We all know the story, about the girl from Kansas who meets a cast of characters while traveling on a Yellow Brick Road en route to see the wizard. Of course, creator L. Frank Baum must have gotten the inspiration for a yellow brick road from somewhere, but where?
Not to discredit his own creativity, but the guy did have a history of being very practical in his stories, taking simply elements from his own surroundings and then whisking them magically into his own fairy-tale mind.
For example, in The Wizard of Oz, the “Oz” has been said by many historians to have come from his own file cabinet. While trying to come up with a place where the wizard lived due to the prompting of his daughter, he simply gazed over her shoulder at his file cabinet, took note of the file draw marked “O-Z, and said, “Oz”.
Even cooler is one of the historical accounts of how Baum was inspired to immortalize a road, lined with a very particular style yellow bricks and that this particular road very well may have come from a place only about 30 miles north of Yonkers NY, in the town of Peekskill.
While Baum was just a boy, he spent a few years living in Peekskill, hard years at that as a student at the Peekskill Military Academy.
This was no picnic for him being sent off to military school at the age of 12, but it did simmer his creative juices and ignite a flame perhaps that would eventually give way to arguably one of the most popular and beloved stories of the 20th century.
Undoubtedly on almost a daily basis, Baum and the rest of the Military students would need to walk down to the river, either for exercise or other purposes and the main route to the Hudson from the Academy was via a Yellow Brick road, laid down by the Dutch centuries before.
This road still exists today, you can go see it! Although it is merely a lonely parcel of what it used to be, it originally extended from the Hudson river, uphill, toward the Military Academy Baum attended as a child and now it has been paved over quite extensively; however one lone parcel remains exposed for us to enjoy in a parking lot near the heart of Peekskill behind the Standard House, which is a local landmark in the city, built-in 1855 as a tavern and boarding house.
There are other accounts of yellow brick roads across the country, some of which are connected through Baum’s life travels as in places such as South Dakota, Chicago, Kansas, Syracuse and of course, Peekskill.
I like to think he was inspired by this particular stretch of yellow bricks, since his years at the academy were so harsh, I imagine a young Baum’s imagination hard at work, taking the strain off of his physical body with dreams of lions and scarecrows, all traveling the very road he was on, in hopes of finding their way to some magical destination.
For now though, the road remains a part of Peekskill lore and for a city that is already tremendously steeped in history, it is just another great destination to visit if you do find yourself in Peekskill NY for the day which I highly recommend! It is truly one of the great Hudson River towns to visit in NY, holding much history from the Dutch, through Colonial Times and onward toward the 20th century.
And of course…one of the most immortalized stretches of yellow bricks you will ever find!