SMALL TOWNS: Wausaukee’s magical Land of Oz Museum
WAUSAUKEE, Wis. (WBAY) - It’s one of the most extensive collections of “Wizard of Oz” memorabilia in the country. And it all started 33 years ago, thanks to a simple gift. This week in Small Towns, we take the yellow brick road north to Wausaukee to visit a one-of-a-kind museum.
“This is my toy room. I love this room,” says Garry Parrett, walking through his Land of Oz Museum.
To simply say Garry loves “The Wizard of Oz” would be a severe injustice.
Like it did for many of us, the movie captivated Garry as a child.
“I remember watching the movie as a kid from the 50′s and 60′s, black and white television. I always remember it, ‘There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home,’ and I still say that phrase quite often,” says Garry.
In 1989, the year “The Wizard of Oz” celebrated its 50th anniversary, Garry’s late wife, Barb, surprised him with a collector’s plate.
That gift ignited an unexpected but passionate hobby.
“Her favorite phrase is, ‘He went to the Land of Oz and he never came back,’ and that’s probably true,” says Garry with a smile.
Garry was now on the hunt for anything Oz -- in antique stores, on eBay and at Wizard of Oz festivals around the country where he’s met 27 of the film’s Munchkins over the years.
“One came to my house in ‘92 and ‘93 -- Meinhardt Raabe, the coroner in the movie -- went to my basement. He said if you ever have a museum he would gladly come here and sign autographs. Well, I didn’t have a museum at that time, and he passed away at age 93, and any time the characters, the main characters, the actors and actresses died it was like someone of my family dying,” says Garry.
For 20 years, Garry’s collection kept growing by the month and filling up his basement, until 2009 when he purchased the former American Legion building just down the road.
“I remember coming in here, but I thought it was too small. Guess what, it is,” says Garry, breaking out into laughter.
More than 20,000 pieces of memorabilia now reside in Garry’s Land of Oz Museum.
There’s truly anything you can imagine.
“We have underwear here, socks here, pajama bottoms, a shower curtain,” explains Garry.
The museum contains nine main rooms, each with a distinct theme.
“Christmas room back there, Halloween room, partyware room, kitchen, toy room, hallway odds and ends I call it. When you walk down to the basement, there’s a landing between the two and that is my plush and character room, posters, and then downstairs is the other movies of Wizard of Oz. There’s a bedroom downstairs, library downstairs, classroom downstairs, garden center downstairs, a girl’s cosmetic center, a tin area, a garden, ‘Wicked,’ obviously, too. I’ve got it memorized,” says Garry, pointing around the museum.
Now in his 14th season, Garry has welcomed more than 5,000 visitors, free of charge and by appointment only, to his Land of Oz.
“I want Wausaukee to be known, and I’m having a lot of people from Chicago, Milwaukee, I think 23 states so far out of 50 here represented, and foreign countries, I got three so far,” says Garry with pride.
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“It’s priceless really when you look around. I don’t know how you put a value on what he has here,” Wausaukee resident Lei Lund remarks.
So impressed by Garry’s museum, Lund offered to sew three Munchkin costumes for his display.
“Having met Garry, he is so passionate about his Oz stuff, it’s just hard not to get enthusiastic yourself. Your jaw just drops. I didn’t realize there was so much Wizard of Oz stuff out there, and I think Garry has all of it,” says Lund.
Well, maybe not everything.
This 70-year-old retired teacher is still searching.
“If it’s in my budget and if it works with a theme, I want it,” says Garry.
Oh, and about that budget over the last 33 years?
“You don’t want to know,” says Garry with a sheepish grin, “but between us, it’s $1,000 a month is my budget.”
As Garry sees it, though, it’s been worth every penny.
“This is my pride and joy, so come see it, please,” says Garry.
Garry’s Land of Oz Museum, at 319 1st St., will be open to visitors through the end of September, at which time Garry can then intensify his never-ending search for more Wizard of Oz treasures.
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