Lutherans in Wisconsin

‘Pay attention to the man behind the curtain’

Meinhardt Raabe, a devout member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), did not fear death. And why should he? Besides a demonstrated commitment to a life of faith, he had one of the most memorable non-canonical statements about death:

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

Do you recognize the verse?

Raabe was best known as the Munchkin coroner who confirmed the death of the Wicked Witch of the East in the 1939 film classic Wizard of Oz. He has been a pop culture icon ever since.

Meinhardt Raabe died April 10, 2010, in Orange Park, Florida, at the age of 94. His funeral was held at Immanuel Lutheran Church (WELS) in Jefferson County, Wisconsin. He was the last surviving Munchkin of the 124 involved in the movie.

“Meinhardt is alive; he’s well; he’s in the hands of the Lord and he will be there forever,” the Rev. Richard Pagels told the congregation, according to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “[He] was a wonderful, dignified, and beloved gentleman.

“What a terrific individual who could relate to so many people in so many ways,” he said. “He overcame people’s attitudes with what he could do. He was proud of who he was and where he came from.”

He had indicated that he had faced some discrimination, the Rev. Arnold Lemke told Metro Lutheran. Raabe had attended Northwestern College, a preparatory school for WELS members going into the ministry, at the same time as Lemke’s father. Lemke said that he was considering ministry, but decided to go into business instead, and so transferred to the University of Wisconsin, and later Drexel University.

Raabe was not an actor. He simply heard about the casting call for short people, and decided to try out. He was about 42 inches tall at the time Wizard of Oz was filmed.

According to his memoir, Memories of a Munchkin, Raabe served in the Civil Air Patrol after his role in the movie, overcoming barriers concerning his size to serve in World War II.

Raabe later toured for 30 years as “Little Oscar, the World’s Smallest Chef” in the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile. This was a return role, as he had worked in the public relations department of Oscar Mayer when he first heard about the casting call for Wizard of Oz.

According to an obituary that appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Raabe told United Press International in a 1989 interview that “[e]very little person who walked through the front gate got a job with MGM.”

Raabe always appeared proud of his moment of fame. He supported annual events held at Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum’s birthplace, and was ever willing to do an interview about his role.

Raabe was preceded in death by his wife Marie Hartline, a vaudeville entertainer who was killed in a car accident in 1997.

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