FAYETTEVILLE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — If the walls could talk at the Gage House Museum in Fayetteville, they’d shed new light on a story known ’round the world.
Best-selling author Elizabeth Letts says, “I really do believe it. It’s like, without Syracuse, there’s no Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”
In the 1880’s, L. Frank Baum married in that house, setting him on a Yellow Brick path to writing what’s been called “America’s first homegrown fairy tale.” Elizabeth Letts was intrigued by that backstory.
“When you do historical fiction like I do, you visit a place that doesn’t exist anymore, which is an area as it existed in the past,” Letts says. “The way that I do that is maps, photographs, letters, diaries.”
As she read the “Wizard of Oz” to her son in California, Letts realized what a modern sensibility the book still has. She gives a lot of credit to Frank Baum’s wife, Maud, the daughter of Suffrage leader Matilda Joslyn Gage. Letts’ book, “Finding Dorothy,” uses solid research to imagine the story through Maud’s eyes, from the beginnings here in Central New York, where both Baums grew up, to Maud’s battle to keep Frank’s vision alive as M.G.M. made the 1939 film classic with Judy Garland.
Letts says, “If this were the modern-day, Frank could have stayed home and taken care of the kids and told them stories and played his piano and he would have been very happy. And Maud was a born businesswoman.”
She continues, “You can’t listen to the news, you can’t read the newspaper or watch TV without hearing an Oz reference, all the time. The man behind the curtain. The Yellow Brick Road. We’re not in Kansas anymore. And there’s a real reason for that.”
“Finding Dorothy” has been chosen as this year’s selection for the “Central New York Reads One Book” campaign, urging readers to read the book over the next few weeks and talk about it. That’s something that really touched the author.
“When you say that, I’m getting goosebumps,” Letts says. “To have the community that I, as an outsider, came in and described a piece of, embracing my story and saying, hey we think you did a good job, that is incredibly validating for me.”
As part of “Central New York Reads One Book,” Syracuse Stage will host Elizabeth Letts for a live Zoom conversation, next Thursday, March 4. There’s no charge to participate, and you don’t have to have read the book. But you do have to register in advance to get the Zoom link. You can do that at https://www.syracusestage.org/syracusestories.php And you can learn more about “Central New York Reads One Book” at https://www.cnyreads.org/.