In August of 1935, John R. Neill received a letter that had been
forwarded from the publishers Reilly & Lee. Looking at the envelope,
it's clear that the letter did a bit of roundabout traveling! It was
from Mrs. Elgood Lufkin of Rye, New York, and read as follows:
My dear Mr. Neill -
Mr Lufkin and I ever since we were very small have loved the Oz
stories and their illustrations. So much so that now that we are older
we have read them all to our children who love them and are as intrigued
by them as we were and are. In fact we have called our place which we got last year “The Land of Oz”.
However this is all aside from the point. We were very fortunate in
obtaining two of your original water colors - the “Interior of the
Scarecrow’s House” and the Scarecrow’s House with Dorothy the Wizard and
Uncle Henry coming to pay the Scarecrow a visit. We are terribly
anxious to get any others that we could and I wondered if by writing you
and explaining a bit how we feel whether you would be willing to sell
any to us. It would mean a great deal to the children
and to us to have some more of your illustrations and I want you to know
that they will be highly prized by us. Will you drop me a line and let me know whether you will do this for us. Please? Always Sincerely, Marie Murray Lufkin Aug. 8 1935
Once the letter eventually made its way to
must have replied promptly as another note from Marie, dated September 1st, followed. In this,
she offers to send her car and chauffeur to bring Neill to have tea and
visit. Or, if that didn’t work -
…If you do not feel like coming out, if I sent the car would you let
the chauffeur bring some out here to me? I couldn’t make out from your
letter whether you had any or whether you would be willing to do some
offer of a car and chauffeur indicates that the Lufkins were people of
some means; after all, 1935 was not far past the height of the Great
Depression. In fact, Elgood Lufkin was the vice president of the Bank of
New York. The couple had purchased a farm in Connecticut the previous
year, and were hard at work renovating and decorating the house. As it
happens, Neill bought a farm in Flanders, New Jersey the following year;
most likely, the work of restoring the properties was a common point of
interest between them. I particularly like the offer of sending the
chauffeur to pick up a selection of artwork to view!
there was no response to this letter and the correspondence died. But
Marie wasn't ready to give up, and in June of 1936 another letter was
forwarded to Neill from Reilly & Lee. She reintroduces herself, and again declares her interest in buying some Oz artwork.
…As I received no reply I took it that you were not interested but even
so I am writing again to ask if you have any of the original
illustrations for the “Emerald City" besides the exterior & interior
of the Scarecrows house as we have those already.
Please reply one way or the other as I am so anxious to know if we can ever find any for ourselves...
An intriguing side note to the correspondence is the fact that the Lufkins already owned two watercolors from The Emerald City of Oz!
How they managed to acquire these drawings is not known, but it does
seem to indicate that Oz art could be found in the wild. This time, she
did receive a quick reply from Neill and hurried to respond:
…What a relief receiving your letter! You have no idea how we loved it.
From now until you have time to do something for us, I am going to
pester you with letters so that you won’t get a chance to lose our
Your farm at Flanders sounds really
magical. Just the way we feel ours is - and you must be the perfect
wizard because although you say you are “expected to be a sort of Wizard
of Oz without the qualifications,” to us you will always be the real
Wizard of Oz, as you have made the stories live for us and our children…
having finally won Neill’s attention, Marie wasn’t about to let go!
This was to be the start of a relationship that continued until Neill’s
death in 1943. The family were fans of
Neill, and of the Oz books, and they assembled a unique collection as
they befriended the artist. The first Oz book Neill wrote, 1940’s Wonder City of Oz
, is even dedicated to the Lufkins.