erik lundegaard

Whose Emerald City is it Anyway?

Here's my odd coincidence of the week.

Two books I'm reading get into (just as asides, really) what inspired L. Frank Baum to create the Emerald City in his “Wizard of Oz” series at the end of the 19th century.

First, from “Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History,” by Kurt Andersen:

L. Frank Baum was living [in Chicago] at the same time [as architect Frank Lloyd Wright] when he wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the world's fair's White City clearly inspired his Emerald City.

Yes, that's the White City of Erik Larson's “The Devil in the White City.” Andersen's book is about how American fantasy has seeped into and upended (and fucked up) much of our American reality throughout much of our history—but particularly since the 1960s. It's totally in my wheelhouse. 

Then yesterday, feeling the need for a little baseball during lunchtime reading, I began Rich Cohen's memoir/history, “The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse.” Early on, amid discussions of how their team nickname went from the presitigious “White Stockings” to the deragatory/Irish “Spuds” to the close-enough/headline-friendly “Cubs,” Cohen writes this about their home ballpark in the days before Wrigley Field:

For two generations, Chicago baseball meant the West Side Grounds. It's where thousands of fans learned that it's thrilling to win but clarifying to lose. It's where Ring Lardner became a sports reporter. It's where Albert Spalding tolled a gong when he wanted his manager to change pitchers. It might even have been a model for the most fantastic landscape of all, Emerald City, capital of Oz. In the late 1800s, L. Frank Baum, author of the Oz novels, was living in Humboldt Park, a few blocks from the West Side Grounds. He could see the pennants above the rooftops, hear the cheers when something went right. Now and then, he bought a ticket. The trip from dreary Polk Street through the tunnel into the great green light-filled bowl, where men in uniforms chased each other around the bases trying to get home, is the trip from Kansas to Oz told another way.

Of course, Cohen qualifies his statment (“might have”), Andersen doesn't (“clearly”), and Wikipedia backs up Andersen, where West Side Park isn't even mentioned as a possible inspiration for Oz. But I like Cohen's spin. Hope that's not too much fantasyland.

West Side Park, Chicago, 1906 World Series

West Side Park during the 1906 World Series. Green glasses sold separately.

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Posted at 07:57 AM on Tue. Oct 24, 2017 in category Books  

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