History & Celebrations Today – May 15

Celebrations Today – May 15

Holidays and observances

Celebrations Today – USA: May 15

National Chocolate Chip Day
National Nylon Stocking Day
Peace Officers Memorial Day
International Conscientious Objectors Day
International Day of Families
International MPS Awareness Day
National Safety Dose Day
National Tuberous Sclerosis Day
National Nylon Stockings Day
National Peace Officers Memorial Day
National Relive Your Past By Listening to the First Music You Ever Bought No Matter What It Was No Excuses Day
National Straw Hat Day

Today in US History: May 15

L. Frank Baum

“Come along, Toto,” she said.
“We will go to the Emerald City and ask the Great Oz how to get back to Kansas again.”L. Frank Baum,
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,
Chapter 3,
Rare Book & Special Collections edition.

Lyman Frank Baum
L. Frank Baum, Three-Quarter-Length Portrait (detail), copyright 1908.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Lyman Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was born on May 15, 1856, in Chittenango, New York. The son of a successful entrepreneur, Baum embarked on many careers before beginning to write for children. In his youth, he ran a small printing press to produce a monthly magazine for family and friends. As an adult, his creative work as an actor, playwright, and journalist was interspersed with commercial pursuits including poultry farming, store keeping, and window dressing.

Baum’s career as a children’s author began with the 1897 publication of Mother Goose in Prose. The book sold well, and Baum followed it in 1899 with the poetry collection Father Goose: His Book. Although Father Goose was the children’s bestseller of the year, it was soon overshadowed by The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). The demand for additional stories about Dorothy and her friends was so great that Baum wrote thirteen more Oz books. Other fictional works created for boys and girls were published by Baum under the pen names “Floyd Akers” and “Edith Van Dyne.” After Baum’s death in 1919, a new generation of authors continued the Oz series as well as several of Baum’s other story lines.

Oz As Allegory

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,
Chicago and New York: G. M. Hill, 1900.
American Treasures of the Library of Congress

Is the Wonderful Wizard of Oz a political allegory of the turbulent 1890s? In a 1964 American Quarterly article, Henry M. Littlefield suggested this wonderful American fairy tale spoke to the political and economic climate that produced the Populist movement. “Wizard of Oz: Parable On Populism” noted Baum’s years as a journalist in drought ravaged rural South Dakota, and his residence in Chicago during the Democratic convention that nominated William Jennings Bryan for the presidency in 1896. According to Littlefield, signs of Baum’s time are obvious throughout the first Oz book. For example, Dorothy hails from the Populist hotbed of Kansas, and she travels a yellow brick road symbolic of the gold standard. Yet, it is her silver slippers—representing the free coinage of silver championed by the People’s Party—that ultimately save her. Political commentary serves the story, Littlefield maintains, but fortunately, Baum never allows it to overwhelm the fantasy.

The Wizard of Oz debuted on stage long before the famous 1939 MGM film. On June 16, 1902, The Wizard of Oz opened at the Grand Opera House in Chicago. Produced by Fred Hamlin, written by Baum, with music by Paul Tietjens, the play was a hit. After its January 1903 Broadway premiere, the production tallied over 290 performances. It was the longest running show of the decade. The musical focused on the Tin Woodsman and Scarecrow, rather than Dorothy, advancing the careers of David Montgomery and Fred Stone—the vaudeville team tapped for the roles. Throughout the 1910s, traveling road companies brought the The Wizard of Oz to cities and towns across the country. In fact, the play was so successful and so well known that subsequent editions of the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz were retitled The Wizard of Oz to reflect the popularity of the stage production.

The Scarecrow and Company
The Scarecrow and Company,
Fred R. Hamlin’s Musical Extravaganza
The Wizard of Oz, 1903.
The Wizard of Oz: An American
Fairy Tale

The Tin Man
The Tin Man,
Fred R. Hamlin’s Musical Extravaganza
The Wizard of Oz, 1903.
The Wizard of Oz: An American Fairy Tale

Attempts to capture The Wizard of Oz on film date to 1910, when the Selig Polyscope Company created four one-reel silent movies based on the Wizard and other Oz books. In 1914, L. Frank Baum founded his own Hollywood film company. Its five silent features and several shorts based on Baum’s stories were not successful — Baum sold the studio to Universal in 1915. In 1925, yet another silent film version also disappointed at the box office.

The 1939 MGM production starring Judy Garland as Dorothy was an immediate success. With its brilliant use of Technicolor, talented cast, and respectful editing of Baum’s story, The Wizard of Oz quickly became a classic. Shown again and again on television, the film has been seen by millions of viewers and in 2006 was heralded by the American Film Institute as the third favorite Greatest Movie Musical of all time.

Learn more about the Yellow Brick Road on a trip down American Memory lane:

Ruby Slippers
Ruby Slippers
Original costume from The Wizard of Oz, 1939.
Silk, leather, sequins, and rhinestones.
Courtesy of Philip Samuels, St. Louis, Missouri.
The Wizard of Oz: An American Fairy Tale
Baum’s Dorothy wore silver slippers (see above). Because silver contrasted poorly with the yellow brick road, Judy Garland sported ruby slippers.

Wizard of Oz Monopoly® Game
Wizard of Oz Monopoly® Game, Hasbro, 1999.
Courtesy of Warner Brothers.
The Wizard of Oz: An American Fairy Tale
The first Oz novelties — brass jewel boxes with tiny Cowardly Lions mounted on the lids — were presented to ladies in the audience of the 100th performance of The Wizard of Oz musical. The 1939 movie version has inspired thousands of such products.

Wild West

view looking out to San Francisco harbor
[View of San Francisco Harbor].
[1850 or 1851].
America’s First Look into the Camera

On May 15, 1856, residents of San Francisco organized a Committee of Vigilance to combat crime in their rapidly growing town. Like other gold rush boomtowns, San Francisco’s population explosion raised crime levels and left residents feeling insecure. Although the Committee of Vigilance turned alleged criminals over to law enforcement officials, it is known to have taken matters into its own hands more than once.

Led by Republican businessmen, the eight-thousand-member committee attempted to clean up politics as well as the streets. Perhaps coincidentally, targets of these rehabilitation efforts tended to be Democrats.

Edward McGowan, a former Pennsylvania legislator and police superintendent whose political dealings earned him the nickname “the ballot box stuffer,” was among the Democratic politicians run out of town by the second committee. He told his side of the story in Narrative of Edward McGowan. The account includes a description of his getaway:

edward mcgowan
Forward to the Reprint Edition,
Narrative of Edward McGowan…, 1857.
California As I Saw It: First Person Narratives, 1849-1900

My arrangements to leave were all made, and I lay down on the bed, awaiting the arrival of my friends. Presently they came, four in number. I immediately put on a covered California hat, and accompanied them into the street, and high time it was that I did so. The bloodhounds had struck the scent, and were on my track. As I afterward learned, fifteen minutes after I left, the neighborhood was surrounded, and some ten or fifteen braves entered and searched the premises. They were armed with sabers and pistols, and ransacked every hole, nook, and corner, making a terrible to-do and clatter among pots, pans, and kettles, but the bird had flown.Narrative of Edward McGowan, Part 1, 25, 26.
California As I Saw It: First Person Narratives, 1849-1900

Although popular among residents, the Committee of 1856 disbanded after a few months. Hardly unique, the San Francisco Vigilance Committee is just one example of efforts to tame the Wild West.

Today in History – May 15-External Links

Today’s Weather in History
Today in Earthquake History
This Day in Naval History
Today’s Document from the National Archives
Today’s Events, Births & Deaths –Wikipedia
Today in History by AP
On this Day -1950 to 2005 – Today’s Story–BBC
On This Day: The New York Times
This Day in History –History.com
Today in Canadian History – Canada Channel
History of Britain that took place On This Day
Russia in History –Russiapedia