Baum's Bazaar

16 October 1888 - Aberdeen, Dakota Territory

Next year this will be South Dakota, but for now it is still Dakota Territory. In 1879, Aberdeen’s population was four. Now it has over 3,000. The town is at the hub of three railroads, which is what is turning Aberdeen into a boomtown. People are coming here in hopes of getting rich--or at least making a good life.

One of those dreamers is a failed actor and theatre owner, Lyman Frank Baum. At 32 and married with little mouths to feed, this is his last chance to make good. On the first of October, he opened “Baum’s Bazaar,” which features items like china, toys and linen--the fancier items the General Store doesn’t carry. Now that Aberdeen is a growing town, the inhabitants are hungry for the finer things beyond the mere necessities. There is no reason why this venture shouldn’t be a huge success.

I have come here to record Baum's Bazaar for the University of South Dakota so they can construct a virtual replica of it. This store has a historic significance, or more accurately, it's owner will.

Frank (he hates the name Lyman) is originally from Chittenango, New York, the son of oil magnate, Benjamin Baum. Unfortunately Frank has had a bad heart since childhood. Unable to play strenuous games, he read a lot. While a teenager he wrote and published a newspaper with a small press his father had bought him. Frank’s first job was as newspaper reporter for the New York World at 17. He even tried his hand at breeding fancy poultry.

Then Frank got the acting bug. His father owned a chain of theatres through New York and Pennsylvania, so he let Frank manage the one in Richburg, New York. Frank even wrote plays that did well. He began touring with his productions.

Frank fell in love and got married in 1882. His wife Maud became pregnant and no longer wanted to follow Frank around from theatre to theatre. Frank let his uncle take over the management of the theatre and settled down in Syracuse. He became head salesman in his family’s business, Baum's Ever-Ready Castorine axle grease.

Then troubles started. His Uncle Doc became quite ill. Frank’s father died. Frank’s health was bad (he had suffered a heart attack before his marriage.) The theatre burnt down taking all of the known copies of Baum’s plays. The family business suffered and had to be sold.

Several members of Maud’s family had migrated to Aberdeen in the Dakota Territory and wrote to her telling her of the great opportunities. Frank has moved his family out here and has sunk what money they have left into this store. It’s a sure bet.

I haven’t the heart to tell Frank his idea is good, but his timing bad. Wheat is the major business here, and it will suffer due to a severe drought. As much as people want what Frank is selling, no one can afford it. Baum’s Bazaar will go under in less than two years.

Frank will later try his hand at publishing a local newspaper. That will fail even faster. Moving to Chicago, he’ll try being a newspaper reporter, but that won’t pay enough to support his family. He will be forced to hit the road as a traveling salesman, but will have to quit eventually because of his health. He’ll start a trade magazine for window designers, which won’t do too badly.

Frank’s one real talent is making up stories to tell children. In Aberdeen they come to the store begging for a story, and will later stop him on his newspaper rounds. He will stop and make up one for them. He later will start writing them down and submitting them. He will collect his rejection letters in a “Book of Failures.”

Frank will eventually get a couple of books based on Mother Goose published. They will have a modest success. In 1898 he will write a book he knows will make him rich. Everyone will reject it. So he will publish it himself in 1900.

The publishers may reject The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but children won’t. It will become a runaway bestseller. Frank will spend the rest of his life writing books for children.

His health never does improve. In 1910 the family will move to a little village in California called Hollywood. They hope the sunshine will improve his health. It won’t. He will keep writing when his health leaves him bedridden.

In 1919, nine days short of his 63rd birthday, L. Frank Baum, the “Royal Historian of Oz,” will take one last trip to his beloved Emerald City. His dieing words will be "Now we can cross the Shifting Sands." (This is the name of the eastern desert that separates Oz from the rest of the world.)

Books you can download free:

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
The original edition featuring D.W. Denslow’s illustrations

Mother Goose in Prose
L. Frank Baum’s first book. These are stories based on nursery rhymes. Check out the last story “Little Bun Rabbit.” It features a farm girl named Dorothy

Also on Youtube
The Dreamer of Oz
A movie on the life of L. Frank Baum starring John Ritter - mostly true

Here is a believe or not story told by Ray Bolger, who played the Scarecrow in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. (That’s him in the lower right hand corner with Judy Garland.

At the beginning of the movie in Kansas, Dorothy runs away from home and runs into a “Professor Marvel”, a Medicine Show charlatan played by Frank Morgan (who also plays the Wizard.) The costume department just couldn’t find the right coat for the character of Professor Marvel. So they sent someone to a thrift shop to buy a bunch of old coats. Morgan picked out an old frockcoat that fit beautifully and looked perfect.

One day while filming, Morgan noticed a label inside the coat. It read “L. Frank Baum.” Surely this couldn’t be the L. Frank Baum, could it? Someone remembered that his widow, Maud Baum still lived in Hollywood. They went to her and she verified it was the coat she had donated that belonged to her late husband. So next time you watch the movie and see that coat (yes, that’s the one in the photo,) remember L. Frank Baum was there in spirit.


The Red Stag

The University of Cardiff had asked me to track down the famous 19th century Welsh poet and cultural leader, William Williams (born 6 March 1808.) He is better known by his bardic name of Y Carw Coch (The Red Stag).

Williams was suppose to be living in the area of Aberdare. Unfortunately, Williams is a man on the go. I finally tracked him down to his establishment on Harriet Street in Trecynon. He built the Stag Inn himself in 1837. The pub serves not only as a means of income, but as a meeting place for the Cymreigyddion y Carw Coch, a society he founded in 1841 that dedicates itself to promoting Welsh literature and music. The society held it’s first eisteddfod (arts festival) at the Stag Inn that same year. The tradition continues and has helped establish Aberdare as a cultural centre in Wales.

Williams is also one of the founders of the local Welsh newspaper Y Gwladgarwr (1857-83.) He is involved in local politics and can get into heated arguments on the subject, although he does not condone violent solutions. He is a leading member of his Unitarian Church who share his peaceful views. His life seems to revolve around making a better community in Aberdare. It is men like this who are turning Aberdare from a typical dirty industrial city into a pleasant community.

I let him talk about his life. He wasn’t so much bragging as trying to get others to follow his example and get involved in the cultural and political life of Aberdare.

Fortunately for the community, William Williams has another eleven years in this world. He will live to be 64. Aberdare will sorely miss him. Some of Williams articles, prose and verse, will be collected in a volume, Carw Coch, to be published in 1908.

It was a privilege to meet the fellow, even if I did have a time running him down.


Who Are the Gorsedd?

Thursday, 22 August 1861
First National Eistedfodd - Aberdare, Wales

The Celtic organization, known as the Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain, appeared in the opening as well as the closing ceremonies of the First National Eisteddfod despite misgivings of some of the organizers. The Gorsedd had been involved since the beginning of this festival of Welsh (Cymric) arts so they were allowed to participate. The Gorsedd have been praised as the saviours of Welsh culture. They have also been called a bunch of humbugs running around in silly costumes.

I could write a book (and many have) trying to explain the Gorsedd. I will try to condense it all down into a short blog. I also know I will probably get a lot of angry comments, no matter which side I take. Keep in mind this is the personal view of a confused Englishman from the twenty-seventh century and does not reflect the opinions of the University of Cambridge or the Association of Temporal Anthropologists. I accept full responsibility.

The Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain (Throne of the Bards of the Isle of Britain) was founded in 1792 by Iolo Morganwg, the bard (also known as Edward Williams, the stone mason.) Iolo was also an antiquarian who collected ancient manuscript. He had published the lost writings of the druids who had been wiped out by the Romans. Since, the druids had been adverse to recording their teachings and their lore really was lost, Iolo was forced to fabricate his own ancient manuscripts.

Iolo saving grace was he was a great poet and a patriot who wanted to revive the heritage of the Welsh, which had been chewed away by centuries of English domination. Indeed he was instrumental in the Celtic Revival of the 19th century. For that he is considered a hero. The literary forgery I shall mark down to an act of desperation rather than an outright scam.

Iolo did get one thing right. After the Romans destroyed the Druid Headquarters at Anglesey (Isle of Mona) and outlawed druidism, it was the bards who continued what traditions survived. The original Gorsedd didn’t have druids, just bards. The rank of “druid” will not be added until 1876. By then the Gorsedd will become more of a club, and people want ranks they can aspire to.

Poetry and druid mysteries may seem like the main focus of the Gorsedd, but it’s true mission is to promote Welsh nationalism, language and culture with ceremonies and festivals rather than violence. The various Eisteddfods before this one were often their projects. It is because of this aim that other Gorsedds have been formed around the world. Even the Bretons have one to promote their Celtic heritage.

So, even those Welsh that think the Gorsedd are silly have to approve of anyone holding ceremonies in Welsh and backing cultural events. The “druids” will eventually earn the admiration of the English, and count people like Winston Churchill and Elizabeth II among their members. It’s a way to show pride in their Welsh ancestors--and they get to wear those stunning costumes.

Princess Elizabeth - the future Queen Elizabeth II - being made a member of the Gorsedd of Bards in 1946.

Here are a couple of videos showing Gorsedd Ceremonies:

Welsh National Eisteddfod (1916)
Procession of the Gorsedd

Wales: The National Eisteddfod - Early 21st cetury
The Gorsedd Prayer (in Welsh, of course)