In 1939, sixteen-year-old Judy Garland donned a pair of ruby slippers and danced her way into moviegoers' hearts in The Wizard of Oz. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History (NMAH)—which reopened this past November after a two-year renovation—boasts a rare pair now on display.
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In the children's novel by L. Frank Baum, on which the film was based, Dorothy's magical shoes were silver. The idea to change them to ruby red came from Noel Langley, one of the film's screenwriters—probably because the color would stand out better against a yellow brick road. Legendary Hollywood costumer Adrian designed the slippers—which owe their glitter to burgundy sequins. After filming, the shoes went into storage, where they were forgotten amid the studio's extensive collection of costumes. In 1970 a pair found in the basement of MGM's wardrobe department were sold at auction for $15,000 to a still-anonymous buyer, who donated them to the Smithsonian in 1979. Four other pairs are known to exist: one commanded $666,000 on the auction block in 2000.
NMAH curator Dwight Blocker Bowers says the shoes are a perennial favorite for visitors, who remember Dorothy's wish as she clicked her heels. "It's the idea," he says, "of 'there's no place like home' and that there is a warm place to cling to—it's a shared memory.