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'People like to say that Hotel del Coronado was the inspiration for the Emerald City, but [L. Frank Baum] wrote the first Oz book before he ever stayed there," says Ellen Jarosz, special collections librarian for San Diego State University. "It's possible he'd seen photographs of the hotel, but unlikely." The library is currently hosting two related exhibitions. The first, on display through February 12, 2007, features items from the library's permanent collection, donated by the hotel in the 1970s. "There is some material in that collection that is about Baum," says Jaroz. "His signature is in the guest book, and there are pictures of him reading to children at the Del."

The second exhibit, "The Writer's Muse: L. Frank Baum and the Hotel del Coronado," features items donated by Baum's great-granddaughter and is on display until February 28.

The famed children's book author was born 150 years ago this year, on May 15, 1856. He published his first book, Mother Goose in Prose (illustrated by Maxfield Parrish), in 1897. In 1900, with illustrator William Wallace Denslow, Baum created The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He is said to have written several of his 14 Oz books during visits to the hotel between 1904 and 1908.

"[Baum] didn't actually enjoy writing the Oz books very much," says Jarosz. "That's the reason he had to publish under pseudonyms -- if he wrote another story [under his own name], he would get angry fan mail from people wondering why he wasn't spending that time writing about Oz. He intended to end the series after six books; he had pretty much wrapped [the story] up at the end of the sixth book, in 1910. But then he ran into financial trouble and wrote another eight. I can understand how, if you spent all your time writing the same stories over and over again, you'd get really bored."

Baum wrote at least 35 children's books under several pseudonyms. "Some books in the Aunt Jane series, and other miscellaneous works, highlight San Diego and La Jolla," says Jarosz. In Aunt Jane's Nieces and Uncle John (written in 1911 by "Edith Van Dyne"), a family travels from New York to California and stays at the Hotel del Coronado.

"One popular rumor about Baum and his visits [to the hotel] is that he designed the chandeliers in the Crown Room," notes Jarosz. "It's difficult to tell where these rumors start. One person says it, and it pops up, and you have to be really careful and double and triple check people's citations. We think this rumor is false; it looks very much like Baum did not design the chandeliers."

Many theories regarding the underlying message of Baum's most popular work have developed over time. Salman Rushdie interpreted the story to be about "the inadequacy of adults." Some view the Oz books as an allegory of the populist movement in the U.S. in the late 19th Century.

Even the word "Oz" has been the object of interpretive scrutiny. Perhaps the most popular rumor is that, while struggling to name the mythical land, Baum happened to glance at a nearby filing cabinet marked "O--Z." Another speculation is that the word is derived from "Uz," referred to as the land of Job in the Bible. Some members of the Populist Party believe it is the abbreviation for "ounce" and that the wizard represents the gold standard against which party members rebelled. In Gregory Maguire's book Wicked (in which the story of Oz is told from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West), the witch Elphaba believes the origin of Oz is "oasis" because the land itself is surrounded on all sides by the "Deadly Desert." None of these theories has been confirmed.

"Baum's great-granddaughter, who lives locally, lent us several materials that are family heirlooms for us to display," says Jarosz. "There is a family copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, manuscript pages, lots of inscribed books with the title pages dedicated to his sons, a Wizard of Oz program from the first showing of the film in 1939, artist's proofs for The Enchanted Island of Yew [another illustrated children's book by Baum], and Oz dolls the great-granddaughter made for her mother as a Christmas gift."

Among the objects in the library's permanent collection related to the Hotel del Coronado are "a complete run of all guest registries from the beginning of the hotel until they stopped keeping [a registry] around World War II, publicity materials, brochures dating from the turn of the century, advertisements in magazines and newspapers, and train schedules." -- Barbarella

"The Writer's Muse: L. Frank Baum and the Hotel del Coronado" Now through February 28, 2007 Donor Hall and Special Collections, San Diego State University Library 5500 Campanile Drive College Area Cost: Free Info: 619-594-6791 or infodome.sdsu.edu

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