The Quick 10: Happy Birthday, L. Frank Baum!

Happy Birthday to L. Frank Baum, who would have been 153 today. To honor the man behind the man behind the curtain, I thought we'd check out some details of his rather interesting life.

young1. Aspiring novelists who are plugging away at jobs that don't interest you just so you can pay your bills, take hope: before Oz, Baum was writing exciting pieces like The Rose Lawn Home Journal, The Stamp Collector, Baum's Complete Stamp Dealers' Directory and my favorite, The Poultry Record. Although his first book was a non-fiction book about chickens (The Book of the Hamburgs: a Brief Treatise Upon the Mating, Rearing and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs), it was his first step into the book-publishing world. He was 30 when the Hamburg book was published and didn't publish the first of the Oz series until he was 44. Is it just me, or is young Baum kinda cute under that mustache?

2. He wrote under at least seven different names: L. Frank Baum, of course, but also Edith Van Dyne, Floyd Akers, Schuyler Staunton, John Estes Cooke, Suzanne Metcalf and Laura Bancroft.

gage3. His mother-in-law, Matilda Joslyn Gage, was a well-known feminist (who didn't like Baum much). She, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony actually wrote History of Woman Suffrage in the Gage home. His close ties to these women definitely influenced his work "“ his second Oz book had the women of the land revolt, resulting in the men of Oz doing the household chores.
4. Not all of their views matched up, though "“ while Gage was very much an advocate of Native American rights and was even initiated into the Wolf Clan of the Iroquois under the name Karonienhawi ("she who holds the sky"), Baum published a couple of editorials that basically suggested that Native Americans should be exterminated. With Sitting Bull's death, he wrote, "the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians."

5. One of his jobs before hitting it big was at the Aberdeen Weekly Pioneer in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Before that, he owned a general store he called "Baum's Bazaar," which is where kids in town started to know him for his stories. When he took the job with the newspaper, he would walk from store to store to inquire about ad sales. He would get accosted by so many children asking him to tell them a story, he eventually designated about an hour of his daily rounds to sitting on a curb telling tall tales to kids.

6. Baum was quite adept at predicting inventions of the future. In his children's book The Master Key: An Electrical Fairy Tale, he wrote about crazy inventions that sound a lot like computers ("I don't see why one should read newspapers when the Record of Events shows all that is going on in the world," says the little boy in the story) and televisions and in Tik-Tok of Oz he has some creations that are a lot like cell phones.

baum7. Before Oz, Baum's first children's book success was Father Goose, His Story, illustrated by William Denslow, who would start illustrating the Oz books just a year later. Baum was very proud of the Father Goose success and started adding geese to the family décor anywhere he could possibly incorporate them, including in stained glass windows and stenciled on furniture and woodwork. He carried this habit over after Dorothy and Co. became famous: he named one of their dogs Toto and referred to their house in California as "Ozcot."
8. He was an avid horticulturalist. As you can tell by his earlier printed works, he always had a penchant for gardening, but his writing success later in life afforded him the time and money to actually tend to it. When he and his wife bought the house in California, he immediately set up a garden in the backyard and had a very specific upkeep routine that he carried out on a daily basis. He won tons of awards for his gorgeous flowers, specifically dahlias and chrysanthemums.

9. He died on May 5, 1919, and uttered these last words to his wife: "Now we can cross the Shifting Sands." He's buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California, which I am visiting next week, so be sure to look for my cemetery tour post during the last week of May!

10. Despite his death 20 years earlier, Baum may have still been keeping his eye on The Wizard of Oz set in 1939. How's this for a creepy coincidence? When the costume designers for the movie were looking for a coat for the Wizard to wear, they went to a secondhand shop and bought a bunch, then brought them back to the set for the actor to try on. He tried them all and made his choice, but it wasn't until a few weeks later that he discovered a label inside the coat with the original owner's name in it "“ L. Frank Baum. Everyone was understandably skeptical, but the story checked out "“ the coat was specially-made for Baum by a tailor in Chicago and his widow Maud recognized it from his collection.

This might be a loaded question, but do you prefer the Oz books or the Oz movie (and why?)? I don't even think I can tell you my preference"¦ I remember very much enjoying the books as a kid, but it has been so long since I read them that I don't think I could properly compare the two anymore.

A Very Brief History of Chamber Pots

Some of the oldest chamber pots found by archeologists have been discovered in ancient Greece, but portable toilets have come a long way since then. Whether referred to as "the Jordan" (possibly a reference to the river), "Oliver's Skull" (maybe a nod to Oliver Cromwell's perambulating cranium), or "the Looking Glass" (because doctors would examine urine for diagnosis), they were an essential fact of life in houses and on the road for centuries. In this video from the Wellcome Collection, Visitor Experience Assistant Rob Bidder discusses two 19th century chamber pots in the museum while offering a brief survey of the use of chamber pots in Britain (including why they were particularly useful in wartime).

A Tour of the New York Academy of Medicine's Rare Book Room

The Rare Book Room at the New York Academy of Medicine documents the evolution of our medical knowledge. Its books and artifacts are as bizarre as they are fascinating. Read more here.


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