Wisconsin Woman Claims Judy Garland’s ‘Wizard of Oz’ Dress Belongs to Her

by Caitlin Berard
(Photo by LMPC via Getty Images)

From her pigtailed head to her ruby slippered toes, Judy Garland’s Wizard of Oz ensemble is one of the most iconic in cinema history. When the film was produced, however, those involved had no way of knowing that it would go on to reach the heights that it did. And, like so many legendary pieces of film memorabilia before and after it, the dress was lost, along with the ruby slippers.

According to Helen Hall, the director of pop culture at Bonhams auction house, one of the world’s oldest and largest auctioneers, the market for classic film memorabilia didn’t really exist until the ’90s. Before that time, pieces regularly went home with actors and crew members.

“Back in the day, when these things didn’t really have a value, people who worked on the films would take stuff,” Hall explained to The Washington Examiner. “And it was fair game to just retain a costume or prop or whatever. Now, the studios keep track of the props and costumes. And things aren’t allowed off set. Usually, it’s retained by the production company or studio.”

More than 30 years later, the dress was miraculously found by Mercedes McCambridge. The actress then donated it to the Catholic University of America. After its donation, however, the dress once more faded into legend.

Years passed and, eventually, the recipient of the donation, Father Gilbert Hartke, retired. At this point, the blue checked gingham dress resurfaced again, this time in a shoebox found inside a trash bag.

With the dress back in their possession, the university decided to put it up for auction. A priceless piece of memorabilia, the dress would likely sell for millions. The proceeds of the sale would benefit the school’s drama department, founded by Gilbert Hartke himself.

Auction of Iconic ‘Wizard of Oz’ Dress is on Hold, Pending a Lawsuit

Throughout the filming of Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland wore six different blue gingham dresses. The one found at the Catholic University is the one worn by Garland in the Wicked Witch’s castle. It already had quite a history when it was dug out of the trash, but the dress’ journey was far from over.

Shortly after it was displayed in a New York auction house, however, the sale was postponed. Barbara Ann Hartke, the niece of Gilbert Hartke, came to claim it.

As the closest living relative of the late priest, Hartke says the dress is hers. To halt the auction, the 81-year-old retired teacher filed a federal lawsuit, claiming ownership of the iconic piece of cinema history.

“I was just surprised after all this time, here it had been found. And here it is being rushed off to the auction house,” Hartke told the New York Post. “I just want to know who has ownership over this. I’d like to see documentation.”

Lawyers for the university maintain that Harke has no claim to the dress. According to them, it was donated to the school, not Gilbert Harke personally. In addition, they say that “witnesses, including a descendant of one of Father Hartke’s siblings, have come forward confirming that the dress was never part of Father Hartke’s estate. [It] was always owned by the University.”