Judy Garland's Iconic Wizard of Oz Dress Found After Disappearing for Decades

For years, a dress Judy Garland appeared to wear in The Wizard of Oz was missing. But last month, it was rediscovered. Was it somewhere over the rainbow? Find out here.

By Elyse Dupre Jul 21, 2021 3:10 PMTags
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There's no place like home—and it looks like Judy Garland's dress from The Wizard of Oz has found its new residence after going missing years ago.

As fans well know, Garland played Dorothy Gale in the 1939 film, winning a special honorary Oscar for her performance. In the movie, the actress wore a now-famous blue and white checked gingham dress. And just last month, the costume appeared to be rediscovered.

So where did it end up? Well, it certainly wasn't in Kansas anymore. In fact, it appeared to be at The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington D.C. And it wasn't a twister that brought it there, either.

According to a 1973 article by the student newspaper The Tower, actress Mercedes McCambridge, who served as the university's artist-in-residence from 1972 to 1973, presented Father Gilbert Hartke with the piece in hopes that, as the publication put it, the gift would be "a source of hope, strength and courage to the students." There's even a photo of the two holding the apparent garment. While it's unclear how exactly McCambridge obtained it, The Tower referred to her as a "friend" of Garland's. The Hollywood star had already passed away by the time McCambridge had given away the dress.

Stars Go Wizard of Oz

Per an article published by the university, Matt Ripa, lecturer and operations coordinator at the school's drama department, "had heard rumors that Father Hartke was gifted Dorothy's dress and that it was located somewhere in the building." Although, he could never locate it. 

"I had looked in our archives, storage closets, etc. to no avail," he explained. "I assumed it was a tall tale (of which many exist for Father Hartke)."

But everything changed after Ripa was cleaning out his office in June for a building renovation and noticed a trash bag sitting on the top of the faculty mailboxes. 

"On the trash bag was a note for our former chair stating that he had found ‘this' in his office and that he must have moved it when he moved out of the chair's office… I was curious what was inside and opened the trash bag and inside was a shoebox and inside the shoe box was the dress!" he told CUA. "I couldn't believe it."

Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Afterwards, Ripa and his colleague put on gloves to inspect the dress, took some pictures and then went to the archives. "I called one of our faculty members and former chair, who always told me the dress existed and that it was in the building to let her know that I had found it," he continued. "Needless to say, I have found many interesting things in the Hartke during my time at CUA, but I think this one takes the cake." 

According to CUA, it's working to obtain additional documentation to prove the dress' authenticity. So, it contacted curators Ryan Lintelman, Dawn Wallace and Sunae Park. They work at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, where Dorothy's ruby red slippers and more memorabilia reside. 

While the museum's curators do not offer monetary evaluations of historical objects, they did offer some insights on the costume. For starters, Lintelman told Smithsonian Magazine there are five other dresses "that have a good claim" on being authentic. The newly discovered dress, the publication continued, has several characteristics these costumes share, including a "secret pocket" where Garland kept her handkerchief and the name "Judy Garland" written by hand on the piece.

Per CUA, it now plans to preserve the dress in "proper storage in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment."

This isn't the first piece from the movie to be rediscovered. According to the FBI, a pair of ruby slippers Garland wore in the film were stolen from her namesake museum in Minnesota in 2005; however, the shoes, which are among at least four pairs used in the movie that are still in existence, were recovered in 2018. The thief was not identified.

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