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September 2014

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Maureen Stapleton donates her 'Wizard of Oz' collection to museum

Longtime resident, business owner has 25 years of memorabilia

City of Oconomowoc - When Maureen Stapleton's downtown real estate office was destroyed last July, she said everything of importance to her was in there - except her beloved Wizard of Oz collection.

Memorabilia that might even make Judy Garland's eyes glaze over was intact and because of this, Stapleton said it's time to give it a new home. She recently donated the Oz collection she's been adding to for the last 25 years to the Oconomowoc Historical Society and Museum.

"It occurred to me after that, that I better get it in the hands of the public," Stapleton said of her generous donation.

Museum Administrator Nancy Lins has the collection safely packed away for the time being, but there are plans to share it with the public. Lins said while the collection includes a lot of "collectible" knickknack-type items, it also includes one-of-a-kind, valuable books from Oz history.

"It's so great that we are able to have this because personal collections like this can easily just get lost," Lins said.

Stapleton most recently brought out her collection to adorn downtown in 2009 when the city celebrated its Oz roots. Oconomowoc became "Ozconomowoc" that fall to celebrate the 70th anniversary of "The Wizard of Oz" during Festival week. The film actually premiered at the Strand Theater in Oconomowoc in 1939.

Stapleton filled her office and other store windows with her collection which has its start because of Oconomowoc's special Oz tie. Stapleton said that decades ago a historic downtown clothing store closed up shop one day. "I remember wondering why they never offered it to someone else to run," Stapleton recalls.

While discussing the store's closing, Stapleton said she and Denny Daggett, who was then serving as the city's director of economic development, thought about creating a downtown tourist spot that commemorates the city's history with the famous movie.

"We talked about making it a tourist stop with a museum. We could paint the sidewalk like a yellow brick road," Stapleton said. However, the dreams of somehow creating a tourist destination while also trying to maintain their own full-time careers gave Stapleton a reality check.

"As we spent time trying to wrangle this together, I looked at Denny one day and said, 'We're nuts. What am I going to be doing, wandering downtown carrying a little dog trying to get people to go to this museum?' " she said with a laugh.

So the idea of the Oconomowoc downtown Oz museum faded away, but Stapleton continued to be known as the city's Oz lady. "People started bringing me stuff," she said. And they haven't stopped for the last two decades.

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