Search the Collections

Walter Wilcox Burridge
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Brooklyn, NY
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
Albuquerque, NM
Born August 29,1857, Brooklyn, New York; died June 25,1913, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Walter W. Burridge brought The Wizard of Oz to life for the Chicago Grand Opera in 1902. His illusions and special effects for this first stage adaptation of L. Frank Baum's classic tale created a fantasy world which enraptured audiences. It was one of the highlights of Burridge's long career as perhaps the nations most talented theatrical scenic artist. Contemporary reports indicate that art lovers attended plays with his set designs just to enjoy his work. Burridge learned his craft at an early age from renowned scenic artist Harly Merry. After working in New York theaters, he moved to Chicago in 1882 and settled in suburban LaGrange. For many years, he was the scenic artist for the Chicago Grand Opera and the McVickers Theatre. Today’s audiences are accustomed to actual three-dimensional stage sets. But in Burridge's day, scenic artists were responsible for turning a two-dimensional surface -- a cloth backdrop -- into three-dimensional images. Burridge was famous for creating illusions that today would be called special effects, such as projecting images on a gauze screen. He achieved national exposure during the Columbian Exposition in 1893 with his construction of a panorama of Kilauea, a Hawaiian volcano, which used electric lights to enhance the image of flowing lava. Burridge died while on a two-month painting trip to the Grand Canyon.