A Journey to the Home of the Wizard of Oz

There’s no place like Chittenango, New York. This is a place that paints its sidewalks yellow. It’s a place where good and bad play out everyday. This place returns you to childhood.

Its claim to fame is the birthplace of L. Frank Baum, the writer behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was the basis for the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. Each summer the town celebrates “where Oz all began” with an Oz-stravaganza.

Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images. Design by Erik Mace for Yahoo Travel.

Chittenango keeps the Oz legacy alive, remembering “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Baum himself, who — over the span of his literary career — wrote several sequels, such as The Scarecrow of Oz, which turns 100 this year. The original publication spawned several offshoots, such as the musical based on Gregory Maguire’s book Wicked, which is celebrating its 20th year of publication.

The family-friendly town, also celebrating a new Oz-themed casino, loves its characters and themes from the children’s book. Patty Welch volunteers at the All Things Oz Museum and says she and her neighbors exuberate “a passion for the Wizard of Oz and everything it entails.” She has previously dressed up as Dorothy with her family. This year, her daughter got to sing “Defying Gravity” from the musical Wicked at the town’s Oz-stravaganza festivities.

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Chittenango, New York: a small town full of characters. (Photo: Ko Im)

Wicked author Maguire still marvels at the popularity of the franchise. The upstate native returned this year to Chittenango to greet fans and sign books.

“What’s really exciting about coming here — it’s able to attach to childhood and childish enthusiasm,” Maguire told Yahoo Travel. “I love anything to do with childhood.” (Note: He’s also working Still Alice, based on Alice in Wonderland, set to be released this fall.)

The author asks, “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” (Photo: Ko Im)

The museum was kind enough to lend me a Glinda costume, and I learned the wonderful lesson of what life would be like as a princess playing a part in Disney World. There’s something priceless about how a child’s eyes light up when they come across a good witch.

The excitement even comes alive in adults, as I found when I took my newfound, temporary persona to the recently opened 24-hour Yellow Brick Road Casino, opened by the Oneida Nation. (Somewhere over the internet, I am on some grandmother’s Facebook page tagged as “Glinda”) The establishment boasts restaurants like “Wicked Good Pizza,” carries Emerald City games, and features a “cyclone of cash.”

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Trying her luck at the “cyclone of cash” at the Yellow Brick Road Casino. (Photo: Ko Im)

You could argue Baum was a wizard of words, an architect of staying magic that led to so much enthusiastic tourism for this little town.

I got to pull back the curtain behind Chittenango and carried around a bubble of magic with me, with or without my wand. Because we can all be good witches on our travels anywhere, if we believe it to be possible.

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