. In front of its tiny porch were laid pathways of yellow bricks, radiating from a still-revered pair donated by Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
Local cute-as-a-button girls dress as movie Dorothys and serve as guides for the tour. It starts in the gift shop, which shows the film continuously and sells Ruby Slipper snow globes and foam Yellow Bricks. As the group headed outside, our Dorothy flicked a hidden switch and "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" blared from hidden speakers.
We dutifully obeyed, past life-sized versions of the Scarecrow and Tin Man (built out of air ducts by a local refrigeration class), to Dorothy's House.
By modern standards, Dorothy lived in a horror home of privation. The floors squeak, the wallpaper is ghastly, and Dorothy told us that Auntie Em saved hair in a jar and Uncle Henry had only one pair of shoes.
"This is our cream separator," she said, pointing to a mechanical contraption in the kitchen. "We would have to turn this handle 48 times a minute, and if we were going too slow a bell would ring and we would have to start all over."
Dorothy showed us the family chamber pot ("It was my responsibility to dump it in the morning") and a Sears catalog that doubled as toilet paper. During the frozen winter months, she said cheerily, "we didn't have to use an ice box because we could have our food and drinks by the window." The window in Dorothy's bedroom opens onto a painting of an approaching tornado.
"Is everyone ready to go to the Land of Oz?" Dorothy asked. "Yes!" everyone answered.
The Land of Oz is a walk-thru series of dioramas of the film, created by Kansas native Linda Windler, who wanted to go over the rainbow and realized she would have to build it herself. The exhibit spent ten years in a Topeka shopping mall before it was moved here and set up in a big storage building next to Dorothy's House. "Oz was not built by some huge corporation with an unlimited budget," reads a sign written by Linda. It's "a monument to good old American ingenuity."
The story is condensed into a crisp 15 minutes. We followed a Yellow Brick Road painted on the concrete floor as Dorothy stopped at displays and recited key plot points and dialog from the film. She was new to the job, and sometimes got her facts a little scrambled. But she delivered every statement with authority, which is what you want from a tour guide. We know that Dorothy would never mislead anyone on purpose.
The Land of Oz seems to include everyone from the film, even minor characters such as Mrs. Gulch, Professor Marvel, the green-faced Winkie guards, and the Emerald City repair crew in their OZ shirts. We passed slowly spinning Munchkins and a Wicked Witch whose dress flapped in a breeze from a nearby air vent. Emerald City is a green-lit assemblage of chrome tanks and plywood tubular skyscrapers. The forced-perspective throne room of the Wizard features his bellowing movie face projected onto a head-shaped screen, flanked by lava lamps.
The DIY nature of the Land of Oz adds to its trippy charm. Backgrounds are painted onto the walls, the hand-made dummies don't always fill their clothes correctly, and Toto often resembles a pile of black yarn. Dorothy mannequins are everywhere, instantly recognizable in their gingham dresses and red shoes, but she shifts in age from scene to scene from a child to a grown woman and then back again.
The tour ends in a small museum displaying memorabilia, such as the miniature house that was used in the movie's tornado scene, a ukulele owned by one of the Munchkins, a replica of the filing cabinet whose O-Z drawer supposedly inspired the Oz name, and a pair of imitation Ruby Slippers.
"An actual pair would cost about a million and a half dollars," said Dorothy, with authority. "They're Hollywood's most expensive memorabilia."
Update: In March 2015 the Land of Oz got even better with the addition of a Tornado Simulation Room to start off the tour. Oz's overseers wanted a "transition area" to put visitors in the proper frame of mind, so the twister acts as a kind of airlock between the real world and you-know-where.