Sunday, September 9, 2012

Interview with Garry Parrett from The Land of Oz Museum

Wisconsin? I love Wisconsin. I have travelled to the dairy state many times in my life and I have seriously considered spending my retirement years in this glorious and gorgeous upper Midwest state. On a recent visit to Door County and assorted other locations in the state I happened upon a wonderful find - The Land of Oz Museum. Who knew? I certainly didn't. Having worked in media my entire adult life I was somewhat surprised to see such a fully developed and all encompassing motion picture themed museum pretty much in the middle of nothing. No offense to the middle of Wisconsin (I love the area), but it isn't exactly the first place you think of when you think of the entertainment industry.

I happened upon this most delightful of experiences only because I was hiking near a waterfall not far from the town of Wausaukee, Wisconsin. I was chatting with some people about the area where we were and they mentioned this museum. My family and I looked at each other with that look as if to say, this can't be any good, but we headed back to town and indulged in some absolutely delicious soft serve ice cream at the Ice Cream Station. We called the number for the museum and lo and behold, we entered.  We didn't voyage down a yellow brick road, but we would highly recommend that a yellow brick road be added to the external section of the building.  That would be a nice touch and it would be highly promotable!

I came of age in a generation when we didn't have DVDs, On Demand or Netflix. We had three broadcast networks, PBS and a couple of local stations. Every single year on Thanksgiving we sat down to watch the brilliant 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz. The Metro-Goldwyn Mayer film was a critical triumph upon its release, but shockingly it wasn't a huge hit at the box-office. It's a superb achievement in filmmaking and it has held up well over the last 73 years. When the film hit the television era in 1956, it became a cultural touchpoint for a couple of generations of people and it remains beloved all these years later.

The film is based on the sparkling fantasy book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.  The book was released in 1900 and it is still an essential in the annals of fictional tales.

I was so taken with the Land of Oz Museum I asked its curator, Garry Parrett to do an interview.  If you are a fan of the film, if you are a fan of films in general, if you are basking in the beauty of the great state of Wisconsin, then run to the Land of Oz Museum. If you aren't a fan of the film (what's wrong with you) you will still appreciate the dedication, determination and hard work that went into the assembly of this fully realized adventure in Oz.

Q: How did this begin?
A: In 1989, my wife gave me a Wizard of Oz 50th anniversary plate for Christmas and my children gave me some figurines. Then I joined the International Wizard of Oz Club the following year. The secretary of the club who lived about 60 miles from my house invited me to his yearly Oz Christmas gatherings in Escanaba, Michigan. There he had his guests bring their personal Oz collections to display on tables. I got hooked when they had their collections displayed. I went to stores, antique stores, Oz festivals, Internet sites, and flea markets to obtain all the items in my museum. It will be 23 years now since I got my first Oz item--the plate.

 That first plate in this collection grew into the museum

Q: What motivates you to keep going?
A: I love the movie--period. I love to display my Oz items. I love when visitors to the museum show their love for the museum by words and actions--especially picture taking of my Museum.

Q: I assume your all-time favorite movie is...
A: My favorite movie is the Wizard of Oz, for many reasons. First, it was shown yearly when I was a kid and that anticipation of getting to see the movie once a year was an experience that motivated me to watch it.We had no VCRs or DVDs those days. Second, I love the theme--THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE HOME. Third, it is the only time when all my family sat down and watched a movie together--I lived in a dysfunctional family.

Q: How many items are in the museum?
A: Good question---I estimate there are around 13,000 items. The museum is filled with Oz items. There are 9 rooms filled: bathrooms, closets, hallways, main rooms and even the room separating the first floor and the basement. The building once was a grocery store in the 1930s and then an American Legion Hall. I have an Oz Christmas room, partyware room, Oz Halloween room, the main hall is full of dolls, figurines, over 230 musicals, over 130 records, a ruby slipper display, a memorial for the Oz Munchkins especially Meinhardt Raabe (only Wisconsin representative), and Oz kitchen (plates,cookie jars, Oz glasses, Oz salt and peppers shakers, Oz teapots, etc...), hallway of Oz figurines and banks, an Oz play room (puzzles, games, toys, puppets and craft kits), an Oz plush character room (over 80) with Oz posters for the movie (theater, DVD, and VCR), a basement with other Oz movies (Muppets of Oz, Journey Back to Oz, The Wiz, Return to Oz, Tinman), basement has an Oz preschool, an Oz classroom, an Oz bedroom, an Oz library, an Oz tin area, an Oz beauty center, an Oz garden center, an Oz time area, Oz nutcrackers and figurines, a WICKED Broadway play area, a display for Judy Garland as a memorial to her, and Wizard of Oz cartoon animation cells and posters.
 Cookie jars and more!

Q: Garry, What items in the museum have the most meaning?
A: All my items in the museum---they are part of my life. They are placed in special themed areas of the museum. If I have to answer the question, well, my autographs of the Munchkins and the pictures I took years back at the Wizard of Oz festivals in Chesterton, Indiana when I met over 25 Munchkins from the movie. In 1991, I started attending the Oz festivals there--the third weekend of September---and now I have attended 21 festivals since. Sadly, only three Munchkins survive today and only one of those Munchkins visits the festival today.

Q: Any experiences with any actors from the film?
A: Experiences of actors that played in the film---Like I said I had met over 25 Munchkins over the 20 years---and some even called me by name, but only one really stands out--Meinhardt Raabe(coroner of Munchkinland). I met Meinhardt Raabe (a Wisconsin native) in 1992 at an Oz Club Convention in Zion, Illinois. It was my first encounter with a star from the movie and I was thrilled. He pleasantly surprised me by visiting my home with his wife right after the club convention ended. His wife's brother lived in Iron Mountain, Michigan, and the Raabes were going to visit them. Well, my home in Wausaukee,Wisconsin is right on the same road leading to Iron Mountain, Michigan, his wife Marie wanted to visit me and take a rest. My children also got the chance to visit him too, but my wife was at work. We had a great time. Being a teacher at the time, I took him to visit my friends in the school district's office, kids I could find, and then I took him to our grocery store (Marinette County coroner works there) where I had him meet the coroner of Marinette County--the Coroners of Munchkinland visiting the Coroner of Marinette County, Wisconsin. A picture was taken then and is in the museum today. The picture is in front of the Oscar Meyer meat display, because Meinhardt worked for the company as a Little Chef right after the movie was finished filming. He and Jerry Maren (Lollipop Kid in the movie--middle one) both were hired by Oscar Meyer to travel in the US to ride the Weinermobiles and serve as Company ambassadors. Meinhardt also came with his wife in 1993. My wife was also at work so Barb never got a chance to meet them. Now that is a thrill yet today to have them actually in my house for two hours each time. In the museum there is a memorial for him (pictures-figurines, and a replica costume of the coroner's outfit).

Q: Why Wausaukee?
A: I wanted a building close to my house so I can get to it easily. The building is only down the hill. Three minutes away for walking. This is my retirement dream to show off my Oz collection to the world. I had these items in my basement of my house for years. Now they are displayed for everyone to see with themes involved.

Q: Any big dreams for the future of the museum?
A: My dream is to have more movie items in the museum---authentic items-- too costly to buy in the auctions. I do have some authentic items--pieces of the Yellow Brick Road, hair from the lion, straw from the Scarecrow, piece of the Witch's hat, and a script page Jack Haley (Tinman) used to memorize his lines. I would love a whole costume or item from the movie---that is my dream.

Q: How does your wife feel about your time involved with the museum? What are your family's feelings?
A: Feelings of my wife and family...At the beginning of my Oz collecting my wife was not too happy. She is totally happy today for me. She told people I don't hunt/fish, have boy toys like boats, snowmobiles, 4 wheelers--so he spent his money on collecting. My family is always looking out for Oz items for me. My children --- since they were children made $5.00 every time they found Oz items at flea markets, garage sales, or antique stores--still do today and they are 31 and 29 respectively. This is a cherished tradition I love yet today with my children.

Q: Are you obsessed?
A: I am totally obsessed--I am always on the hunt for Oz items--If my friend from Illinois calls and says there is an Oz item at a store I will call the store or go to the store within hours to get it. I have a friend in Milwaukee who will go for me if that store only exists there and get the Oz item. I have lots of Oz friends who help each other to find these Oz items in the market today. I used to go to Milwaukee years past when they had Warner Bros stores with Oz items, I would leave at 3:30 in the afternoon and get the items and come back home at 12:30 at night. You have to know that Milwaukee is 3 hours away from Wausaukee. Spirit Halloween stores have a Wicked Witch that talks and moves and it is only sold in those stores. Guess what? I was there on September.8th - right at 10am when it opened. I purchased it for my museum.  They had only two per store. This store is in Appleton,Wisconsin and it is 90 minutes away.  I couldn't wait!

  Ruby slipper collection

Q: How does the town respond to the museum?
A: My town is proud of my museum. The people are always talking about it. They are finally coming to visit the museum after four summers here. I am trying to get people from all over the country and world to visit Wausaukee and my museum. I have 22 states so far represented and one foreign country represented.  We had a visitor from Germany. That was a fun day to have this visitor. An article for the local weekly newspaper is being prepared soon to be published of this visitor and my museum.

Q: How many people have visited the museum?
A: I have had over 1200 visitors in the four summers so far since the museum opened. I average about 400-450 visitors per year.

Q: Any famous visitors?
A: No famous people yet. The Oz Club editor of our magazine came to work on an article. Two different television reporters. They are famous to me anyway.

Q: What was your chosen career?
A: I was a teacher and building principal for the Wausaukee School District for 34 years. I am now retired, but I substitute teach to this day. I love to educate children, so having this museum I love giving tours and educating the visitors about anything Oz movies/books- and the stars who performed in the movie.  I love giving trivia information to the public when they tour the museum.

Thank you to Garry Parrett for the interview.

Land of Oz Museum
Garry Parrett – Curator
319 First Street
Wausaukee, WI 54177
Call 715 927 0767 for days of operation and to schedule a visit

The Museum is open from April through October, but please contact the curator before your visit.
Free, but visitors should donate to the museum's efforts.  Let's appreciate industriousness and givers of such joyful entertainment!
The Wizard of Oz Christmas collection. 
Copyright Read On Read Now 2012