Thursday, February 3, 2022

Imogene's Lavender Farm

Edwin Stone as Imogene
In late July 1903, Joseph Schrode, who had been playing the part of Imogene, the little heifer belonging to Dorothy Gale, became ill and the part of the frolicsome bovine went to a twenty-one-year-old named Luther J. Wyckoff, whose first performance as Imogene seems to have been July 27, 1903. This re-branding of the little heifer generated a fair amount of publicity. 

The August 8, 1903, Dramatic Mirror reported: "Luther Wyckoff, recently with the Winter Circus in Berlin, is now impersonating Imogene, the pet cow of Little Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. His predecessor, Joseph Schrode, was obliged to resign because of pulmonary trouble and is now resting at Lakewood."

The August 16, 1903, Quad-City Times reported: "They have a new cow in The Wizard of Oz, at the Majestic Theater. The role is apparently an arduous one. Edwin J. Stone had it first, but he had to take a rest. Then came Joseph Schrode, and he too, succumbed. Now Luther Wyckoff, a young German acrobat, is trying it."

Wyckoff had recently been hired to play Imogene in the second touring company, which was scheduled to go out at the beginning of September. So, when Schrode became ill, it afforded Wyckoff a chance to get some Broadway stage experience in the role. Joseph Schrode recovered and took over the role once again in late August; and Wyckoff was in great shape to head out on tour with the second company, which gave its first performance on September 7, 1903. 

The day after the first performance, the Brooklyn Times reported: "L. J. Wyckoff, as Imogene, and C. Ray Wallace, as the Cowardly Lion, are more real than any real calf or lion, and though hidden in feature from the public gaze, probably had ears and peek holes to take in the applause they honestly earned."

Wyckoff's cow was often singled out as the best part of company No. 2's cast:

Seattle Daily Times, October 17, 1904

Luther J. Wyckoff played Dorothy's frolicsome bovine for two seasons with company No. 2—from September 7, 1903, through May 6, 1905.

Luther James Wyckoff was born December 8, 1881, in Galesburg, Illinois. Wyckoff's stage career seems to have been short-lived. I have found no other evidence of a theatrical career save the reference above to his having just been with the Winter Circus in Berlin. This reference probably accounts for the other paper calling him "a young German acrobat." Wyckoff may have been of German descent, but he was an American; his father (a minister) was born in Ohio and his mother was born in Kentucky.

By 1906, Luther J. Wyckoff was living in Seattle and working as a salesman and businessman. He soon married June Lee McKay and in 1909 the couple had two sons, Luther James Wyckoff, Jr. and John McKay Wyckoff.

L. J. Wyckoff and family (circa 1916) Courtesy of Emmy Fairfield.

But in the summer of 1926, Luther J. Wyckoff suddenly became interested in growing lavender—an interest that would sustain him for the rest of his life. 

“Talking of the possibilities of small scale commercial flower growing, brought to mind the Lavender plants which grew so well in our gardens and the use of dried blossoms, long a standard practice. In suggesting this feature as an interesting side-line, I made a casual remark as to thinking that there was an oil produced from this flower as well. Having aroused my own curiosity and a subconscious pioneering instinct by this remark, a visit to the library soon opened my eyes to the wide range of essential oils and gave me a mass of information as to the Lavender plant and its uses.”

Wyckoff's interest bloomed into a life's work. He was instrumental in developing the commercial growing of lavender in the United States, and in particular in the Pacific Northwest—his final lavender farm was in Lacey, Washington. He developed several lavender hybrids that are still popular today.

You can learn much more about Luther J. Wyckoff and his love of lavender in a wonderful essay by Mary Paynton Schaff published in the April 2021 issue of the Thurston County Historical Journal. Click here to read it online. Ms. Schaff will be presenting an online lecture about Luther J. Wyckoff on February 9, 2022, at the Lacey Museum and Cultural Center. To watch it on Zoom you must register here.

I hope you'll join Ms. Schaff for an exploration of Imogene's lavender farm!

Imogene from a full-color poster for the show.

Copyright © 2022 by David Maxine. All rights reserved.

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