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Wizard of Oz Festival marks 30 years

Written by Nicholas Serrano. Posted in Community News

Published on August 31, 2011 with No Comments

Seventy two years ago this year, the Wizard of Oz hit the silver screen, dazzling audiences throughout the country. An enchanting festival, keyed to the movie, has been held in Chesterton for many years. It returns again Sept. 16 with much anticipated excitement.

The Wizard of Oz Festival is an important event for the people of Chesterton. Through the years it has grown in size, drawing thousands of Wizard of Oz fans from across the country and from places as far away as Poland.

One of the people who helped organize this year’s Oz Fest, Machelle Blount, said the response from the community has been rewarding. The happiness that Oz Fest brings to the area is astounding. For Blount, listening to people’s stories of Oz Fest is one of the best things about the festival. She said it is like reliving their memories every time someone tells her a story.

“We’ve received calls from all four corners of the U.S. from people telling us about all the memories they’ve had here.” Blount said. “The community has been very supportive.”

Former Indiana State Rep. Ralph Ayres has been part of the Wizard of Oz Festival in one way or another since its beginning back in 1983.

Ayres was elected to the prestigious position of Mayor of Munchkinland for life by munchkins from the film. Ayres said the munchkins who attended the festival in Chesterton officially named it “Home of the Wizard of Oz.”

“People identify Chesterton with the Wizard of Oz,” Ayres said. “I was in New York City recently and I was having a conversation with a couple from Italy. I was talking about how I live in Chesterton and they immediately recognized it because of the Wizard of Oz Festival.”

Susan Thompson, who has grown up in Chesterton, owns T&T Gaming on Broadway. Thompson is a huge fan of the festival and believes the Oz Fest is part of the town’s identity.

“I grew up with the Wizard of Oz. It put Chesterton on the map,” Thompson said

Even though the Wizard of Oz turned 72 this year, Blount expects the festival to draw in crowds of all ages. Some have questioned the festival’s appeal to younger people but Blount isn’t worried.

“Younger people will come because the film is so recognized that people of all age groups still watch it. The film encompasses so many family lessons and people still identify with the values in the film,” Blount said.

With Oz Fest beginning at 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16 and continuing through Sunday, Sept. 18, there will be some new additions to the attractions.

They will include an Emerald City Party-in, 2011 Best Of Contest (formerly the “look-a-like contests), a Toto look-a-like contest, Dorothy-calling contest, silent auction, the Wicked Witch Cackling contest, an Oz 5K race, annual 49er Drive-in movie showings, and Munchkin Kid Zone, which will stage children’s bands, puppeteers, plays and martial arts performances. For those on the creative end, a new exhibit for local authors and artists will be showcased.

There will still be the old favorites such as the meet and greet of people from the Wizard of Oz film, Brunch with the Munchkins, food, craft and Oz memorabilia booths.

The Wizard of Oz Festival is an opportunity for the whole family to come and enjoy good wholesome fun with members of their local community as well as Oz fans from all over. As Thompson said, “The Oz Fest brings a sense of community, family and tradition. It’s a nice time to get together.”

So close your eyes, tap your heels together and remember, “There’s no place like home.”

The 30th Wizard of Oz Festival is presented by the Duneland Business Initiative Group. Most of the festivities will be located on Main Street (Corner of Broadway and Calumet Road.) For more information, call 219-926-9900 or visit www.ozfestivalchesterton.com.

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