Weird Illinois: The Story of Dorothy

Well…it’s my turn for the Weird Weekend, and let me tell you folks..Illinois can be the land of the odd! Much of it has been captured previously in the book “Weird Illinois” by Troy Taylor. It covers many attractions in the “Land of Lincoln”, some of which I grew up near and have been able to visit. However, the ones I have chosen for blogging are two that I have never had the opportunity to see. One is the sad story of a young girl’s grave whose name will be forever remembered in fantasy. The other is the legacy of a man with a unique vision and everlasting love for the woman who saw his eccentricity as brilliance. So sit back and read today of the girl whose life ended far too soon, but whose name has lived on in the stories of her uncle–a man named Lyman Frank Baum.

Weird Illinois Part 1-The Story Of Dorothy

Her name was Dorothy Gage and she was born in the town of Bloomington Illinois on June 11, 1898 to Thomas Clarkson Gage and his wife Sofia. Thomas was the brother of Maud Gage Baum, who was married to L. Frank Baum, the creator of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. At the time, the Baum’s were living in Chicago and Frank was working on the stories that would go on to be children’s classics. Baum felt that Lewis G. Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland were difficult to understand with their nonsensical undertones, and he was seeking to create something that every day people could relate to.

His wife was very supportive of his efforts and urged him to write the stories down as they came to him. The Baum’s had four sons, whom they adored, however Maud was ecstatic when her brother and his wife gave birth to a little girl they named Dorothy. Maud would often go to Bloomington to visit and dote on the child. She loved her sons very much, but she understandably felt very attached to her little niece since she had no daughters of her own.

Tragedy struck the Gage family when their daughter became ill with what was termed as “brain congestion”. On November 11, 1898, little Dorothy Gage passed away. She had blessed her family for only five short months. They were understandably devastated and Maud required the care of a doctor for some time afterward.

It has been said that Baum was at a loss as to how his wife could be comforted in her deep grief. He had yet to name the little girl that his stories centered around, so as a tribute to his niece who never got a chance to grow up, the character was given the name of Dorothy. In the stories, she was referred to as Dorothy Gale rather than Gage.

In 1996, Maud’s mother Matilda Joslyn Gage was being researched by Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner for her activism in the early days of the fight for women’s rights. During the research, the grave of Matilda’s granddaughter Dorothy was discovered. Time and the elements had not been kind to the withered tombstone that was barely readable. When the founder of Beyond the Rainbow, an organization devoted to the preservation of Oz history heard of this, she contacted Mickey Carrol, a monument maker–and an original “Munchkin” in the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz”. Mickey not only complied, he insisted on donating the monument and doing the work personally.

In May of 1997, the monument was revealed–and a beautiful one it was. As Mr. Carrol and surviving members of the Baum family lifted the veil, there was a magnificent yet understated stone with these words:

Dorothy Louise Gage
June 11, 1898
November 11, 1898
Niece of
Mr. and Mrs. L. Frank Baum
Namesake for Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.

On the opposite side of the new marker is the restored original gravestone, beautifully done by Charles Tharp Jr. The children’s section of Evergreen Cemetery is now known as the Dorothy Gage Mermorial Garden and Beyond the Rainbow has arranged for flowers to be put on her grave on the anniversaries of her birth, death, and Christmas.

Many blessings to everyone, from Mickey Carrol to the citizens who continue to immortalize the spirit of a little girl who didn’t live long enough to see a rainbow. Thanks to her uncle however, her name inspires us all to imagine a place where magic is reality. May she forever rest in peace.

For further reading: (the story) (the original gravestone) (the restored gravestone) (the unveiling of the new monument)

And of course, “Weird Illinois” by Troy Taylor and edited by Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman.


2 thoughts on “Weird Illinois: The Story of Dorothy

  1. Here’s another Oz related tid-bit… You may have heard of the popular musical “Wicked”, which chronicles the early life of the Wicked Witch of the West… and, well, how she became wicked. The character’s name is Elphaba– a play on the original author’s name– L. Frank Baum.


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