Although created just over a century ago, the magic of the Wizard of Oz is alive and well.Fan clubs, movie buffs, gift shops and museums carry the banner into the 2000’s for the L. Frank Baum fantasy. No where is this more true than The Yellow Brick Road Gift Shop and Oz Fantasy Museum in Chesterton, Indiana.Our history . . . .In 1973, Jean Nelson moved to Chesterton where she loved being in the heart of the Indiana Dunes. After her children were grown, she had lots of time on her hands. She decided to open a shop to sell craft dollsand dollhouse furniture because she loved the world of fantasy that dolls and dollhouses create. Picking the shop’s name was a challenge. One night, still not sure of a name, Jean dreamt of the Wicked Witch of theWest. The next morning she named her shop, The Yellow Brick Road. A perfect name, Jean thought what better avenue could there be to fantasy than a yellow brick road?When the Yellow Brick Road opened in 1978, the shop had no Wizard of Oz items; it only carried dolls, dollfurniture and miniatures. Then the unexpected happened. Customers asked if she had Oz items for sale. This happened so often that she ordered a few Oz items to sell and soon the store carried more Oz than dolls and doll furniture!Jean’s own interest in Oz merchandising and collecting increased. She loved the gleeful reaction of adults as well as children when they spied the Oz goods and collectibles.In 1980, Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, made a surprise visit. She came to see what Chesterton and the fantasy gift shop was all about. When she saw the size, uniqueness and scope of Jean’s own personal collection, Hamilton suggested that Jean open an Oz museum. So, in 1981,the Oz Fantasy Museum was born.When the Duneland area suffered the effects of the steel mill layoffs and closings in the early 1980’s it was logical for Jean to try to cheer everybody up. On a Saturday afternoon in 1982, she arranged for a fewOz oriented activities and, with the help of several downtown storeowners, held the first Chesterton Wizard of Oz Festival. That Saturday afternoon event attended by under a thousand people has grown to the current three-day affair attracting between 80,000 and100,000 people.The Yellow Brick Road moved from downtown Chesterton to its own grounds two miles south of town on State Rt. 49. The festival continued to grow and grew to large for Jean to handle, even with the help of astrong committee of volunteers, businesses and civic groups.In 1991, the Duneland Chamber of Commerce became the official sponsor of the Chesterton Wizard of Oz Festival.In 1995, Jean founded the Munchkinland Market Days Festival to accommodate the many people who made their way to The Yellow Brick Road from downtown each year during the Wizard of Oz Festival. Today, the festivals are held concurrently.Jean has been hailed as the Mother of the Munchkinsand honored as Woman of the Year by the Business & Professional Women of Chesterton. Upon her retirement in December 2000, she was honored by the DunelandChamber of Commerce (now called theChesterton/Duneland Chamber of Commerce) with special recognition for creating the ever popular Wizard of Oz Festival held the third weekend of September each year. She still firmly believes in the Yellow Brick Road motto, “ The store where it’s never too late to have a happy childhood”.Jean sold the Yellow Brick Road January 1, 2001 to Gerard Bishop, and Marilyn Zengler. They are proud that they have been able to not only carry on the traditions of the Yellow Brick Road and MunchkinlandMarket Days, but to have also been able to expand upon them.The Yellow Brick Road lost Gerard (Jerry) Bishop to cancer in August of 2004. Marilyn is continuing on with the dream.
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