An important Tinseltown treasure had long been considered lost somewhere over the rainbow.
But members of the drama department at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., had a hunch that one of Judy Garland’s “Wizard of Oz” dresses was hidden somewhere in their facility, as The Washington Post reported earlier this month.
In 1973, a story in CUA’s student newspaper The Tower described a “precious gift” that had been given to the school by Oscar-winning actor Mercedes McCambridge, an artist-in-residence in the university’s drama department at the time. McCambridge, the article said, was a “close friend” of Garland, who died in 1969.
According to that article, McCambridge hoped the blue-and-white checked gingham dress would be “a source of hope, strength, and courage to the students.”
Still, Matt Ripa, a lecturer and operations coordinator at CUA, had searched everywhere for the garment with no luck, and was almost convinced its presence at the school was about as real as a flying monkey.
That is, until June 7, when Ripa was cleaning out the building for a renovation and stumbled upon a trash bag sitting by the faculty mail slots with a note.
“I found this,” was all Thomas Donahue, a now-retired drama professor, had written in the note.
“I was curious what was inside and opened the trash bag and inside was a shoebox and inside the shoebox was the dress!!” Ripa recalls in a university archives blog post. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Ripa told the Post: “I was shocked, holding a piece of Hollywood history right in my hands.”
Soon after the discovery, CUA contacted Ryan Lintelman, an expert in “Wizard of Oz” memorabilia, to weigh in on the frock’s authenticity.
Lintelman is a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, which houses a pair of sparkling ruby slippers worn by Garland, a complete costume worn by Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow, and an original 1938 screenplay based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 book, per Smithsonian magazine.
The museum’s curators don’t offer monetary evaluations of historical objects, but Lintelman did provide some juicy insights about the costume to Smithsonian magazine.
Lintelman told the outlet that he and his colleagues determined that the CUA dress “numbers among just six known costumes ‘that have a good claim’ on being the real deal.”
The recently found costume features many components that the other five dresses share, including a “secret pocket” where Garland would have kept her handkerchief, and the name “Judy Garland” written by hand on the piece. The handwriting is the same as on the other known dresses.
CUA now plans to preserve the garment in “proper storage in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment,” according a university press release.
The dress, the school said, is “not in Kansas anymore.”