The Wizard of Oz – in Minnesota

We’re driving across the northeastern corner of Minnesota, miles and miles of rural landscape checker-boarded by thick forests and placid lakes, and suddenly somewhere between Wawina and Warba on Route 2 we see a billboard promoting … Judy Garland?

Something about a museum in Grand Rapids … her birthplace … photos and artifacts…. (I’ve always thought my mother, in photos of her youth, resembled Judy Garland….)

Who knew there was such a thing out here in the middle of nowhere.

Let’s stop!

It’s a fabulous facility. For a small admission fee, you can tour the museum and walk through the lovely 1920s two-story white-frame house where Judy was born. The expansive children’s play center – complete with toys, mats, hideaways and playhouses – is every kid’s dream come true.

The museum features exhibit after exhibit of Judy Garland paraphernalia – original playbills, photographs, notes, contracts, handwritten musical scores, dancing shoes, childhood pictures, jewelry she wore, the makeup box she used, perfume she gave as as gift, dolls, gowns, posters, Judy’s signature microphone, Dorothy’s original blue-and-white dress, video documentaries about the making of the Wizard of Oz and the history of the film industry … and much, much more.

I loved the story at the entrance of how Judy got her stage name.

And the story about how she got her MGM audition.

Here are her dancing shoes before “Frances” became “Judy.”

I’d forgotten that she was a member of the original Rat Pack. Or that she had such a close friendship with Fred Astaire. Look what he said about her!

This picture with him is priceless.

So is this one of the two of them in Irving Berlin’s Easter Parade.

Judy Garland was born just five years before my mother – and became an American singer, actress, television host, dancer and vaudevillian with a career that spanned 45 of her 47 years. She was internationally recognized for both musical and dramatic roles.

Also a recording artist and concert performer, she won a juvenile Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a special Tony Award. She was the first woman to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for her live recording “Judy at Carnegie Hall” in 1961.

She was a wife and a mother of three.

Like too many who scale the heights from obscurity to international acclaim at a young age, Judy Garland struggled for years with substance abuse issues. She died of a drug overdose, rife with debt, having been swindled by money managers and tax advisers. (Her eldest daughter, Liza Minnelli, spent her early professional years working to pay off her mother’s debts.)

It’s hard sometimes to reconcile the facts of her life with the glamorous image of her life.

Here’s a shot of my mom at about age 20.

Of course, the artifacts from the Wizard of Oz take up a good portion of the museum, including this carriage, which was originally made for President Lincoln and – amazingly – wound up being pulled for Dorothy by “the Horse of a Different Color.”

Here’s the story behind the carriage.

Dorothy’s original blue-and-white dress is on display behind glass, as are these Dorothy dolls from the 1940s and 50s.

And no Wizard of Oz display would be complete without the Wicked Witch of the West.

My personal fave (as a former quilter) was this quilt with each square featuring another scene from the movie I – and most Americans – have probably seen a dozen times.

The story of her early years is fascinating. In this 1932 photo, Frances Gumm is in the second row, third from the right.

Here’s a little history about the deep entertainment roots of her family.

She often performed with her two older sisters.

We walked next door to tour the house.

Here’s a little history about it.

No surprise to find a piano in the living room of this musical family’s home.

I actually remember sewing as a kid on my mom’s Singer sewing machine not unlike this one.

Here’s a slice of Judy Garland that is sometimes overlooked.

What a great interlude in the middle of a long driving day across the North Star State.

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