It had been sixteen years since I last attended an Oz Convention, and now I’ve gone to two in the same year. The International Wizard of Oz Club‘s National Convention was in Philadelphia this year, so I could stay at Beth’s mom’s and not have to pay for a hotel room. But then, since the program ended at 11 at night (and that’s not counting the after party) and breakfast was from 7:30 to 9, there were certainly times when I would have found a room in the city convenient. Although the main location for the convention was the Sonesta Hotel on Market Street, there were events at other places as well. I pointed out that “Sonesta” is similar to “sonestor,” the word for a week in the language of Anuther Planet according to The Silver Princess in Oz. They had a Hopper and a Homer Room near where the hotel events were held, and while they were actually named after artists, it obviously made me think of the Hoppers and Horners. Mind you, I probably would have thought of that even if there HADN’T been an Oz event, but that’s a convenient excuse. I saw several people I knew from the Munchkin Convention back when it was held in Delaware, as well as a few who had attended the one in Portland last month, and some Facebook friends I’d never met in person.
On Friday, we took a tour of Philadelphia on vehicles that looked like trolleys, but didn’t run on rails. I want to call them trolley buses, but I think that’s something else.
The guides pointed out various Oz-related locations, including where John R. Neill grew up, the place at Independence Mall where Matilda Joslyn Gage (L. Frank Baum’s mother-in-law) crashed a centennial celebration to deliver a declaration of women’s rights, and Ruth Plumly Thompson’s old house.
The address she gave in the books was 254 South Farragut Terrace, but that’s now called Farragut Street. The current owners put up a plaque to commemorate Thompson’s living and working there, and were warned ahead of time that Oz fans would be storming the place to take pictures of it.
After the tour was a welcome reception at City Hall, where Sharif Street (son of a former mayor) talked a bit and three Mummers played some songs from The Wizard of Oz. The evening session included Atticus Gannaway discussing William F. Lee of Reilly & Lee, Bill Thompson talking about W.W. Denslow’s time in Philadelphia, and John Fricke reminiscing about Judy Garland.
At breakfast on Saturday, a few people dressed up in costumes, but not all that many. There was no official costume contest, but everyone who wore one got a prize.
One woman dressed up as Polychrome with her daughters as Ozma and Scraps, and there was a different version of the Bilbil-to-Bobo transformation from the earlier convention. I really have to get a costume together for next year, but I’m not sure what. A few I have in mind are Zog, Tititi-Hoochoo, and Orpah the merman; but I don’t know how practical they’d be. I’d also like to be the Shah of Subterranea, but where am I going to get a giant earthworm?
Maybe that’s a case where it would be better to just bring a smaller worm as a representation. After breakfast, Jane Albright talked about Oz toys and Blair Frodelius about strange Oz books he’d found. Then Michael Patrick Hearn interviewed Thompson’s niece Dorothy Curtiss Maryott and her son.
Thompson had dedicated Ojo in Oz to Dorothy in the year she was born. The second Oz author sounds like someone who was fun to be around; it’s too bad she died before my birth. Mind you, I might have annoyed her with questions about her books. There was a mention of how the possible inspiration for Captain Salt was a guy Thompson had a crush on, but he liked her sister. Dorothy’s son mentioned that the foot-path and Terrybubble were probably his two favorite characters created by his great-aunt.
The whole crew walked over to Liberty Place to see a presentation of A Day in Oz, a play that Thompson wrote to promote new Oz books. This version had students at the University of the Arts playing the Patchwork Girl, Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion. College students all look so young to me these days; I guess I must be getting old.
I particularly liked the girl who played Scraps, who was very energetic, if perhaps more graceful than I imagine the character. I’m not sure why the Tin Woodman walked in such a jerky fashion, but he kind of seems to have been a combination of Nick Chopper with Tik-Tok. Lunch was handled kind of oddly, with everyone getting ten dollars to spend at the food court. I was hoping they would have pizza, but they didn’t, so I made do with a ham sandwich from Bain’s Deli. Other Saturday events included Dina Massachi and Angelica Shirley Carpenter discussing Matilda Gage, Noel Reich interpreting Wizard from a feminist perspective, Alan Wise talking about enchanted characters in the Baum and Thompson books, and a show-and-tell of Oz items. Edward Einhorn previewed a scene from his opera based on The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, with Rebecca Shimer as Necile and some female convention attendees as fairies. Einhorn says he’s added some Oz tie-ins to the story, with Ruggedo and Lurline making appearances. (Okay, Lurline MIGHT have been the unnamed Fairy Queen in the book, but it’s not clear.)
Eric Shanower showed some pictures from a version of Santa Claus that he’s illustrating.
And Sean Barrett and Walter Krueger showed The Oz Project, sort of a mash-up of the MGM movie with The Wiz.
Brynn Williams, who played one of the Dorothys in the film, sang “Home,” and did an excellent job with it. She was very friendly as well, and I got a picture with her.
Saturday was also the day of the auction, and I managed to obtain some hardback copies of Gnome King and Giant Horse for fairly cheap. They aren’t in the best shape, but at least that Gnome King looks better than my Del Rey paperback. One item that I found interesting was a photocopy of Neill’s manuscript of Ojo with his sketches over the text.
It only sold for about fifty dollars, more than I was willing to pay, but much less than I thought it would be worth. Jane Albright told me the low price was probably because it was a photocopy. I guess I’m looking at it more from the perspective of a researcher than a collector. Outside the auction, I bought some prints by Vincent Myrand and a new copy of Eric Shanower’s Oz-Toy Book 2.
There was a raffle to win items that had been in the Oz Club’s stock, but since a lot of winners didn’t claim their prizes, they eventually just let everybody take something. I ended up with a Scarecrow suncatcher from the 2004 Munchkin Convention.
That night, a donation of ten dollars would get you a blown-up Neill illustration, and I got the one with Ozma in a tree from Lost Princess.
Meals were provided as part of the convention cost. Dinner on Friday and Saturday was a more formal affair.
I had chicken on Friday and fish on Saturday, both of which were good, but I always find myself never being quite filled up by that style of meeting. I was more satisfied with the buffet-style breakfasts. Sunday morning saw us visiting the William Way Center, which had an exhibit of Oz art.
Charles Santore and Eric Shanower talked about their illustrations, and Dee Michel showed examples of Oz used in gay contexts. There are a lot of gay Oz fans, and while some of this can be explained by the Judy Garland connection, it definitely extends to the books as well. Michel has discussed the appeal of Oz to gay men before, and is working on a book about it.
I don’t have the version of Wizard with Santore’s illustrations, but his talk was quite interesting anyway. And that’s pretty much it. Next year, the National Convention will be in Chicago, and OzCon International in Oregon again. I don’t know if I’ll go to either, but I’d like to try to at least make one. I’ve actually wanted to visit Chicago for a long time, although I’d have to add a few more days to the trip if I’m going to do anything other than the convention. One thing I do miss from earlier conventions is the research table, which held original research and fiction. I never really had the time to read much of anything, but I loved skimming them. Apparently there was supposed to be one at this convention, but it was never set up.