Lyman Frank Baum

Paternal 7th cousin, 4x removed

Author of The Wonderful World of Oz

Lyman Frank Baum, also know as "L. Frank Baum" was born on May 15, 1856 to my 6th cousin, 5x removed, Cynthia Ann Stanton and her husband, Benjamin Ward Baum. He was born in Chittenango, New York, a small town that is located east of Syracuse and west of Oneida. It is an area of Upstate New York where a significant number of my family members once - and still do - lived.

Frank was the 7th child of Cynthia and Benjamin, and one of only 5 to survive childhood. Benjamin Baum was a successful businessman and Frank grew up on the family estate, Rose Lawn, located in a now suburb of Syracuse. According to the records that I have found, Frank was a sickly and dreamy child. He and his siblings were tutored at home until he was 12, at which time Frank was enrolled at the Peekskill Military Academy, a place that he detested. 2 years later, Frank was allowed to return home after having psycho-physical ailments after being disciplined for daydreaming. As I write this, I can't help but think of the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz!

Frank began writing at an early age and, with the help of his younger brother Henry, the 2 boys published The Rose Lawn Home Journal. The paper was published on an old printing press that Frank's father had purchased. At age 17, Frank started publishing another journal called The Stamp Collector along with an 11 page pamphlet called Baum's Stamp Dealers' Directory. He also started a stamp dealership with some of his friends.

According to what I have read, Frank brought a lot of fun to the Baum household. He made the Fourth of July holidays special with his fireworks displays which were enjoyed by the Baum's as well as many of their neighbors. At Christmas, Frank would dress up as Santa Claus and decorate the family's Christmas tree - something he did while hidden behind a blanket so that he could talk to his family but not let them see the decorated tree until it was finished. This is, in my humble opinion, a clear connection to the Wizard of Oz and the "man behind the curtain" scene.

In addition to writing and entertaining his friends and family, Frank had a lifelong love of the theatre. He was once duped by a local theatre into replacing the theatre's costumes under the promise of Frank receiving leading roles in their products. The roles never came, so Frank left that theatre, but the theatre was not a place that he could stay away from for very long. 

In 1880, Frank's father Benjamin bought Frank a theatre in Richburg, New York. Frank went to work writing plays and putting together a cast to perform them. Frank himself would act in the plays, and some of them included original music penned by Frank as well. Frank also teamed up with his aunt, Katharine Grey, who was the founder of the Syracuse Oratory School. Frank advertised his services in her school catalog, which included: teaching theatre, play writing, directing and Operettas.

Frank married Maud Gage on November 9th, 1882. Maud was the daughter of Matilda Gage, a well-known suffragette and feminist. Frank's theatre in Richburg burned down while he was touring with the show The Maid of Arran. Many of Frank's scripts were also lost in the fire. Ironically, the show that was being performed when the fire started was a play called Matches.

Frank and Maud moved from Upstate New York to Aberdeen in the Dakota Territory in July, 1888. There he opened his store Baum's Bazaar. Frank, who was a trusting person, allowed customers to purchase goods on credit which lead to the store's bankruptcy when customers did not pay their bills. When his store failed, Frank took a job editing at the local newspaper, The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer. On December 20th, 1890, Frank wrote an article calling for the complete extermination of all Native Americans after the death of Sitting Bull. Frank concluded that this was the only way to protect the safety of settlers as the Native Americans were "untamable". He followed up with another piece after the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1891 (the actual massacre had occurred in December, 1890). Much of Frank's description of Kansas in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was based on his experiences in Aberdeen which had been drought-ridden.

In 1891, after the newspaper failed, Frank and Maud moved to Humboldt Park in Chicago. Frank took a job as a newspaper reporter for the Evening Post. In 1897, Frank started a magazine called The Show Window, which focused on store window displays, retail strategies and visual marketing. In 1897, Frank published Mother Goose in Prose which was illustrated by Maxfield Parrish. The book was a moderate success and allowed Frank to leave a sales job which he had taken. 

In 1899, Frank, along with illustrator W.W. Denslow teamed up to publish the book Father Goose, His Book. It was a collection of nonsense poetry and it was a hit - becoming the best-selling children's book of the year.

In 1900, Frank and W.W. Denslow published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It was both a critical and financial success and remained a best-selling children's book for the next 2 years. The Wizard of Oz was followed by an additional 13 books that were based on the people and places from the Land of Oz.

In 1902, Frank and Denslow teamed up with composer Paul Tietjens to produce a play based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The play name was shortened to The Wizard of Oz and opened in Chicago. The play then ran for 293 nights in New York City on Broadway. The show would return to Broadway again in 1904 running from March to May, and again from November to December. The show then toured the US until 1911.

Frank had a stroke on May 5th, 1919, slipped into a coma and passed away on May 6th. He was 62. Frank's final book, Glinda of Oz, was published after his death in 1920. However, many authors continued the story that Frank had started with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the story continues to live on until this day.

Frank and Maud had 4 children during their time together and 2 of them, Frank and Harry, also became writers.

In researching this particular cousin, I could not help but notice how some of the scenes and characters contained in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz paralleled Frank's own life. Was Chicago the inspiration for the Emerald City? Frank's lifelong use of a blanket to hide his decoration of the Christmas tree while he spoke to his family is very clearly reflected in the scene where Dorothy discovers the Wizard of Oz operating a machine behind a curtain. Frank's psycho-physical reaction to being disciplined by his instructions at the military academy can be compared to the Cowardly Lion's reaction to confrontation. I was more than surprised to find that a man who penned a story about acceptance and belonging held such discriminatory views towards Native Americans and is at odds with his main characters in The Wizard of Oz (at least in my opinion) and their need for acceptance.

Although I cannot condone Frank's views on how Americans in his time treated the Native American people, I am still thankful for the story that he wrote that has entertained generations of children around the world. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been a story that has entertained children and adults alike for over 100 years, and one that will probably continue to entertain for many more generations.

Oh, and here's one more interesting fact: in the movie production of The Wizard of Oz, the main character Dorothy is played by yet another famous cousin of mine - none other than Frances Ethel Gumm, known by everyone as Judy Garland. It's a strange world at time...almost like the land of Oz itself!

© 2023 by William B. Taylor

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