Judy Garland’s hometown is raising funds to purchase stolen ‘Wizard of Oz’ ruby slippers

Published 2:53 pm Thursday, June 20, 2024

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GRAND RAPIDS — The Minnesota hometown of Judy Garland, the actress who wore a pair of ruby slippers in “The Wizard of Oz,” is raising money to purchase the prized footwear after it was stolen from a local museum and then later turned over to an auction company.

Grand Rapids, Minnesota, where the late actress was born in 1922, is fundraising at its annual Judy Garland festival, which kicks off Thursday. The north Minnesota town is soliciting donations to bring the slippers back after an auction company takes them on an international tour before offering them up to prospective buyers in December.

“They could sell for $1 million, they could sell for $10 million. They’re priceless,” Joe Maddalena, Heritage Auctions executive vice president, told Minnesota Public Radio. “Once they’re gone, all the money in the world can’t buy them back.”

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The funds will supplement the $100,000 set aside this year by Minnesota lawmakers to purchase the slippers.

Dallas-based Heritage Auctions received the slippers from Michael Shaw, the memorabilia collector who originally owned the iconic shoes. Shaw had loaned them in 2005 to the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

That summer, someone smashed through a display case and stole the sequins-and-beads-bedazzled slippers. Their whereabouts remained a mystery until the FBI recovered them in 2018.

The man who stole the slippers, Terry Jon Martin, 76, pleaded guilty in October to theft of a major artwork, admitting to using a hammer to smash the glass of the museum’s door and display case in what his attorney said was an attempt to pull off “one last score” after turning away from a life of crime. He was sentenced in January to time served because of his poor health.

In March, a second man, 76-year-old Jerry Hal Saliterman, was charged in connection with the theft.

The ruby slippers were at the heart of “The Wizard of Oz,” a beloved 1939 musical. Garland’s character, Dorothy, danced down the Yellow Brick Road in her shiny shoes, joined by the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion.

Garland, who died in 1969, wore several pairs during filming. Only four remain.

Maddalena, with Heritage Auctions, says he sold two other pairs of ruby slippers. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio and a group of the actor’s friends purchased one set for the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.

Advance notice could help venues like the Judy Garland Museum secure the slippers that will be auctioned in December, he said. The museum which includes the house where Garland lived, says it has the world’s largest collection of Garland and “Wizard of Oz” memorabilia.

“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 and work out ways to do that,” Maddalena said. “That’d be an amazing story. I mean, if they ended up back there, that’d be a fantastic story.”