Monday, September 9, 2013

Judy Garland - Letter From Home - September 2013


Our First Online Letter - September, 2013

During the mid-1990’s, several times a year The Judy Garland Museum mailed out a“Letter from Home” newsletter to everyone with a paid membership. Today, a new online “Letter from Home” makes its debut, and there is a lot of news to share!

Artwork by Jackie Dingmann
Some History

In 1975, Grand Rapid’s resident artist, Jackie Dingmann, founded what is today The Judy Garland Museum. Beginning with a one-room exhibit in the Central School House, The Judy Garland Museum was one of the very first celebrity museums in the United States. Jackie’s goal was to inspire the young people of the area to believe that just like Judy Garland they too could achieve great things. Eventually, Ms. Dingmann traveled to London where she made her goals for the museum known to Judy Garland's largest fan club. From there, the Judy Garland Museum grew until it was over flowing with memorabilia.

Four years later, in 1979, to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, Ms. Dingmann hosted the first celebrity visitor in Grand Rapids – the film’s unforgettable Wicked Witch of the West, Margaret Hamilton. Since that time, eight additional celebrities, who worked directly with Judy Garland, have visited Grand Rapids: Mickey Rooney, June Allyson, Donald O’Connor, Jayne Meadows, Jane Powell, June Lockhart, Andy Williams and Margaret O’Brien. 

The Munchkins Visit Grand Rapids

Some of the persons in this photo include Meinhardt Raabe,
Coroner, Karl Slover and Margaret Pellegrini
Of course, one of the major attractions at the annual Judy Garland Festival has always been the “little people” who appeared in The Wizard of Oz. In 1990, Grand Rapids hosted largest gathering of Munchkins since the film was made. That year, thirteen Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz attended the festival along with their spouses; a total of twenty-two little people were brought up from Minneapolis on a bus. Perhaps the most unusual of these couples was 4’ 5” Jeanie, one of the Lullaby League, and her husband, Robert Blake, who at 7’ 5” was head and shoulders above everyone. The pair made their living performing in a kind of vaudeville act, which was booked all over the East Coast.

This gathering of Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz was important for many reasons, including the fact that this was the first time since 1938 that many of these people had seen one another. The Festival boasted a grand parade and scores of visitors to the town of Grand Rapids. The previous year boasted the largest number of visitors ever when 30,000 people descended on the small town of Grand Rapids!

Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend
Among the most popular and faithful guests at the annual Judy Garland Festival was “Sleepy Head” Munchkin, Margaret Pellegrini. Margaret attended The Judy Garland Festival more than sixteen years! Friends, acquaintances and staff at The Judy Garland Museum were saddened to learn of Margaret’s passing on August 7th. She died just a few weeks shy of her 90th birthday.

Margaret, born Williams, was a fifteen year-old girl from Tuscumbia, Alabama when she learned about the filming of The Wizard of Oz and headed for Hollywood. After making the film, she married a former fighter, Willie Pellegrini.

Margaret Williams in The Wizard of Oz
Those who knew Margaret recall her warm and feisty personality. Although she was small in stature, she was big in spirit. Over the years, she not only raised two children, but a number of grand-children and great grand-children. She was always warm and friendly to fans. She said she loved the festivals and would keep attending them until she died.  

Museum director John Kelsch recalls that every year, Margaret would greet him at the airport with a bottle of WD-40 to take the squeaks out of his creaky car doors.

Michelle Russell, author of From Tennessee to Oz – The Amazing Saga of Judy Garland’s Family History also recalls what a wonderful person Margaret Pellegrini was. After not seeing Margaret for quite a number of years, Ms. Russell was quite surprised when Margaret told her she had often wondered what happened to her, and asked about the little girl who played Baby Gumm at The Judy Garland Birthplace fifteen years earlier.

This was the kind of person Margaret Pellegrini was. She loved her visits to Grand Rapids and often said that The Sawmill hotel in Grand Rapids was her favorite home away from home. Margaret will long be remembered for carrying on the legacy of The Wizard of Oz.

Aussie Lands in Oz

June 2013, Left to right, Geoff Stallman, Michelle Russell and
Museuem Director, John Kelsch in front of the Judy
Garland Birthplace
This past May, Geoffrey Stallman of Australia traveled nearly 10,000 miles to donate his professional house painting services, putting a new coat of paint on The Judy Garland Birthplace. Geoff has been in the house painting profession since high school.

More than twenty-five years ago, back in his native Australia, Geoff became fascinated by Judy Garland and decided to come to America to learn more about her. That was back in 1988. While visiting Judy’s 1940s Bel Aire home, the owner invited him to spend the night.

It was during this same visit to America, that Geoff learned that Judy’s birthplace was Minnesota. Then, without realizing what he would be facing, he braved a February blizzard; following a big truck all the way north to Grand Rapids. Early the next morning, while unlocking the door to the Central School House museum, director John Kelsch was quite surprised to be greeted by this Aussie.

This year was Stallman’s sixth trip to Grand Rapids, a place he feels quite at home in. During the 2013 Festival this June, a Duluth television station interviewed him and did a big piece on his interest in Judy and The Judy Garland Museum.

The Judy Garland Birthplace Receives Authentic Meter

On July 11th, 2011, Larry Krueger of Lake Crystal, Minn-esota donated a vintage 1920s electric meter to the museum. Recently, John Kelsch gave the meter a fresh coat of black paint and mounted it on The Judy Garland Birthplace. Mr. Kelsch says he felt great satisfaction in adding this bit of authentic memorabilia to the house. Next on the list will be the building of flower boxes for the front windows as seen in old photos of the home.

News on the 2014 Judy Garland Festival

Work on the 2014 Judy Garland Festival is now in high gear. Committees have been formed and businesses, both in Grand Rapids and Itasca County will be taking part to make next year’s festival a great event.

The 2013 festival will be a five day event, opening on Judy’s birthday, June 10th and continuing through June 14th. Look for our next Letter from Home in October for more details.

More News Coming Soon!

  •           The Hunt for the Ruby Slippers
  •           The new 3,000 piece Wizard of Oz Collection
  •           A Wizard of Oz Murder Mystery Event
  •          Talent Show for Eighteen and Younger
  •           Hot Air Balloon Wizard of Oz Replica
  •           The Wizard of Oz – 3-D Film Release
  •           A Report on the 2013 Judy Garland Festival

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  1. A wonderful story! I enjoyed reading about Margaret Williams.

  2. HI!

    I'm Mike Jensen, the late great Jackie Dingmann was my sister! Thanks for posting this great article. I just found it while key word searching the internet. I've enjoyed many Judy Fests and am proud of all my sister did.

    Kindest Regards,

  3. I am late in seeing this Mike. We are truly grateful to your sister, Jackie Dingmann. She began the Judy Garland Festival and had Margaret Hamilton visit, the first celebrity visitor to come to Grand Rapids. This year (2015) Margaret Hamilton (Wicked Witch of the West)'s son will grace the Festival with his presence and we are so happy for that. Jackie was a truly great lady.