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A community of backers around the world came together to help the Smithsonian conserve and display the Ruby Slippers and Scarecrow costume.
A community of backers around the world came together to help the Smithsonian conserve and display the Ruby Slippers and Scarecrow costume.
6,451 backers pledged $349,026 to help bring this project to life.

The Mystery of the Missing Pair

Posted by Smithsonian Institution (Creator)
145 likes

Dear #KeepThemRuby friends,

Have we got a story for you.

Knowing all things ruby, you remember, Judy Garland had several pairs of slippers made for her as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. A few of those still exist. 

One pair you know quite well: It's the one we’ve been conserving thanks to your support of #KeepThemRuby.

Another was stolen in 2005 from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minn., Garland’s hometown. 

The thief left behind a trail of broken glass and a single red sequin as the only clues. After that, the heist was an unsolved mystery for years.

Until now. Thanks, in part, to you.

FBI Special Agents recently brought a recovered pair of slippers to the National Museum of American History for an expert opinion. Might this pair be a masterful replica or one of the pairs worn in the iconic 1939 movie?

On an August day, the agents unboxed this pair of sequin-covered shoes, setting them in front of Dawn Wallace, the museum’s objects conservator, and Richard Barden, our chief conservator. While our Smithsonian staff doesn’t authenticate objects, these experts are always eager to share their knowledge when asked.

Wallace's first thought upon seeing the slippers? “Wow, I think these are the real thing.”

The recovered pair, along with an FBI badge. The single sequin shown here was found at the crime scene at the Judy Garland Museum from which a pair of Ruby Slippers went missing in 2005.
The recovered pair, along with an FBI badge. The single sequin shown here was found at the crime scene at the Judy Garland Museum from which a pair of Ruby Slippers went missing in 2005.

The Clue’s in the Bead


But she and Barden had to be sure. For two days, they examined every inch of the sparkling, yet clearly worn pair to assist the FBI and learn as much as possible about the shoes. Wallace is the expert, attuned to every nuance of Ruby Slippers after 200 hours conserving the museum’s pair in preparation for its return to display next month. 

Objects Conservator Dawn Wallace examines the recovered pair of Ruby Slippers. Chief Conservator Richard Barden and Curator Ryan Lintelman also spent hours looking at the shoes in detail.
Objects Conservator Dawn Wallace examines the recovered pair of Ruby Slippers. Chief Conservator Richard Barden and Curator Ryan Lintelman also spent hours looking at the shoes in detail.
 

Barden has spent decades with the museum’s collections, including these Hollywood favorites, which will return to their display case on October 19, 2018.

In a “sequin by sequin sequence,” Wallace likes to joke, she cleaned the museum’s shoes, realigning many sequins to expose their silver sides, making them more reflective. She stabilized the shoes as well so that they can be on display for years to come. Supported by more than 6,000 Kickstarter backers, Wallace’s conservation work was done meticulously.

With trained eyes, the two investigated the pair from the FBI, noting many consistencies with the museum’s pair. One detail particularly stood out—a clear glass bead on the bow of the left shoe.

A clear glass bead is discovered on the bow of the left shoe of the recovered pair. It has flecks of red paint on it.
A clear glass bead is discovered on the bow of the left shoe of the recovered pair. It has flecks of red paint on it.
 

“The glass bead painted red was a eureka moment,” Wallace says. “That’s a piece of information that hasn’t been published anywhere and, as far as I know, isn’t widely known. It’s a unique element of these shoes and spotting that bead was a defining moment.”

The museum’s pair also has clear glass beads painted red. Yes, that's right: The beads match!

Circles indicate the location of clear glass beads painted red on the museum’s right shoe.
Circles indicate the location of clear glass beads painted red on the museum’s right shoe.
 

Through analysis and interviews with Hollywood costumers, Wallace learned the beads were replaced and painted during filming of the movie. When she saw the telltale beads on the bow of the recovered pair, she knew her initial hunch was correct—these were no fakes.

The shoes that make up the Smithsonian's pair aren’t identical. The left is marked 5C, the right 5BC. The heel caps, bows, width and overall shape aren’t the same. But, the recovered left shoe seems to be the reciprocal to our right shoe, creating two seemingly matching pairs!

How do the shoes make matching pairs? The recovered left shoe goes with our right shoe and vice versa.
How do the shoes make matching pairs? The recovered left shoe goes with our right shoe and vice versa.
 

The felt on the bottom of each pair is another shared characteristic and indicates they both were used for the dance scenes in the movie.

The mix-up of shoes may have happened during preparation for the 1970 auction of items in MGM’s costume closets. That’s when the museum’s pair was purchased—parting ways from other pairs produced for the film—and later donated to the museum anonymously in 1979. 

The inner heel grips differ dramatically in shape between the two shoes in the museum’s collection. The bows are also slightly different.
The inner heel grips differ dramatically in shape between the two shoes in the museum’s collection. The bows are also slightly different.
Subtle differences are visible between the two shoes in the museum’s pair of Ruby Slippers. The heel caps, for example, aren’t identical.
Subtle differences are visible between the two shoes in the museum’s pair of Ruby Slippers. The heel caps, for example, aren’t identical.

Silver Makes the Sparkle

In addition to physically studying the recovered pair, Wallace also worked with scientists from the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum Conservation Institute to analyze materials and compare results between the two pairs. They found that the sequins had layers of different materials, including cellulose nitrate and a silver backing designed to reflect light and create a sparkle. (Modern sequins have aluminum instead of silver.)

“Because of our conservation work on the Ruby Slippers, we created a library of information about the shoes,” Wallace said. “And we were able to apply that to the pair the FBI brought here and gain more information.”

For Barden, the “aha!” moment came while examining the level of deterioration of the recovered pair’s sequins. The physical and light damage is consistent with the museum’s pair. To replicate this type of aging, one would have to have specialized knowledge.

We are thrilled to share our knowledge, play a role in the recovery of lost history and continue learning about The Wizard of Oz history. 

What's next?

What will the FBI agents do next in their investigation of the recovered pair? We don’t know, but we will follow the story in the news. They did tell us the publicity from the #KeepThemRuby campaign helped in their investigation to find the missing pair!  

We hope you're as surprised and delighted by this unexpected turn of events as we are—and proud that you helped make it possible! Twists and turns around every corner—just as in The Wizard of Oz.  

The National Museum of American History is making final preparations to return our pair of the Ruby Slippers to display on October 19, 2018. Stay tuned for even more stories about how we'll #KeepThemRuby!

Sara van Eerde, Susan Berger, and 143 more people like this update.

Comments

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    1. Missing avatar

      Sue Huhn on

      It's great they found the slippers. Too bad it wasn't before the restoration. Perhaps you could have matched up the pairs properly.

    2. Missing avatar

      Phyllis Cail on

      Oh my!!! What a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing it with us.

    3. Jerome A. Dennis
      Superbacker
      on

      Great work to all!

    4. Cathi Falconwing
      Superbacker
      on

      That was amazing to read.I bet it will be reassuring to have a backup pair. These
      "Ruby slippers" are an important part of our Americana Heritage.

    5. Smithsonian Institution 3-time creator on

      Hi everyone! We're so glad you're as excited as we are about this incredible story! We don’t know what the next steps will be for the recovered pair, but we’re following their journey with great interest. We’re honored to have been helpful to the FBI and so glad they have been located.

      The museum’s pair of Ruby Slippers returns to display on October 19.

    6. Andrew Hurwitz
      Superbacker
      on

      I saw the story break this morning and figured you guys probably knew before us!

    7. Missing avatar

      Janet Hendrian on

      Fascinating seems to be the appropriate word for this story! Please keep us updated on what is to become of the newfound pair. And will the mates be switched so they match?

    8. Jeremie Lariviere
      Superbacker
      on

      wow, that's fascinating!
      will you be working to conserve both, displaying both, or will it go back to the museum where it was stolen from after the conservation work?

    9. Missing avatar

      Paulette Eister on

      That is definitely a fascinating story. What now will be done with the recovered stolen pair? (Did I miss that in the story?)