The Yellow Brick Road Leads to... Peekskill?

As Oz the Great and Powerful hits theaters, we ask: was the Yellow Brick Road inspired by Peekskill?



Photographs © 2012 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Though Oz the Great and Powerful was, anecdotally, met with just as much trepidation as excitement — and even though the critics seemed split on the film, which scored 61/100 on the Tomatometer and 45/100 on Metacritic — it still had a great and powerful opening weekend, earning a little more $80 million at the box office.

Really, though, it’s not much of a surprise. There are so many cultural touchstones that find their origins in Oz. I recently read a theory that you can’t go a day without coming across an Oz reference. (The day I read that article, I definitely watched a movie where someone said, “Fly, my pretties!”)

One of the most enduring, iconic symbols of Oz is the Yellow Brick Road. We know that one end of the road terminates in the Emerald City, but where does the other end go?

As it turns out, it goes to Peekskill.

great and powerful oz

According to a 2011 article in the Wall Street Journal, Peekskill city historian John Curran believes L. Frank Baum’s experiences at the Peekskill Military Academy in 1868 proved inspirational for the writer. “Mr. Curran believes the 12-year-old took a steamboat down the Hudson. When he got to the dock, he asked for directions to the military academy and was told, ‘Just follow the yellow brick road.’ ”

Of course, there is some debate as to which yellow Dutch brick inspired the author. Newsday notes that “a Michigan community also could have a case for being the home of the Yellow Brick Road. According to an April 2012 article in The Holland Sentinel, some say Baum may have noted the brick floor of a lakefront castle while writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

If you’re looking for your own path to the Emerald City, you can still see the yellow bricks, “a 50-foot stretch of golden-hued brick on South Water Street behind the Standard House building on Hudson Avenue,” says Newsday.

Just don’t expect to be enchanted like Dorothy. Currently, there are no plaques, statues, or any other markers commemorating Peekskill’s connection to Baum. Curran believes playing up the connection with statues and stage events could be a boon for the city. (After all, did you see that box office figure?)

Others aren’t so sure. In the Wall Street Journal, Richard Cerreta, then owner of the Standard House and the adjacent parking lot with the yellow brick, offers this quote: “Every time a new person hears about the yellow brick road, I end up chasing people down the street who come to steal the bricks.”

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Marisa LaScala

Marisa LaScala
Elmsford, NY


Associate Editor Marisa LaScala joined Westchester magazine in 2003, and ever since she's blown every paycheck at the Greenburgh Multiplex. She also staunchly defends Richard Kelly, doesn't mind spoiling the endings of trashy movies you're curious about but don't want to pay to see, wishes the Hold Steady would come back and rock out Westchester, misses Arrested Development more than anyone can imagine, and still watches cartoons and Saturday Night Live. You can find more of her cultural criticism at www.popmatters.com, where she is a staff writer.

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