Happy Birthday L. Frank Baum
Happy Birthday L. Frank Baum
Lyman Frank Baum was born on May 15, 1856, in Chittenango, New York (about 30 miles from Mystic’s home in Camden).
The seventh of nine children, Baum was often sick as a child but enjoyed the escape of daydreams. At the age of 12 he attended Peekskill Military Academy but was frequently disciplined for his daydreaming and allowed to return home after two years.
After his father bought him a printing press, Baum began his writing career, producing The Rose Lawn Home Journal with his younger brother (Rose Lawn was the name of his parent’s expansive estate). By the time he was 17, Baum began producing another journal, The Stamp Collector as well as Baum’s Complete Stamp Dealers’ Directory, when he started a small stamp dealership with friends.
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When he was 20, Baum joined the national fad of fancy poultry breeding, specializing in a variety of black chickens known as Hamburgs. This interest led him to produce the trade journal The Poultry Record as well as his first book, The Book of the Hamburgs: A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs.
By his mid-20s, Baum turned his attention to the theater. In 1880, his father built him a theater in Richburg, New York. Baum wrote a number of plays, of which The Maid of Arran was the most successful. However, after the theater caught fire and burned down, he and his wife moved to Aberdeen, Dakota Territory. He briefly owned a store and then served as editor of the local newspaper. When that paper eventually failed, he moved to Chicago where he again worked as a newspaper editor. He then took a job as a traveling salesman for a china company, which took a toll on his health.
In 1897 Baum wrote Mother Goose in Prose, which provided him with enough financial success to quit his sales job. Two years later he wrote Father Goose, His Book, which became that year’s best-selling children’s book.
Then in 1900, Baum produced his most famous work, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Considered the first American fairy tale, it received significant critical praise and was the best-selling children’s book for two years. Over the course of his life, Baum would write 13 more novels following the characters from Oz. In 1902, the book was made into a Broadway musical that then toured the country.
Based on the success of Oz, Baum hoped to write other successful fantasy stories, but none ever reached the popularity of Oz. Although The Master Key proved quite popular, appearing on St. Nicholas Magazine’s survey of readers favorite books into the 1920s.
In his final years, Baum started his own movie production company, but had little success in that arena. After suffering a stroke, Baum died on May 6, 1919. His final words were “Now we can cross the Shifting Sands,” a reference to the magical desert that surrounds the Land of Oz.