Out There

The Art Institute Lions and the Wizard of Oz

Do you know how the Art Institute inspired the Wizard of Oz?


We all know the Wizard of Oz. In fact, we’d be surprised if you haven’t seen it a dozen times … this year. It’s one of the greatest movies ever made from a book and has spawned so many dreams and fantasies. But where did it come from? How did author L. Frank Baum create those iconic characters?

Turns our Baum moved with his wife Maude to 1667 N. Humboldt in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood in the late 1800s. It was here he started writing his seventh and greatest novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Legend has it Baum had an office on Michigan Avenue across from the Art Institute and would look out on the bold lion statutes. Those statues allegedly served as the inspiration for the Cowardly Lion. Other tales say Baum began telling stories of the lion, Tin Man, Scarecrow and Dorothy to local Humboldt Park kids and the rest, as they say, is history.

These days, to feel a bit of Baum and the Wizard’s presence, all one needs to do is stroll up to Oz Park in the Lincoln Park neighborhood at the intersection of Lincoln, Webster and Larabee. There, you can see statues of the characters, including the Tin Man, which is nine feet tall, made entirely out of chrome car bumpers and weighs about a ton.

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