A dress worn by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz” that was missing for decades before it was found at a Catholic university last year could fetch more than $1 million at auction.
The classic blue and white gingham dress will be on view at Bonhams New York from April 23 to 29. It will then go to Los Angeles to be sold on May 24 for anywhere between $800,000 to $1.2 million, Bonhams said in a release.
“The iconic blue and white gingham dress is one of only two existing dresses retaining the white blouse and only one of four blue and white dresses in existence,” the release said. “This incredibly rare and iconic Hollywood costume has also been matched to a specific scene in the beloved movie, namely when Dorothy faces the Wicked Witch of the West in the Witch’s Castle.”
The dress was gifted to The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in 1973. “It was given to Rev. Gilbert Hartke, illustrious head of the drama program, by actress Mercedes McCambridge, who served as artist-in-residence at CatholicU in 1972,” according to the university.
The dress, Catholic University’s Tower Newspaper wrote, was meant to be a source of “hope, strength, and courage” to students.
But then it vanished. Rumors of the gifted garb seemed less and less likely as the years passed without anyone seeing the dress.
Matt Ripa, who worked in the drama department and Hartke, the building named after the priest, would from time to time search for the dress, but started to believe “the legend of Dorothy’s dress was ‘a tall tale (of which many exist for Father Hartke),'” according to the university.
But one day last summer, as the department underwent renovations, Ripa noticed a bag atop faculty mailboxes. Inside of the bag was a box, and inside the box was the dress.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Ripa said. “Needless to say, I have found many interesting things in Hartke during my time at Catholic University, but I think this one takes the cake!”
The university contacted the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, which has several artifacts from “The Wizard of Oz.”
Experts at the museum said that the dresses determined to be authentic, like the dress found at the university, have specific characteristics like a secret pocket, “Judy Garland” written by hand in a script, and repaired tears where a thinner part of the dress often tore when Garland took it off.
Evidence that this dress was authentic was “strong,” according to the university. Proceeds from the dress will go to the The Catholic University of America’s drama department.
“This dress has an incredible history and Bonhams is honored to be a part of its journey. Important costumes from this iconic movie rarely appear on the auction market and to be able to pinpoint the scene in which this was worn by Judy Garland is thrilling,” said Helen Hall, director of popular culture at Bonhams in Los Angeles.
The other dress with a blouse was sold by Bonhams in 2015 for $1.5 million, the most every for a Dorothy dress, according to Bonhams.
Bonhams also sold the Cowardly Lion costume worn by actor Bert Lahr for more than $3 million in 2014.
The dress is not the first relic from the movie to go missing. In 2018, a pair of red ruby slippers worn by Garland were recovered 13 years after they had been stolen from a museum. That pair is one of four that still exists, including one housed in the Smithsonian where, like the dress, the stolen shoes were brought to be authenticated.