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The Yellow Brick Road Starts in Wisconsin

In the vibrant tapestry of American cultural history, certain tales shimmer with a timeless allure. Among these, “The Wizard of Oz” stands as a beacon, its emerald brilliance captivating audiences for generations. Yet, amidst the grandeur of Hollywood, there exists a lesser-known chapter in the story of Dorothy and her companions—a chapter that unfolds in the heartland of America, in the unexpected setting of Wisconsin.

It was the summer of 1939 when “The Wizard of Oz” first cast its spell upon audiences, but it wasn’t in the glittering lights of Los Angeles or the bustling streets of New York City. Instead, it was the city of Oconomowoc, nestled amid the picturesque landscapes of Wisconsin, that witnessed the magic of Oz before the rest of the world.

The premiering of “The Wizard of Oz” in Oconomowoc was no ordinary affair—it was an event that would etch itself into the annals of local history. On August 12, 1939, the Strand Theater, a modest yet beloved venue, hosted the first-ever screening of the film outside of Hollywood. Excitement buzzed through the air as eager Wisconsinites lined up, eager to embark on a journey down the Yellow Brick Road.

For the residents of Oconomowoc, the premiere was a moment of unparalleled pride and anticipation. This was their chance to be among the first to experience a cinematic masterpiece that would soon captivate audiences worldwide. As the lights dimmed and the opening credits rolled, the audience was transported to the whimsical land of Oz, where witches soared and ruby slippers glittered.

The response to the film was nothing short of ecstatic. From the dazzling Technicolor visuals to the unforgettable melodies, “The Wizard of Oz” cast its spell over the audience, leaving them spellbound from start to finish. As Dorothy, played by the iconic Judy Garland, sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” there wasn’t a dry eye in the theater.

In the weeks that followed, news of the Oconomowoc premiere spread like wildfire, capturing the imagination of moviegoers across the nation. Suddenly, this quaint Midwestern town found itself thrust into the spotlight, forever linked to one of the most beloved films in cinematic history.

But why Oconomowoc, of all places? The answer lies in the vision of one man—Bernard Kroger. As the owner of the Strand Theater, Kroger was determined to bring the magic of Hollywood to his community. Through perseverance and a touch of Midwestern charm, he secured the rights to premiere “The Wizard of Oz” in Oconomowoc, much to the delight of local residents.

Today, the legacy of the Oconomowoc premiere lives on, cherished by both residents and film enthusiasts alike. The Strand Theater may have long since closed its doors, but the spirit of that fateful night endures—a reminder of the power of cinema to unite, inspire, and enchant.

As we journey down the Yellow Brick Road of cinematic history, let us not forget the role that Wisconsin played in bringing the magic of Oz to the world. In the quiet town of Oconomowoc, amidst the cornfields and dairy farms, a piece of Hollywood history was made—one that continues to shine brightly, just like the Emerald City itself.

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