Edna Baum, in blue, with her granddaughters, daughter Florence in green, and son Stanton in suit and tie in the yard of Baum’s house at 1105 N. College Ave., Claremont, in 1965. (Photo courtesy Peter Hanff)
As I explored recently, the house at 1105 N. College Ave. in Claremont never belonged to L. Frank Baum, creator of “The Wizard of Oz,” despite rumors to the contrary. His son Robert did live there from the 1940s until his death in 1958, and Robert’s widow Edna remained there until her own death in 1968.
I’d heard an Oz fan gathering took place there in the 1960s. Claremont reader David Sawhill, going above and beyond, contacted the Winkie Convention, as it’s known, for details. Those were forthcoming from Peter Hanff, who provided photos of the 1965 convention and commentary.
“The memory and pictures bring a little bit more life to the Wizard of Oz connection,” Sawhill said. Agreed.
Below is the bulk of what Hanff sent over.
“The first Winkie Convention was held at my parents’ house in the San Fernando Valley in 1964, and Edna Baum attended. She was so taken with the event that she offered to host the 1965 meeting.
“I was a frequent visitor at Edna’s house (my regular guest room was the bedroom on the southeast corner upstairs) after 1965. When she died in 1968 I was working at the Library of Congress. Sadly, I only saw her a time or two after I moved to Washington, D.C. in 1967.
“The theme of the 1965 convention, at Edna’s request, was Baum’s first major best-seller, ‘Father Goose: His Book.’ With the success of that book, Baum bought a summer house at Macatawa Park (Holland, Michigan). Edna’s family from Joliet, Illinois, also had a summer house in Macatawa Park, and the Duckers (Edna’s family) and the Baums became good friends. The Duckers owned a department store in Joliet.
“Edna eventually married L. Frank Baum’s second son, Robert Stanton Baum, in 1914. They became orange ranchers in Claremont until 1945, when they retired, and bought the house at 1105 N. College Avenue.
“L. Frank Baum died in 1919, but his widow, Maud Gage Baum, lived at their family home, ‘Ozcot,’ in Hollywood until her death in 1953. Although Baum himself died before 1105 N. College Avenue was built, I’m reasonably confident that ‘Mother Baum,’ as Edna called Maud Gage Baum, visited the Claremont house a number of times.
“The guest of honor at the 1965 Claremont convention was Matilda Jewell Gage, of Aberdeen, South Dakota. She was L. Frank Baum’s niece (namesake of Maud Gage Baum’s mother, Matilda Joslyn Gage). Matilda graduated from Northwestern University and had a career as a banker in Aberdeen. She read a paper at the 1965 convention on L. Frank Baum’s days in Dakota Territory (the Baums arrived in Aberdeen before the State of South Dakota was admitted to the Union).
“I have a number of professional colleagues at the Claremont Colleges and we talk about 1105 N. College Avenue when we get together. A favorite feature of Edna’s house when I stayed there regularly was the antique Otis hydraulic elevator. It wasn’t much used in Edna’s later years, so she would ask me to run it up and down between the first and second floors a few times to get it moving again.
“It fascinated me because it was completely operated by water pressure. It took several minutes for it to pump up to the second floor (one pulled down on a cable to cause the water to begin lifting the cab; then one pulled the cable up to let the water flush out to the fish pond on the south side of the house; I suspect there was a roof-level reservoir to support the elevator, but the old works were very stiff from years of inactivity — hence Edna’s request that I run it up and down a few times; once it got going it moved pretty quickly between floors).”
From what I was told at the open house, the elevator has fallen into disrepair and hasn’t been used since Edna Baum lived there.
The Winkie Convention began in 1964, co-founded by Hanff, Warren Hollister and a San Bernardino resident, Judy Pike. Why Winkie? In the Oz books, Winkie Country was the land ruled over by the Wicked Witch of the West. West Coast fans call the shindig in their territory the Winkie Convention.
Below: Paul and Karen Hanff, unidentified and Charlie Hollister by Oz cutouts in the front yard of 1105 N. College Ave. (Photo courtesy Peter Hanff)