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Peekskill’s Yellow Brick Road and the Fight to Memorialize It

Historian John Curran and others are hoping for a “Wizard of Oz” statue in Peekskill.

The infamous yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz was based off of the yellow brick road that led from the Peekskill waterfront to the Peekskill Military academy in the late 1860s, says Peekskill Historian John Curran. Author L. Frank Baum attended the Academy from 1868 until 1870.

And for the last ten years Curran has been dedicated to preserving the collection of yellow bricks behind the Standard House and erecting a bronze statue of the main characters of the iconic book. Curran has lobbied politicians and held lectures around the area educating the public on the whimsical 50-foot piece of history located in Peekskill’s riverfront area.

According to the Peekskill historian, who has studied the topic extensively, Baum was sent to Peekskill Military academy in 1868. Curran believes that the 12-year-old Baum must have taken a steamboat down the Hudson and was told to “follow the yellow brick road” from the Hudson up to the Academy. Letters from his time there have been documented and he often reported that he was miserable at the Academy.

Curran told the Wall Street Journal’s Shelly Banjo that Baum’s dissatisfaction with the Academy revealed itself in the Wizard of Oz. “Whenever the characters get off the yellow brick road, they get into trouble,” Curran said.

The small section of yellow brick behind the Standard House is all that remains of the original road, but a study conducted under John Testa’s mayoral administration shows that the bricks that remain are Dutch pavers, a common yellow-hued brick in the Dutch-settled area.

The WSJ reports that last year Curran teamed up with a Westchester resident, Deborah Polhill and sculptor Richard Masloski and tried to get the city to designate a piece of public land to a life-size bronze cast of characters – the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, Toto and Dorothy. The price is $225,000 and the city said it is supportive of the project, but has not moved forward with designating any land.

Curran’s battle for the bricks was featured in Banjo’s Wall Street Journal article this morning. Leading up to Oz-Stravaganza festival in Chittenango, NY to be held this Friday, the WSJ talked to Curran and others who are working to commemorate this piece of history. Read the full article here.

Editor's Note: This article originally summarized the Wall Street Journal's report that the city of Peekskill would not pay for bronze statues. The Wall Street Journal was inaccurate, no one ever asked the city to pay for the project, Curran, Polhill and Masloski only suggested to the city that it donate a piece of public land. Mayor Mary Foster said she and her staff is supportive of the idea, but the city has not yet designated any land as of July, 2011.

Alice Brenner June 01, 2011 at 11:56 AM
It's a darn shame Peekskill never restored any of the old buildings like Crayola Crayon Building or Franklin St. School. But that's Peekskill for ya. They rather spend monies on things that aren't neccessory needed.
Barbara November 15, 2011 at 05:49 PM
It's a darn shame that you think like that. The Oz statues would bring tourist from over the world. It would enhance the beauty of Peekskill, It's obvious you haven't seen the models by the sculptor Richard Masloski, there beautiful. Parents and grandparents would love to bring their little one's just to see them. Go for it Peekskill!
joshua tanner November 15, 2011 at 06:31 PM
Peekskill should do something that helps generate revenue and visitation. Baum's birthplace in upstate NY gets 1000's of people for its yearly Oz-Stravaganza. A Cortlandt lady (Leni Lynn) who played a munchkin just died last year. I don't think I would drop 250k on a statue without first organizing events that showed there would be a real impact worth spending money on .
John Q. Public November 15, 2011 at 11:45 PM
Liz, You are too kind to call Mr. Curran an "historian" without mentioning that his only credential, see Amazon, is his alleged research into "the effect of extraterrestrials on the development of human culture, both in the past, and in the future" http://www.amazon.com/Our-Next-Step-Interplanetary-Reunion/dp/B000TCBJ36/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1321399346&sr=8-2-fkmr1 If you want to write a unique story, why not focus on L Frank Baum himself? He hated Peekskill and the Military Academy. To the extent there is any truth in the idea he used the Yellow Brick Road behind Standard House as inspiration for his fiction, the Yellow Brick Road was for Baum a way out of Peekskill,a dead town,kind of like Springsteen talking in Born to Run about "a death trap a suicide rap we got to get out while we're young" kind of town.Only someone as tone deaf and brain dead as Foster would try to make the symbol of escaping Peekskill a badge of honor -- and only because she is chasing people away from our City. If Peekskill had a credible historian, instead of a Roswell Area 51 conspiracy theorist on Foster's payroll, civil rights & the underground railroad would be the focus of our cultural tourism. Cleveland got millions of dollars for their project. But watch this video of the 1949 Robeson riots. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pgyACdT1rM At 1:42 into footage. N. Dain's Sons provided a platform for what Darrell Davis speaks out against. Dain's financed Foster's campaign.
John Q. Public November 15, 2011 at 11:55 PM
Foster would never have won in 2007 unless Dain's supported her. They have never publicly apologized for their role in one of the most disgraceful events in Peekskill's history. Is there any wonder why Darrell Davis continues to make such credible claims against Foster's administration when one of her major local supporters was a major player in this dark stain on Peekskill's history? Peekskill's role in the Underground Railroad had the ability to be a major focal point in our city's cultural tourism strategy. But the Peekskill Democrats made it a political issue, gave the project to someone who lacked the resources and intelligence to bring the project to fruition. It has stalled and failed for years, almost a decade. And now all they can do is sell the Oz-ian dream of leaving Fosterville via the Yellow Brick Road.

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