Crossing Over

Really Most Sincerely…
Meinhardt Raabe, Munchkin Coroner
September 2, 1915-April 9, 2010

His name did not appear on the screen when credits rolled at the end of The Wizard of Oz, but Meinhardt Raabe’s 13-second appearance in the 1938 movie as the Munchkin coroner pronouncing the Wicked Witch of the East “really most sincerely dead”—after averring that he “thoroughly examined her”—earned the Wisconsin native a permanent place in pop culture history and the affection of generations of fans that may never have known his name until his death on April 9 made the news and spurred endless TV repeats of the memorable scene in which the Coroner, attired in a costume that included dyed yak hair used to make a handlebar mustache and long beard and a huge hat with a rolled brim, assures Dorothy of Kansas, and the assembled multitude of Singer Midgets, that the feared Witch has gone to her just reward.

One of the few surviving 124 Munchkins of Oz fame (and one of only nine with a speaking part), Raabe died on April 9 at the Orange Park Medical Center in Orange Park, FL, after collapsing and going into cardiac arrest at the retirement community where he lived.

At the time of Oz’s filming, Raabe was 22 years old and already a show business veteran earning money to pay his college tuition as a “midget” performer. In interviews over the years, he said some of his fellow little people resented being called “midgets,” but it was the common term of the day. “My wife and I were both in show business, were both midgets. My wife worked from 1929 to 1932 as a member of Rose’s Royal Midgets, the largest midget troupe in vaudeville,” he told a reporter. His wife was Marie Hartline, whom Raabe wed in 1946. She died in a car crash in 1997.

Munchkin Coroner Meinhardt Raabe by Studio Kadu

Born in Watertown, WI, in 1915, Raabe was a member of the Midget City cast at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1934, and also performed with other fairs, which enabled him to save enough money to put himself through school. He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Wisconsin and, years later, a master’s degree in business administration from Northwestern University.

Three and a half feet tall when Oz was filmed, Raabe eventually sprouted to nearly four and a half feet. Although The Wizard of Oz made him a legend, Raabe went on from the film role to tour the country for three decades in the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile as “Little Oscar, the World’s Smallest Chef,” making him one of, if not the, longest tenured hot dog promoter in history. During World War II, he was a pilot and instructor in the Civil Air Patrol, and later worked as a horticulturist and teacher.

‘We were a cross-section of the population.’ Meinhardt Raabe discusses the Munchkin culture

Raabe, who enjoyed the many Oz-themed gatherings to which he was invited over the years, along with the unceasing fan adulation, called the enduring allure of Oz “an ego trip,” and added: “This is our reward, the nostalgia.” In 2005 he published his autobiography, Memories Of a Munchkin.

Raabe’s remains were cremated and returned to Watertown, where a surviving sister, Marion Ziegelman, still resides. Raabe’s death reduces to four the surviving members from The Wizard of Oz: Jerry Maren, Margaret Pelligrini, Karl Slover and Ruth L. Robinson-Duccini.

As coroner, I must aver
I thoroughly examined her.
And she’s not only merely dead,
She’s really most sincerely dead.

Meinhardt Raabe, far right, joins other Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz pose as they receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007. Munchkins, from left: Clarence Swensen, a Munchkin soldier, Jerry Maren, part of the Lollipop Guild; Mickey Carroll, the Town Crier; Karl Slover, the Main Trumpeter; Ruth Duccini, a Munchkin villager; Margaret Pelligrini, the ‘sleepyhead’ Munchkin and Meinhardt Raabe, the coroner.

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