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Jean Nelson, Oz Festival Founder

Jean Nelson

It's hard to get through a week without encountering some reference to Oz, especially here in the Duneland area and that is thanks to the dreams of Jean Nelson. You hear a quote in the news, on a TV show, an ad or even in other movies.

Jean Nelson opened her shop 'The Yellow Brick Road', in 1979. She chose her shop's name just because she liked the name and the movie. Before you knew it, people were asking for more and different Oz merchandise, and her shop took off from there. The local economy back in the late 70's and early 80's was not the best. She decided to do something about it and founded the internationally known Wizard of Oz Festival in 1981.
The first festival drew about five to six hundred people to the Town of Chesterton whose population at that time was about 8,900. The festival, now internationally known, has grown to attract crowds of over 80,000 people for the two and a half day event. It is the largest and most popular Wizard of Oz Festival anywhere in the world! An Indiana Department of Commerce Tourism Study done in 1999 reported that the Festival brings in 3.5 million dollars to our local economy. People travel here from all over the United States and several foreign countries.

The festival is mentioned in over six published books, several magazines, one being the June 2000 issue of the 'Smithsonian' in which Jean and the festival has a few paragraphs in an article about the 100th Anniversary of the original book' The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' by L. Frank Baum. Through her adventure she has brought to town several celebrities including the original Munchkins and actors from the original film, and many other celebrities that she has met because of her relationship with Oz.

At the Yellow Brick Road Gift Shop, it is unbelievable the amount of newspaper articles from all over the country that Jean has collected throughout the years that mention her and the Town of Chesterton and ties to 'The Wizard of Oz.' One of the favorites is 'Kooky Women bring Oz to Downtown Chesterton', an article in the News-Dispatch in 1980.

Jean has kept her roots here in the region; she was born in Chicago. In one of those 'getting to know you' articles, she was quoted ' people who knew me in high school thought I was a dreamer', the other remark said', people who know me now think I am a dreamer'.

After a twenty-two year run, Jean retired and sold her business. She is now doing something she has always dreamed of, traveling around the country where her whims lead her.

We owe Jean a debt of gratitude for bringing the festival to us. She and the festival certainly have had an impact on our area, quality of life and businesses. It has made the Duneland area famous for having this sort of tie to the family oriented classic movie, ' The Wizard of Oz'

Jean Nelson and Mr. USA, Charles Durr

Copyright (C) 2008 Lakeshore Festivals and Events Corp./Indiana Wizard of Oz Festival.