The Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minn., still hopes that two stolen ruby slippers will somehow click their heels together and make their way home.
Meanwhile, the Smithsonian launched a fundraiser this week that quickly raised nearly one-third of the $300,000 it says it needs to repair another pair of Dorothy’s crumbling footwear from “The Wizard of Oz.” Those aging shoes have for decades been one of the most popular exhibits at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. The campaign was a painful reminder to the Minnesota museum of what it has lost.
It’s been 11 years since someone snatched the ruby slippers from the Grand Rapids museum. Despite years of chasing wild tips and offering lavish rewards, the slippers remain missing, and the loss still hurts.
“They’re the symbol of the longing for home — a symbol of a sense of place,” said John Kelsch, executive director of the museum. “Of any artifact from the movie, they touch that emotion in people.”
The slippers on view in Minnesota were one of four known surviving pairs from the movie production. They were a deep, striking burgundy with orange felt on their leather soles to muffle the sound of Garland’s footsteps as she followed the yellow brick road.
It was the summer of 2005, and the shoes were on loan from California collector Michael Shaw. On Aug. 28, someone broke into the museum, snatched the slippers — and nothing else — and fled, leaving a trail of broken glass and a single red sequin on the floor.
It was a crushing blow to the small museum set up in Garland’s childhood home. The museum still draws 20,000 people a year to tour the house and admire its collection of movie props and memorabilia. But the exhibit visitors talk about most is the one that isn’t there.
“That’s the number one question at the museum: ‘What happened to the slippers?’ ” Kelsch said. “Everybody seems to know about it.”
In the museum’s gift shop, visitors can buy ruby slipper charms, or a T-shirt with the legend: “Who Stole The Ruby Slippers?”
Last year, on the 10th anniversary of the theft, an anonymous fan put up a $1 million reward, hoping to secure their return. An Itasca County sheriff’s dive team searched a watery quarry for them last summer, chasing a tip that local kids might have broken into the museum as a prank and tossed the shoes away in a panic. The searchers found nothing, and the reward expired without anyone stepping forward to collect.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences snagged another pair at auction for $2 million for a museum it is building in Los Angeles. The Smithsonian’s Kickstarter page seeking donations for slipper restoration raised more than $80,000 in its first day.
Why all the fuss for some 80-year-old movie props? Kelsch gets that question a lot.
“France has the Mona Lisa. America has ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ” he said. “It’s our national masterpiece, so much a part of the American experience.”