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Forget Germany. We’re off to see Oztoberfest in Kansas

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David Conrads

(Read caption) A restaurant in Wamego, Kan., embraces the local theme. The town celebrates its fifth annual 'Oztoberfest' this weekend. But you can find its tributes to 'The Wizard of Oz' around town all year long.

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True, there’s no place like home. But for fans of “The Wizard of Oz,” there’s no place like Wamego, Kan. While some Kansans cringe at their state’s association with the cultural phenomenon, this small bedroom community (population 4,312) has embraced the legacy of “The Wizard of Oz” wholeheartedly.

In 2003, the Oz Museum opened in a downtown storefront on Lincoln Avenue, Wamego’s main commercial street. Some 20,000 visitors per year pull off Interstate 70 to see one of the most comprehensive exhibits of Oz memorabilia. The success of the museum has spawned all manner of Oz-related commerce – the Poppyfield Gallery, JavOZo’s (a coffee shop), Scissors of Ahhhhz (a hair salon), even a Mexican restaurant called Toto’s Tacoz (try the Yellow Brick Burro’d).

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The first weekend in October, Wamego will host the fifth annual Oztoberfest. Several thousand visitors are expected at the two-day street fair, highlights of which will include hot-air balloon rides, a display of gowns worn by Judy Garland, an appearance by four of the actors who played Munchkins in the classic 1939 MGM movie, and the annual stage musical production of “The Wizard of Oz” at the historic Columbian Theatre.

In conjunction with the this year’s 70th anniversary of the movie, the International Wizard of Oz Club will conduct its annual convention in Wamego and neighboring Manhattan, Kan. “Recreating Oz,” a symposium sponsored by the English department of Kansas State University, promises to lend a dash of scholarly zest to the fun.