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Judy Garland’s hometown hopes a good witch will help purchase Dorothy’s ruby slippers

One pair of Dorthy's slippers, worn by Judy Garland in 1939, are displayed at a viewing at the Plaza Athenee on December 5, 2011 in New York City.
Astrid Stawiarz
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Getty Images
One pair of Dorthy's slippers, worn by Judy Garland in 1939, are displayed at a viewing at the Plaza Athenee on December 5, 2011 in New York City.

GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. — This weekend, Grand Rapids, Minnesota will honor its best-known former resident — Judy Garland.

And at its annual Judy Garland Festival, the city will fundraise to bring back a prized prop that the actress made famous. But, it won’t be an easy stroll down the Yellow Brick Road.

Minnesota lawmakers set aside $100,000 this year to help the Judy Garland Museum purchase the coveted ruby slippers of “The Wizard of Oz” fame. Experts expect the shoes could sell for a much higher price.

“They could sell for $1 million, they could sell for $10 million. They're priceless,” says Joe Maddalena, Heritage Auctions executive vice president.

The ruby slippers are one of four sets remaining.

This pair’s unique story

The shoes were on display at Garland’s namesake museum in Grand Rapids in the summer of 2005 when a burglar struck. John Kelsch, the museum director at the time, says a man broke in through the back door and snatched the slippers.

All that was left behind was a single sparkling red sequin.

“It was devastating,” Kelsch says. “Unfortunately, local people thought that the museum benefited somehow from it, that we got the insurance money, which was not the case at all.”

The Judy Garland Museum now features an exhibit detailing the story of the theft of the ruby slippers and the investigation to find them.
Dana Ferguson / MPR
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MPR
The Judy Garland Museum now features an exhibit detailing the story of the theft of the ruby slippers and the investigation to find them.

Investigators spent years searching for the missing slippers before they recovered them during a sting operation in Minneapolis in 2018.

Curators at the Smithsonian Museum then compared the shoes to another pair on display in Washington D.C. to ensure they were authentic.

Earlier this year, the slippers were returned to their owner Michael Shaw, who had loaned them to the Grand Rapids museum, during a private ceremony.

The slippers will go on a world tour with stops in Beverly Hills, New York, London and Tokyo before coming up for auction at the end of the year.

Maddalena, with Heritage Auctions, has sold two other pairs of ruby slippers. He says he convinced actor Leonardo DiCaprio and a group of the actor’s friends to help purchase one for the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.

This time, he says the advance notice could help venues like the Judy Garland Museum have a stronger shot.

“We wanted to enable places that might not normally be able to raise the funds so quickly to have plenty of time to think about it,” Maddalena says. “That'd be an amazing story. I mean, if they ended up back there, that'd be a fantastic story.”

The museum, lawmakers and the governor come together

Judy Garland Museum officials, state legislators and Minnesota’s governor say they’re hopeful that a benevolent figure will wave their magic wand to help.

“Our goal is to get the word out to the world that we need them. They belong here,” Kelsch says. “Somebody out there is going to help us. I just know it.”

In a social media post, Gov. Tim Walz noted the state’s effort to buy “the damn slippers to make sure they remain safe at home in Grand Rapids – on display for all to enjoy – under 24/7, ‘Ocean's 11’-proof security.”

Judy Garland Museum Director Janie Heitz says Garland had fond memories of her hometown. And it would make sense for the Grand Rapids community to have them on display.

Two people sitting with photo: John Kelsch, left, and Janie Heitz, right, holding a framed photo of a young Judy Garland. They are the former and current directors of the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. They posed for a photo in the actress’ childhood home on May 30.
Dana Ferguson / MPR
/
MPR
Two people sitting with photo: John Kelsch, left, and Janie Heitz, right, holding a framed photo of a young Judy Garland. They are the former and current directors of the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. They posed for a photo in the actress’ childhood home on May 30.

“Yes, we’re the place where they were stolen, and yes, we'll have to get better security. But you know, Judy Garland is the one that made them famous,” Heitz says.

“We just think it would be a full circle story on the importance of home, and that's exactly what ‘The Wizard of Oz’ represents,” Heitz says. “She was always trying to get home. And so maybe that's where the slippers should go, is in Judy's hometown, where her childhood home is.”

In the movie, Dorothy got home with a wish and the ruby slippers.

Heitz is clicking her heels and hoping that her wish — to bring the slippers back to Grand Rapids — comes true, too.

Copyright 2024 MPR News

Dana Ferguson | MPR News
[Copyright 2024 KUER 90.1]
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