Wikipedia is a wealth of information that sets forth more fact gathering. Frank Baum began his career in Chicago, where Oz was born onto the pages of his books, in his early years there. In recognition of his time in Chicago, the city used the opportunity to revitalize the city by expanding a park, naming it after him and commissioning an artist to begin work on iconic sculptures. Many communities groups came together to provide funding for each piece. Truly a labor of love by the citizens of Chicago.
Although I’ve been to and through Chicago, I have not visited the parks.
Have any of you been here? Would love to know about the year round activities for the community. Let me know about your participation or visit to Lincoln Park’s Oz addition in Chicago.
Although the area surrounding Oz Park is considered prime real estate today, in the late 1950s it was in sub-standard condition. In the 1960s, the Lincoln Park Conservation Association approached the City of Chicago in efforts to improve the community, and the neighborhood was soon designated as the Lincoln Park Urban Renewal Area. The urban renewal plan identified a 13 acre-site for a new park, and in 1974, the Chicago Park District acquired the land. In 1976, the park was officially named Oz Park in honor of Lyman Frank Baum (1856-1919), the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Baum settled in Chicago in 1891 several miles west of what is now the park. Having begun writing children’s books at age 41, Baum wrote more than 60 books, including 14 Oz books, by the end of his life. In 1939, the production of an MGM movie, The Wizard of Oz, immortalized Baum’s classic work of fiction. In the early 1990s, the Oz Park Advisory Council and the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce commissioned artist John Kearney to create a Tin Man sculpture, installed in October 1995, the Cowardly Lion, installed in May 2001 and the7 ft./800 lb. cast bronze Scarecrow, installed June 2005. In Spring 2007 Dorothy & Toto joined their friends in the park. Other elements which celebrate Oz Park’s theme, include the “Emerald Garden” and “Dorothy’s Playlot.” The playlot not only relates to the park’s name, but also to that of its donor, Dorothy Melamerson, a retired local school teacher whose savings have paid for a number of park improvements in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. The Oz Park Advisory Council raised more than $250,000 to support enhancements to Oz Park.
Sculptures in the park
Shortly after the park had been built and named, the artist John Kearney was approached by an elderly woman who wanted him to create sculptures of the main characters from The Wizard of Oz to decorate the park. She died, however, before the park approved the project four years later. Approximately 30 years later the documents regarding the initial plans were found, and in the early 1990s Kearney was commissioned by the Oz Park Advisory council to create the first of the four statues. He later went on to create a total of four: The Tin Man, The Cowardly Lion, The Scarecrow, and Dorothy & Toto.
Installed in October 1995 the Tin Man sculpture stands at the northeast corner of the park near the intersection of Lincoln, Webster, and Larrabee. It is made from old automobile parts, which is Kearney’s signature medium. The plaque below the statue reads “The Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum welcomes you to Oz Park. A heartfelt salute to the community from the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce, October 1995.”
In June 2001 The Cowardly Lion statue was added to Oz Park. It stands in the southeast corner of the park near the intersection of Larrabee and Dickens. Unlike the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion was created out of bronze, which was poured into wax casts to create the forms of the statue. The plaque below the statue reads “The Cowardly Lion became a citizen of Oz Park in June 2001. Commissioned by the Oz Park Advisory Council, created by Sculptor John Kearney, and made possible by three very generous donors: Wonderful Wizards, Good Witch Glindas, Emerald City Citizens.” The names of the donors are written below each of the donor categories.
The statue of the Scarecrow joined its companions in the park in June 2005. The statue stands closely behind the statue of the Tin Man in Emerald City Gardens. It was made in the same way as the statue of the Cowardly Lion out of bronze. The plaque below the statue is almost identical to that of the Cowardly Lion[ and reads “The Scarecrow became a citizen of Oz Park in June 2005. Commissioned by the Oz Park Advisory Council, created by Sculptor John Kearney, and made possible by three very generous donors: Wonderful Wizards, Good Witch Glindas, Emerald City Citizens.” The names of the donors are written below each of the donor categories.
Dorothy and Toto
Statue of Dorothy and Toto in Oz Park
The statue stands on the west side of the park near “Dorothy’s Playlot”. It too is made in bronze using the same process as was used to create the statues of the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow. The plaque below the statue reads “Dorothy & Toto became citizens of Oz Park in May 2007. Commissioned by the Oz Park Advisory Council, created by Sculptor John Kearney, and made possible by three very generous donors: Wonderful Wizards, Good Witch Glindas, Emerald City Citizens.” The names of the donors are written below each of the donor categories.
A link is included below and a recent photo for the sweet tribute to the Toto model of the final park sculpture ten years ago.
LINCOLN PARK — There were flowers in the snow beneath the statue of “Wizard of Oz” characters Dorothy Gale and her little dog Toto, too, in Oz Park this week, in memory of the dog who modeled for sculptor John Kearney.
The 13.32-acre (53,900 m2) park has one walking/biking trail, which is 0.61 miles (980 m) long. To go along with the Wizard of Oz theme, the park’s garden is named “The Emerald Garden”, and the playground is called “Dorothy’s Playlot.” The Emerald Garden (located at the corner of Webster and Larrabee) features flowers through which guests may walk. The Gardens are maintained by the Oz Park Advisory Council, which is a local group of volunteers. Dorothy’s Playlot has swings and other climbing equipment on which children can play. While Dorothy is the main character of The Wizard of Oz, the playground is also named after Dorothy Melamerson, a retired Chicago gym teacher. Melamerson, interested in children’s physical well-being, donated enough money in 1994 to create an athletic field with basketball courts, an asphalt volleyball court and tennis courts. In 1996 and 1997, $600,000 of the $900,000 that Melamerson left for park upgrades and to begin youth sports programs went to renovating the Oz Park athletic field. In her honor, the field was named Melamerson Athletic Field. State Representative John Fritchey and Alderman Vi Daley gave the Oz Park Advisory Council funding for improvements to Dorothy’s Playlot in 2006. In 2007, Dorothy’s Playlot was covered with a rubberized material, and several pieces of play equipment were replaced.
Events and programs
Oz Park has been the setting for many public events in the past. Some notable events include:
- Movies in the Park – Oz Park is one of many Chicago parks that shows free outdoor movies periodically on summer nights.
- Pumpkin Patch – A family-friendly annual event. Kids choose and decorate pumpkins. Last year it was held on 10/11/2008.
- Art Therapy Connection’s Chalk Festival – Children, adults, youth groups, student artists and professional artists create art using chalk.
- The Chicago Park District also hosts many programs for children at Oz Park including day camps, golf, “Kicker’s Clinic”, and t-ball.