PIERRE, S.D. – Although L. Frank Baum only lived in South Dakota for three years, the footprint he left behind makes him one of South Dakota’s Great Faces. His most famous work, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, has connections to South Dakota.
Baum, who did not like his first name, Lyman, was born in 1856, in New York. Early in his life, Baum was interested in reading, printing, writing, and acting.
In 1888, Baum moved to Aberdeen, Dakota Territory. Here, Baum owned a novelty store called Baum’s Bazaar and a weekly newspaper, the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer. He lived in Aberdeen until 1891, when he moved his family to Chicago, Ill.
Director of the South Dakota State Historical Society Press, Nancy Tystad Koupal, notes that the local people, places, and wildlife impressed Baum as he honed his writing techniques as editor of the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer.
Koupal went on to say that during his brief stay in South Dakota, Baum witnessed poverty and hardship, especially in farm life. It is probable that Baum’s description of Kansas in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was based on his drought-ridden experiences in South Dakota. It is also likely that his first encounters with cyclones, as Baum called tornadoes, was in South Dakota.
In 1900, Baum and illustrator William W. Denslow published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was originally a collection of stories and tales Baum used to entertain his four sons. The book was one of the fifteen best sellers of the twentieth century. He adapted The Wizard of Oz into a musical show in 1902, which toured the country for nine years.
Baum’s final years were spent turning his books into motion pictures and writing at least a book a year for young readers. He died in Hollywood on May 6, 1919.
South Dakota’s Great Faces weekly press release series is a project of the South Dakota Office of Tourism, designed to highlight people who have had significant impacts on South Dakota, particularly in the visitor industry. Click on the special “South Dakota’s Great Faces” link at www.MediaSD.com to access the complete list of articles.
Information for this release was obtained from the South Dakota State Historical Society Press, www.sdshspress.com, and the book Baum’s Road to Oz: The Dakota Years (2000).