Frankie Baum lived here for only five years. The home he was born in no longer exists. Neither does the barrel factory his father owned. He probably never returned even for a visit. It's not mentioned in any of his major writings.
Yet, to whatever extent most people today know about Chittenango they know it's where L. Frank Baum was born. The Oz festival held there each June is the town's biggest annual event.
That event, of course, celebrates not Baum, but his most famous book, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." Actually, it far more celebrates not the 1900 novel but the 1939 movie based on it.
Looking for Baum in today's Chittenango does, however, offer a pleasant day's excursion.
The first major biography written about Baum, published in 1961, "To Please a Child, by Baum's son Frank Joslyn Baum and Russell P. MacFall, devotes less than two pages to Chittenango, describing the subject's life there as "happy" but providing no details. In "L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz" (2002) by Katharine M. Rogers, the family has moved out of Chittenango by Page Two.
But a third biography, "The Real Wizard of Oz" (2009), by Rebecca Loncraine, devotes two dozen pages to the town. The reader learns that Lyman Frank Baum (he hated his first name and as a child was always called Frankie) was born in 1856 in a frame house a quarter of a mile south of downtown on the road that leads to today's Chittenango Falls State Park.
Baum was the seventh of nine children, but he did not grow up in a family that large. Four of his siblings died by age 4.
In 1859, Baum's father went to Titusville, Pa., where oil had just been discovered, and he made a small fortune there in two years. He made enough to move his family to a much larger home in Syracuse. (Syracuse is sometimes called the Emerald City, but that's also true of Seattle, Wichita, Kan., Sydney, Australia, and several other cities).
Loncraine notes that Baum's parents read the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales to young Frankie, that the area was the center of a great deal of religious and spiritualist activity, and that Baum's father was heavily in debt prior to his success in Pennsylvania.
All of these Chittenango-related factors, Loncraine believes, helped shape Baum's writings, which are of course fairy-talelike with religious and spiritual elements. And some critics (not all of them) see economic messages in the 14 Oz novels (and 41 other ones) Baum wrote as an adult. For example, the yellow brick road is sometimes interpreted as a belief that the United States should follow a gold standard.
The yellow brick road in today's Chittenango doesn't have a notable economic message, other than, perhaps, it leads the visitor to the two dozen or so businesses in downtown. It's not a road at all, it's a sidewalk, and it's not brick, it's concrete stamped to look like brick.
But it is, indeed, yellow. And it's on both sides of the village's main road, Genesee Street.
The primary focus of things Baum in today's Chittenango can be found in the Sullivan Free Library on the southern edge of downtown.
Outside the library there's a sign saying Baum was born in the town. Inside there are full-size cardboard versions of Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, and other Oz characters. There is a collection of several dozen plates, each with a different Oz picture.
The library also has a collection of dozens of cookie jars, some of them Oz-related, others shaped like animals or little houses or bunches of other things.
Several doors north from the library, you'll find the Delphia restaurant, which used to be the Delphia movie theater. Inside there are dozens of movie posters and photos of movie stars. Several, not most, are Oz-connected, including posters from the 1939 movie (but not from the two silent-era films and the cartoon based on the novel).
Walk north 20 or 30 steps and you'll come to the Lamb's Ear gift shop, where, among other things, you can purchase a door mat that says "There's no place like home" and that has a picture of ruby red slippers (in the novel they're silver shoes, but, as mentioned, it's the movie that's celebrated here).
Which is pretty much typical of Baum's role today in his hometown.
But things start happening in early June, when the town holds its big Oz-Stravaganza. This year it will be held the weekend of June 3-5 and includes a Miss Oz-Stravaganza Pageant, a Munchkin Mile Fun Run (for kids no older than 12), a golf tournament, a coloring contest and an Oz costume contest.
One of the annual highlights is the return of several actors who played Munchkins in the 1939 movie. You can even have a spaghetti dinner with the Munchkins ($4 for kids; $7 for adults).
Five authors of Oz-related books will be present -- Dennis Anfuso, Paul Miles Schneider, James C. Wallace II, Ron Baxley Jr. and Gwendolyn Tennille Adams).
For a complete listing of events, go to www.oz-stravaganza.com.
>Other than Oz
Not everything worth seeing is along the yellow sidewalk. You can drive a couple of miles north of downtown to visit the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum, where, well over a century ago, Erie Canal boats were built. Dry dock bays where much of the work was done remain.
And six miles south along Falls Boulevard (Route 13) you can see Chittenango Falls State Park, featuring a 167-foot-high waterfall. If you stand at just the right angle on a sunny day, you'll almost always see a rainbow.
Somewhere north of that rainbow, back in front of the library, the sign that says L. Frank Baum was born in the town and lived there for five years, also says there's an Oz Museum in town. But there isn't. Just the annual festival.
It's a nice little town, but this isn't Frankie Baum's Chittenango anymore.
If you go:
Take the Thruway to Exit 34A. Go south on Route I-481 for about five minutes. Switch to Route 5 east and follow the signs to Chittenango.
There is plenty of free parking and there are a half-dozen restaurants to choose from downtown.