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Munchkin coroner ‘really dead’

We come into this world not knowing what turn in the road might be life changing and cause our lives to impact many others. That was certainly true for Meinhardt Raabe who died Monday at the age of 94.

In 1938 at age 23, he reportedly was, “looking for adventure.” The adventure he found shaped the rest of his life. For those who don’t recognize his name, this might help identify him.

As coroner, I must aver

I thoroughly examined her.

And she’s not only merely dead,

She’s really most sincerely dead.

Those four lines he sung as the coroner in the Wizard of Oz stayed with Raabe for the rest of his life and with thousands of people, like me, who grew up watching the movie.

In the 1950s when I was a child – also the decade CBS started broadcasting the Wizard of Oz on television – everything stopped for the hours that Dorothy and her little dog traveled down the yellow brick road. We planned for that time and waited excitedly for the moment when the black and white of Kansas changed to the rainbow-colored Land of Oz

And one of the first memorable scenes in the movie included Raabe certifying that the wicked witch was “sincerely dead.” I still hear the echo of “ding dong the witch is dead” when I remember the feet sticking out from under Dorothy’s tornado-tossed house.

Of course, Raabe never imagined when he got one of the few speaking munchkin roles that he stepped into Hollywood history, as well as into the hearts and memories of lots of folks.

He was about 3 ½ feet tall when he played the coroner and eventually grew to about 4 ½ feet, but he was a giant among Wizard of Oz fans who sought him out at Oz nostalgia events for years.

I learned Raabe (pronounced Robby) also spent about 30 years touring the country in the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile as “Little Oscar, the World’s Smallest Chef.” In addition, he earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Wisconsin, a master’s degree in business administration from Drexel University and was a licensed pilot.

While those accomplishments are impressive, it is still his place as one of the munchkins that fascinated so many people and lead him to write “Memories of a Munchkin, An Illustrated Walk Down the Yellow Brick Road,” a book filled with illustrations and photos from Munchkinland.

On the personal side of his life, in 1946 he married Marie Hartline, the woman he called the love of his life and they spent 53 years together before she died in a car crash in 1997.

Now Raabe joins her and most of the other munchkins who are gone. Reports say only four of the other “little people” are still alive. Raabe was reportedly the oldest survivor and the last of those with a speaking role.

Why, you might wonder, am I so interested in this man’s story? I guess it is because one of my most pleasant childhood memories includes him. I smile when I think of Raabe in his cape with his tall roll-brimmed hat solemnly pronouncing the end of the wicked witch of the east.

His appearance in the movie only lasted 13 seconds, but it changed Raabe’s life and wove him into my life and the lives so many others who still look forward to traveling down that yellow brick road.