Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Lyman Frank Baum -- A Giant of Children's Literature

Lyman Frank Baum (May 15, 1856 - May 5, 1919)

Children are certainly an integral part of genealogy – and children’s literature is a huge part of the world of children in many if not most families.  There are some giants of children’s literature whose influence is felt for generations.  Without attempting anything like an exhaustive list of the giants of children’s literature (or commenting on recent authors like JK Rowling), most American adults would agree that the following are among the giants: Lewis Carroll; Dr. Seuss; A.A. Milne; J.R.R. Tolkien; C.S. Lewis; and Roald Dahl.  Today is the 157th anniversary of the birth of an American-grown giant –  L. Frank Baum, the author and creator of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

A well-loved and often read Tew family copy of The Land of Oz,
L. Frank Baum's sequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

I am not related to L. Frank Baum in any way, but since the publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900 -- and especially since the Judy Garland film version in 1939 -- at least four generations of my family have been exposed to the Land of Oz through books, film, music, and on stage.  L. Frank Baum and his creation, the Land of Oz, are true American icons that have provided innumerable childhood and family entertainment moments for generations and millions around the world.  For this reason, a post today to explore and learn a little about the genealogy and life of the man who has provided so much to generations of other families is in order.

Lyman Frank Baum was born in Chittenango, New York on May 15, 1856.  Chittenango (from the Oneida meaning “where the sun shines out”) is a village in the Town of Sullivan in Madison County in central New York.  The Erie Canal passes just north of the village.

The future creator of the Land of Oz, was named for his father’s brother, but did not like the name Lyman and so went by “Frank.”  Frank was one of the five (of nine) children of Benjamin Ward Baum and his wife Cynthia Ann (Stanton) Baum to survive beyond childhood.  Cynthia Stanton is thought to be descended from Thomas Stanton, one of the founders of Stonington, Connecticut.  Benjamin Baum was of German ancestry and was a very successful businessman who became wealthy in the early oil fields of Pennsylvania after starting out as a barrel maker.

Young Frank enjoyed an almost idyllic youth in Chittenango on Rose Lawn, the large estate owned by his parents.  He and his siblings were tutored at home, but at age 12 his parents decided Frank needed strengthening and he was sent off to Peekskill Military Academy where he lasted two years before his parents allowed him to return home.  Although Frank’s son, Frank Joslyn Baum, later claimed in his much criticized biography of his father, To Please A Child, that his father suffered what was called a heart attack while at Peekskill, there is no evidence to support a heart attack at 15 years old.

In his teens Frank developed an interest in printing as the result of the gift of a small press from his father.  He and his brother, Henry Clay Baum, published The Rose Lawn Home Journal, complete with advertisements and this undoubtedly led to young Frank producing written product for this and later journals he published on stamp collecting and the raising of the Hamburg breed of chickens – both early interests and hobbies of Frank's in addition to his love of fireworks.

By the time Frank was in his twenties, he had developed an interest in theater and eventually his father built him a theater in Richburg, NY.  Baum began writing plays for his theater and also composed songs for musicals.  While he was on tour with one of his plays, his theater was destroyed by fire along with the only copies of his scripts from the time and all the theater’s costumes. The production at the theater when it was destroyed was titled, Matches.

On November 9, 1882, Frank Baum married Maud Gage, the daughter of well-known suffragette Matilda Joslyn Gage.  In 1888 Frank and Maud moved to Aberdeen in the Dakota Territory where Frank opened a store called “Baum’s Bazaar,” but it eventually ended in bankruptcy and Frank moved on to the newspaper business where he wrote a column called Our Landlady for The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, which he also owned and edited.  Following the Wounded Knee massacre, Baum wrote a column that has generated much controversy since it was not entirely clear whether it was Swiftian satire or a serious advocacy for the total extermination of the indigenous native people.

Maud Gage Baum and her four sons (1900)

In 1891, Baum’s newspaper venture also failed.  By this time, he and Maud had four sons: Frank Joslyn Baum; Robert Stanton Baum; Henry Clay Baum; and Kenneth Gage Baum.  They  relocated to the Humboldt Park section of Chicago and Frank became a reporter for the Evening Post.  He also began writing collections of stories and rhymes on the themes of Mother Goose.  In 1899 his book of nonsense rhymes called Father Goose, His Book was a major success and then in 1900 literary history was made when a book called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published.  The book was an immediate hit and became the best-selling children’s book for the next two years.  It was the first of thirteen Land of Oz books authored by L. Frank Baum.

Gravestone of Frank and Maud Baum in Glendale, California

L. Frank Baum died following a stroke on May 5, 1919 -- nine days short of his 63rd birthday.  His last words were supposedly, “Now we can cross the Shifting Sands.”  At his death, L. Frank Baum was survived by his wife, four sons and some grandchildren.  Maud lived until just 21 days shy of her 92nd birthday and died on March 6, 1953.  She survived Frank by some 34 years.  Both Frank and Maud are buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California. 

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The photograph of L. Frank Baum (1911) was originally published by the Los Angeles Times. It is now in the public domain in the U.S. as a work where the copyright has expired because it first appeared prior to January 1, 1923.  See,

The scanned image of the cover of The Land of Oz is from a personal copy of the book in the collection of the author.

The photograph of Maud Gage Baum with her four sons (1900) is now in the public domain in the U.S. as a work where the copyright has expired because it first appeared prior to January 1, 1923.  See,

The photograph of the gravestone of Maud and L. Frank Baum (October 5, 2009) is by Gregorius24 who has released the work into the public domain.  See,,_CA-2009-10-05.jpg 
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For more information about Maud Gage Baum, see
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Copyright 2013, John D. Tew
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