Wizard of Oz in Wichita
You’re probably familiar with the "Wizard of Oz". If you’re a Kansan, you’re probably even more familiar with Kansas-related jokes about the film (based on the novel by L. Frank Baum). "Wizard of Oz", (1939), is known as the “Kansas” movie, as that’s where it takes place. Although Kansas and its cities are mentioned in numerous other films, this is the one that comes to mind when people think of Kansas. Maybe it’s because it’s among the oldest films that reference the Sunflower State, maybe it’s because the small-town farm-feel of the Kansas in the film gave way to stereotypes of our state, or maybe it simply because of the memorable line, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”
No matter what the reason, this film will always be linked to Kansas, and Kansas to it. Cities across the state have embraced the film’s Kansas ties, with Dorothy’s House and the Land of Oz, (Liberal) and the Oz Museum (Wamego). Wichita even has a few connections to the movie of its own. Check them out below!
Botanica's Clever Reference to Oz
At Wichita’s Botanica gardens, many guests have put together a slight and clever nod to MGM’s 1939 classic. As you enter the Downing Children’s garden, two small paths run alongside the main walkway. Paved in yellow, the paths each run under child-sized arches of multiple colors, mimicking a yellow brick road that leads somewhere under the rainbow. Pretty neat, huh?
Botanica features 26 themed display gardens to enjoy, including a children's garden, butterfly garden, sensory garden, woodland bird garden and more. Filled with 4000 species of plants both native and new to the region, there's plenty to see when you visit! More than 30 sculptures and multiple fountains add to the Botanica experience to create a visually stunning atmosphere.
O.J. Watson Park's Yellow Brick
Another yellow brick road awaits you at OJ Watson Park. Hand paved in actual yellow bricks, this is the real deal. The road, approximately 1/8 mile in length, forms a loop in the park, offering scenic views of mature trees, beautiful lakes and more. The Watson Park train also runs alongside portions of the yellow Brick Road, offering park visitors an opportunity to see the iconic road without walking all the way around it.
"It took four to five weeks to build the road. We did this with two maintenance crews supervised by Tom Crain and the construction crew supervised by Brett Russell along with my staff, so a total of 16 people or so. All bricks had to be cleaned and then hand laid on a bed of sand to level it out," said Dan Woydziak, who served as an assistant manager and a manager at the park from 1975 to 2005.
The yellow brick road remains in the park today, and it's just one of the park's many unique features. Watson Park is also home to a miniature golf course, a stable with pony rides and a large lake perfect for paddle-boating. Learn more here!
Watson Park's Former Statues
Watson Park was once also home to life-sized wooden sculptures of the characters from the Wizard of Oz. Located in the park in the 1990s, the sculptures were a staple in the park for many years, offering a great photo opportunity for visitors.
Carved by artist Gino Salerno, who had several wooden works of art on display around town, the sculptures were absolutely beautiful! It took Salerno nearly a year to complete the sculptures, but it was well worth the wait. According to Woydziak, the yellow brick road then featured sculptures of Dorothy and Toto, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Glenda the Good Witch, The Wicked Witch of the West, the Wizard, six or seven munchkins and the tornado.
For a few years, the park hosted a "Come Walk With Dorothy" event that took place during Wichita's Riverfest. During the event, costumed characters from the movie were at the park to interact with guests!
Since removed from the park due to vandalism and natural wear-and-tear, the characters were a park staple for many years.
Central and Zoo Blvd.
if you've been through this intersection, you've likely noticed a swirling brick path that circles to a halt in its center, from which a pole topped by a sculpture protrudes.
We aren't totally certain of the origin of this sculpture, who did it, or what it signifies, as there is no plaque or dedication at the site. We do know one thing, however, and that's that the unusually severe curvature of the path reminds of the yellow brick road, as this is how it is depicted in the film! What do you think?
Local Land of Oz Events
Land of Oz Invitational
Oz themed events are no stranger to Wichita, either. ICT hosts a few annual events in honor of Dorothy and her friends, including the Land of Oz Invitational meet, an annual Wichita Gymnastics club event. The event celebrates its 17th year in 2017 and will take place at Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center from Feb. 17-19. Check it out here.
Oz'some Family Bike Fest
Watson Park has also held an "Oz'some Family Bike Fest" in 2013. The family-friendly event that highlighted 1, 2, 5, and 25 mile rides through the park and along the river path. In addition to the rides themselves, the event also offered bike safety education, bike polo, geocaching, a bicycle parade and more.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road Mindstorm
Wichita State University's College of engineering hosts the annual Shocker Mindstorms event, designed to encourage students, from kindergarten to adult, to experience STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Each year the event offers a different theme. In 2012, the event was titled Follow The Yellow Brick Road. The theme of this year's Mindstorms event has yet to be announced. Learn more here.
In addition, the local community has further embraced its ties to the film through several Oz-themed organizations.
OZ Bicycle Club
Wichita's OZ Bicycle Club is one of the largest and oldest cycling clubs in the Midwest. The full-service club, offers regular rides and events, with the biggest being the Wicked Wind 100, on the weekend after Mother’s Day every year. OZ bicycle Club also holds monthly meetings are held year-round. Learn more.
Wichita Children's home O.Z. Program
The Wichita Children’s Home's newest program, O.Z. (Opportunity Zone), serves as an extension of the SOS program which provides homeless, runaway or at-risk youth with a place where they are able to establish positive relationships with adults, get connected with resources and ultimately achieve stability in their lives. More information on the program is available here.
Kansas Boys and Girls Club Oz Elite Basketball
The Kansas Boys and Girls Club offers Oz Elite Basketball, a Non-profit, charitable, elite basketball organization providing Wichita and other areas in the state of Kansas with a competitive youth basketball organization. the Oz Elite Basketball program challenges the abilities of players. Oz teams compete against some of the best competition in the country. Further details are available here.