|L. Frank Baum
What is it about Oz and its creator that for more than six decades has prompted people to publish information purported to be truth about Oz and Baum, but which is just plain wrong? Books and articles about Oz and Baum—both in print and online—appear with alarming regularity, spreading their shoddy gospel of half-truths, mistakes, confusions, misleading statements, and outright lies cloaked in the guise of reliability.
Inaccuracies about Baum can sometimes be traced to his first major biography, To Please a Child, by Russell P. MacFall and Frank Joslyn Baum. That book overflows with fanciful stories of the elder Baum’s life, stories that demonstrably did not occur in the manner the book claims—or didn’t occur at all. Oz fandom has known for decades that info spouted by To Please a Child requires independent confirmation. Researchers, scholars, and writers who’ve been part of Oz fandom—or at least in contact with it—should know better than to rely on To Please a Child. Too often, it seems, they don’t.
But it’s not just To Please a Child. Blind spots from plenty of other shoddy research and inept presentations infect Oz fandom. They seem to be ineradicable. They’re regurgitated endlessly. I know. I’ve been in contact with Oz fandom since I was a child, imbibing the fallacies, the half-truths, the false narratives since before I had tools to recognize them for what they were. I’ve needed to work hard to remove blind spots from my own views of Oz and Baum. I may have more work to do.
Then there are those who publish about Oz and Baum from outside Oz fandom. One well-meaning and widely-published author of books about Abraham Lincoln, Hillary Clinton, and the Beatles, as well as one about L. Frank Baum, conscientiously gathered at least three supporting citations for each purportedly factual statement in her manuscripts. Should be a solid technique, right? Unfortunately, no. Not for L. Frank Baum. Since at least the mid-1950s, so much error about Baum has been published that finding three sources to support an erroneous statement is easy. When one writes about Baum, pitfalls loom in every direction. This writer fell in, but she was far from alone. She had plenty of company down at the bottom of the pit.
The books and articles keep coming. Error upon error, the misinformation marches on and is added to regularly by people who should know better. The type of errors I’m thinking of trouble me more than Littlefield’s “Parable on Populism” and (despite this post’s title) the Hanging Munchkin—laughable, easily punctured, and comparatively recent trifles to bamboozle the ignorant. I’m complaining about both large, senseless distortions and flatly incorrect details that present themselves as reliable and authoritative information about an author’s life and the creation and continuation of his works.
It’s maddening. (And before anyone brings it up, yes, I recognize the inevitable, only-just-beginning nightmare of generative AI regurgitating this crap forever.)
I complain. But I’m not without sympathy. I’m a writer, too. I know firsthand the difficulty in writing accurately, truthfully, and clearly. Writing something worthwhile is hard work. But we must strive to make what we publish worthwhile.
While I wrote All Wound Up, the troubling specter haunting far too much Oz and Baum research hovered close. I hoped that All Wound Up would not turn out to nourish that specter.
Any large non-fiction project on a historical subject presents challenges. Making sure every sentence is based on truth is a task of not inconsiderable magnitude. I didn’t want to perpetuate any fallacies—or create new ones—in All Wound Up. I wanted to eliminate inaccuracy—kill the lies at their roots—back up my statements with reliable sources. And if I couldn’t back a statement up, I qualified it.
But who can anticipate every possible problem when piecing together a puzzle of the past from which pieces are missing? I aimed for diligence. I tried to think critically. I gathered a wide range of sources, primarily material of the times and places and people involved—letters, contracts, newspaper articles, photographs. During both the writing process and afterward, when I considered the manuscript finished and was designing the book, I discovered new sources with new information, and I adjusted what I’d already written. Several people with critical eyes—people both within Oz fandom and outside it—read the manuscript—or portions of it—and gave me feedback before publication. But I’m not infallible. No matter what, despite my striving to make All Wound Up worthwhile, it’s bound to have cracks.
Then there’s another nightmare—who knows what material unavailable to me while I wrote will come to light in the future and contradict All Wound Up?
The only way to avoid all mistakes is not to publish. But that’s no answer. That does no one any good.
So here’s my answer to any mistakes in All Wound Up: this weblog. Here I can correct those mistakes, clear up confusions, and address any downright stupidities (few, I hope) in the published book. The main reason the book includes the web address of this blog is so readers can easily access updates, corrections, and further information about The Tik-Tok Man of Oz.
So here’s a correction to All Wound Up.
In the summer of 1912, the composer Louis F. Gottschalk visited his hometown of Los Angeles, California. There he read L. Frank Baum’s stage script Ozma of Oz (which would be produced the next year as The Tik-Tok Man of Oz). Gottschalk liked the script and sent a letter to Baum. Gottschalk claimed that he sent his letter to Syracuse, New York, where Baum was visiting. And I repeated this information. Twice it appears in All Wound Up—on page 51 and again on page 325.
However, Baum wasn’t visiting Syracuse, the city where he’d grown up from childhood.
Baum had gone to Chicago, the city where he’d lived before moving to Los Angeles.
On July 15, 1912, L. Frank Baum and his wife, Maud, left Ozcot, their Hollywood home in Los Angeles for an extended visit to Chicago. Shortly before September 19, the Baums returned home. Local Hollywood newspaper articles make this clear.
Why did Gottschalk claim Baum visited Syracuse? Gottschalk told his story in June 1913, nearly a year after it happened, so perhaps Gottschalk didn’t remember the city correctly. Or maybe he sent his letter to Syracuse by mistake, though that seems less likely to me. Anyway, I relied on Gottschalk’s testimony and wrote that Baum was in Syracuse. I should have verified Gottschalk’s statement before All Wound Up was published.
So, I confess, I’ve published inaccuracies about Baum and Oz, just like all those other writers. But I’ve brought my mistake into the light for all to see and I’ve corrected it. This probably won’t be the last time. But while we’re waiting, any of you other writers want to take a turn?
“City Briefs,” Hollywood (CA) Citizen, 12 July 1912, 4; “City Briefs,” Hollywood Citizen, 19 July 1912, 4; “City Briefs,” Hollywood Citizen, 13 September 1912, 4; “Gottschalk to Write Opera Here,” Chicago (IL) Examiner, 8 June 1913, VII 6.
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