by Katie Peterson
Special to The Leaven
“There’s no place like home.”
That is the central theme, and perhaps the most popular line, from the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz,” based on the books by L. Frank Baum. Almost instantly, it became a classic and is still a favorite of many children and adults alike.
Steve Capps is no exception.
“When I was growing up in the 1960s, the movie version of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ was broadcast once a year around Thanksgiving. Watching it was a high point of each year,” Capps said. “My parents gave me Dover edition paperback color reprints of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ and ‘The Marvelous Land of Oz.’ Those books portrayed for me a magical world and formed the beginning of [my] collection.”
Since receiving those gifts from his parents, Capps has acquired nearly 70 print volumes of “The Wizard of Oz” series, including the entire L. Frank Baum first edition series, the entire Ruth Plumly Thompson series and other Oz stories. He has also collected Baum’s children’s literature items and analytical content related to the series.
“Once I began prep school and moved on to college, I ceased reading about Oz for the most part. My childhood infatuation never bloomed into a lifelong fascination,” Capps said. “I did retain a dream of acquiring a complete set of Oz books, and when I returned to the United States after some time in Europe with the Army, I had an opportunity to fulfill that childhood dream.”
Now, the Steve and PJ Capps Oziana Collection calls the University of Saint Mary Le Beau Special Collections home after the couple donated it to the university in 2017.
There were reasons Capps said he was looking to donate the collection.
“I was not doing anything with the collection,” Capps said. “As part of retirement and its accompanying downsizing, I was moving to the South Carolina Lowcountry. The weather there is humid with occasional hurricanes, and it did not seem a safe place to take the collection.”
“Few, if any of the items, were printed on acid-free paper. That means they would deteriorate over time,” he continued. “I did explore selling items from the collection. However, I did not and do not have the expertise in rare books needed to market them myself, and I found I could not get a meaningful price from a dealer.”
Donating the collection to USM seemed to offset Capps’ initial concerns.
“My wife Peggy Jo (PJ) Capps, a USM graduate who worked in the DePaul Library (now the Keleher Learning Commons) while earning her masters of library science degree at Emporia State University, suggested it,” Capps said. “She was aware that USM was assembling a collection of Oziana. The personal connection and the Oziana program made USM the logical choice.
“It was PJ who kept reminding me of the need to place the collection with an institution with the facilities that would protect the older books from deteriorating. . . . Without her sound advice, I am not sure what would have become of the collection,” Capps added. “Donating it to USM allows the collection to continue to exist and to be cared for and used by people who love Oz. That is the most satisfying thought.”
Key books in the collection include “Little Wizard Stories of Oz,” by Baum; “The World of Oz: A Fantastic Expedition Over the Rainbow,” by Allen Eyles; “Over the Rainbow: The Wizard of Oz as a Secular Myth of America,” by Paul Nathanson; “Who’s Who in Oz,” by Jack Snow; and more.
“There are so many cool ones,” said Danielle Dion, vice president of the KLC and student affairs at USM. “We were really excited when we were approached by Steve Capps to receive this collection here at Saint Mary. It’s really special.”