Dorothy Gage was the niece of author L. Frank Baum, known
for his successful book and later movie, The Wizard of Oz. If you've ever wondered where the namesake of Dorothy came from, it was his niece and she is currently buried right here in Bloomington's Evergreen Memorial Cemetery.
Dorothy Louise Gage was born on June 11th, 1898 to Thomas Clarkson Gage and Sophie Jewel. Thomas Clarkson Gage was the brother of Maud Gage Baum, who married L. Frank Baum on November 9th, 1882. L. Frank Baum and his wife Maud had four children, Frank, Robert Stanton, Harry Neal, and Kenneth. They were good parents, but the one thing that Maud really wanted was a daughter. L. Frank Baum longed for a daughter as well, but not as much as did Maud, considering she was around four boys all the time. When Dorothy Louise Gage was born to her brother and sister-in-law, she adored the little girl. Maud Gage become very attached to Dorothy and visited her often during her short life, traveling down from Chicago to Bloomington.
Dorothy Louise Gage became very sick, and died at exactly five months old on November 11th, 1898. Maud was deeply upset over Dorothy’s death. She had adored Dorothy and thought of her as the daughter she never had. The records at Evergreen Memorial Cemetery state the cause of death to be “congestion of the brain.” Maud was so upset after Dorothy's funeral that she required medical attention. At the time of Dorothy’s unfortunate death, L. Frank Baum had just been finishing his book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. L. Frank Baum saw that his wife was so upset over the death of Dorothy that he renamed the heroine in the story Dorothy. L. Frank Baum dedicated the book to his wife and hoped it would comfort her. In a letter written by Maud Baum to her sister, Helen, Maud said: “Dorothy was a perfectly beautiful baby. I could have taken her for my very own and loved her devotedly.” Unfortunately, Maud Baum never had a daughter of her own. It was not until the third book in story of Oz that we learned the last name of Dorothy, which, in the books, was Gale. The thought of why he changed the name from ‘Gage’ to ‘Gale’ is not known, but it is speculated that L. Frank Baum took the ‘l’ from Dorothy’s middle name, Louise and therefore made the last name ‘Gale’. What name the heroine in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz had been given if Dorothy Louise Gage had lived is not known.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a wildly successful book series, and later, movie. The movie has grown to be a classic with its instantly recognizable objects, such as the ruby red slippers worn by Dorothy. If you are ever asked to give an example of someone with the name Dorothy, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz will be the most popular answer.
At one time it was unclear whether or not Dorothy Louise Gage had actually been the namesake for Dorothy Gale. Dorothy’s older sister, Matilda, niece of L. Frank and Maud Baum, thought that the reason for the name wasn’t because of her sister’s unfortunate death, but rather that it was a popular name during the time that L. Frank Baum had written the book. It was later pointed out that L. Frank Baum liked to use the names of his wife’s family, as he had named Dorothy’s aunt and uncle after Maud’s parents, as Matilda signed her work with ‘Em’ and Maud’s father was named Henry. There are always numerous other names taken from Maud’s family in L. Frank Baum’s other works.
Dorothy Louise Gage’s gravestone was not discovered until Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner was finally found while researching Dorothy’s grandmother, Matilda Joslyn Gage. The news of the discovery of the grave was told, and it was also told what bad condition the tombstone was in and the difficulty of being able to find it. Elaine Willingham, founder of a mail-order company that sells The Wonderful Wizard of Oz collectibles, heard the news and called Mickey Carroll, who was one of the Munchkins in the movie. Mickey Carroll was in the monument business. Elaine called and asked for a price estimate for a new grave. Mickey took over the whole project himself, and made her a new headstone. Evergreen Memorial Cemetery then decided to name their children’s section the Dorothy L. Gage Memorial garden, in hopes it would comfort the parents of children who had died with the thought they were with Dorothy. There was a ceremony for the dedication of the new headstone on May 31, 1997, an event to which over a hundred people came. The original marker has also been restored by Charles Tharp Jr. The original stone can be found on the opposite side of the new headstone. The original headstone says: “Dorothy Louise, Dau. of Mr. and Mrs. T. C. Gage, June 11, 1898, November 11, 1898.” The new headstone says: “Dorothy Louise Gage, June 11, 1898, November 11, 1898, Niece of Mr. and Mrs. L. Frank Baum, Namesake for Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.”
If you would like to visit the grave of Dorothy Louise Gage, it is a bit tricky to find at first. It is in the very far back of the cemetery, right next to the last road at the end of the cemetery near the Constitution Trail. Once you are on that road facing the trail, go until you see the war memorial, which is a section surrounded by white panels. The grave is right beside the road next to it. The gravestone is flanked by two bushes. On the side facing the road is the old headstone that has been refinished. On the other side facing away is the new headstone. Once you enter the cemetery, in the patch of grass to the left is a plaque that reads ‘Dorothy Gage Memorial Gardens.’ There is also a bench that reads ‘Dorothy Gage Memorial Garden’ right in the same area. The children’s section, however, is in a different part of the cemetery. Flowers are put on her grave every June 11th and November 11th in remembrance of her birth and death. Flowers are also put on her grave each Christmas. While Dorothy may have not spent a long time here with us, her legacy is what gave us the tale of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which is something most everyone has grown up with and loved.
Willingham, Elaine. The Story of Dorothy Gage, the Namesake for Dorothy in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, http://www.beyondtherainbow2oz.com/dorothygage.html Wagman-Geller, Marlene (2008). Once Again to Zelda: The Stories Behind Literature's Most Intriguing Dedications. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 0399534628. Wagner, Sally Roesch. Dorothy Gage and Dorothy Gale, http://www.theosophical.org/publications/quest-magazine/1580 Taylor, Troy. Weird Illinois. New York, Sterling Publishing, 2005.