The Judy Garland Museum Wants to Buy Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers

Officials hope to raise millions to bid on the shoes, which were missing for over a decade, at auction in December

Ruby slippers
The slippers were on loan at the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, when they were stolen in 2005. Heritage Auctions

According to the Judy Garland Museum, there’s no place like home for the legendary ruby red slippers that the actress wore in The Wizard of Oz. That’s why the museum—located in Garland’s childhood home—is raising money to buy the iconic shoes at auction in December.

If the campaign is successful, it would be a homecoming for the dazzling slippers, which were on display at the Grand Rapids, Minnesota, museum until 2005, when a burglar broke in through one of the museum’s windows, smashed the plexiglass display case and made off with the iconic shoes.

The FBI recovered the stolen slippers in 2018 and returned them to their owner, Michael Shaw, a collector who had loaned them to the museum before the robbery. On December 7, Heritage Auctions will sell the slippers on Shaw’s behalf.

The ruby slippers, which bring The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy Gale back home to Kansas after her adventure in Oz with three magical heel clicks, have become one of Hollywood’s most recognizable symbols. These particular slippers are one of four known surviving pairs that Garland wore in the 1939 film.

Janie Heitz, executive director of the Judy Garland Museum, tells the New York Times’ Michael Levenson that she wants the shoes to be part of the museum’s permanent collection.

“It would be a Hollywood happy ending to this ruby slippers saga,” she says. “This would be a good final home for them, which is what Dorothy was searching for in The Wizard of Oz, so it’s a full-circle story for the slippers.”

To make that full-circle story a reality, the museum might need to raise $3.5 million, the FBI’s estimated value for the shoes. Heritage Auctions has not yet set a price for the opening bid, per the Times. Ahead of the auction, the shoes will go on tour through Tokyo, New York, London and Dallas.

“They could sell for $1 million; they could sell for $10 million,” Joe Maddalena, the auction house’s executive vice president, tells Minnesota Public Radio’s Dana Ferguson. “They’re priceless.”

In the meantime, the museum will be engaged in a fundraising campaign that began last week at Grand Rapids’ annual Judy Garland Festival, as the Times reports. The event included a five-kilometer race called the Dash for the Ruby Slippers.

The Minnesota legislature has approved a $100,000 contribution to the effort, which is supported by the state’s governor, Tim Walz. “We’re buying Judy Garland’s damn slippers to make sure they remain safe at home in Grand Rapids—on display for all to enjoy—under 24/7, Ocean's 11-proof security,” said the governor in a recent social media post.

The 2005 robbery began a bit like Ocean’s 11. The shoes were stolen by Terry Martin, a career criminal who appeared to have retired. However, as the Washington Post’s Jonathan Edwards writes, he was “lured back in by a ‘mob associate’ from his past promising ‘one last score.’”

According to his attorney, Martin had never seen The Wizard of Oz and didn’t know that the shoes were culturally significant. He thought they had been made with real rubies that he could sell on the black market, per court documents. When he discovered the shoes were covered in glass sequins, he handed them off to an “associate” and said he “never wanted to see them again.” The slippers were in Martin’s possession for less than 48 hours.

For over a decade, the mystery of their whereabouts endured. Finally, federal investigators recovered them during a sting operation in Minneapolis in 2018, though they didn’t indict Martin until last spring. “Officials have revealed little about how the slippers were recovered or what led them to indict Martin years later,” per the Washington Post.

Martin pleaded guilty to one count of theft of a major artwork. In January, he was sentenced to one year of supervised release and ordered to pay the museum $23,500. Heitz tells the Times that Martin has paid most of the restitution, which the museum will use to bid on the slippers.

The Judy Garland Museum “never really bounced back” from the theft, which took place two years after the museum opened, Heitz told the Washington Post’s Praveena Somasundaram earlier this year. “Nobody was going to loan their Judy Garland memorabilia to us anymore. And so I think there were just a lot of opportunities that we missed out on.”

Now, the museum hopes the opportunity to get the slippers back in December won’t pass them by.

“Our goal is to get the word out to the world that we need them,” John Kelsch, director of the Judy Garland Museum at the time of the robbery, tells Minnesota Public Radio. “They belong here.”

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