May 15

There are 2 entries for this date: Seymour Hersh (Quote) L. Frank Baum

    Seymour Hersh (Quote)

    Seymour Hersh (Quote)

    “Our country has been hijacked by a bunch of religious nuts. But how easy it was. That’s a little scary.”

    — Investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize winning author Seymour Hersh (1937-), speech at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on March 1, 2004 (Wisconsin State Journal, March 2, 2004)
    © Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

    L. Frank Baum

    L. Frank Baum

    On this date in 1856, author Lyman Frank Baum was born in Chittenango, New York, into a Protestant family of European heritage. He was the seventh of nine children born to Cynthia (Stanton) and Benjamin Baum, five of whom survived to adulthood. Baum was a wealthy businessman who had made his fortune in the Pennsylvania oil fields and real estate.

    Baum grew up in the “burned-over district” of New York state amid the intellectual and spiritual movements that included chautauqua. He was sent to Peekskill Military Academy at age 12 but left after two years due to the harsh discipline that clashed with his sensitive nature. He never graduated from high school and in general disdained higher education.

    After dabbling in publishing with a small printing press his father bought him, Baum at age 20 started breeding Hamburg chickens and started a poultry trade journal. His first book was The Book of the Hamburgs: A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs (1886).

    In 1880 his father made him manager of several theaters he owned, and Baum wrote plays and started a theatrical company to perform them. He also acted in and wrote songs for some productions. In 1882 he married Cornell University student Maud Gage, daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, the women’s suffrage activist. It was a cause he enthusiastically supported.

    The Baums moved in 1888 to South Dakota, where he opened a store and edited the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer. His description of Kansas in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) was based on his experiences in drought-ridden South Dakota. The Baums, now with four sons, moved to Chicago after the Aberdeen paper failed in 1891. He worked as a reporter and then branched out into other writing.

    Baum got the name of the locale for his most famous book from a file cabinet drawer marked O-Z. A stage version ran on Broadway from 1902-11 and successfully toured the U.S. He wrote 14 novels in the Oz series, 41 other novels, 83 short stories, over 200 poems and at least 42 scripts. The 1939 adaptation of the first Oz book, starring 16-year-old Judy Garland, became a cinematic landmark.

    Two short, racist editorials he wrote just before and shortly after the 1890 massacre of Lakota Indians at Wounded Knee have marred his legacy. The first mourned the death of Sitting Bull but added, “With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them.” The second called for their extermination: “Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.”

    Baum was raised Methodist but joined the Episcopal Church in Aberdeen to participate in community theatricals. He and Maud were encouraged to become members of the Theosophical Society in 1892 by Gage. They sent their older sons to Ethical Culture Sunday school in Chicago.

    The Baums moved to Hollywood, California, in 1910 for his health and built a large home they named Ozcot. He continued to write. Suffering from protracted gall bladder problems, Baum had a stroke and died the next day, 10 days short of his 63rd birthday. (D. 1919)

    PHOTO: Baum c. 1911. 

    “With his skepticism toward God — or men posing as gods — Baum affirmed the idea of human fallibility, but also the idea of human divinity. The Wizard may be a huckster — a short bald man born in Omaha rather than an all-powerful being — but meek and mild Dorothy, also a mere mortal, has the power within herself to carry out her desires.”

    — "Frank Baum, the Man Behind the Curtain," Smithsonian Magazine (June 25, 2009)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn
    © Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

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