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Judy Garland's 'Wizard of Oz' dress found in trash bag at D.C. school

One of several gingham dresses for Judy Garland's

One of several gingham dresses for Judy Garland's character in "The Wizard of Oz" was given decades ago to The Catholic University of America, where it was lost until recently. At right, another such dress in 2012. Credit: Composite: Warner Bros.; AP

A long-missing dress worn by Judy Garland's character Dorothy in the 1939 film classic "The Wizard of Oz" has been found in a trash bag at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Maria Mazzenga, curator of the university's History Research Center, wrote on the college's website on June 30 that following decades of rumors that one of those wardrobe dresses had been given to the drama department’s head, a staff member recently stumbled across it.

Matt Ripa, the university's operations coordinator for drama and music, who discovered the dress, told her, "Our building is in the process of renovations and upgrades, so I was cleaning out my office to prepare. I noticed on top of the faculty mailboxes a trash bag and asked my co-worker to hand it to me. On the trash bag was a note for our former chair." Naming neither the note writer nor the chairperson, Ripa said the writer stated "that he had found 'this' in his office and that he must have moved it when he moved out of the chair's office."

Ripa went on to explain, "I was curious what was inside and opened the trash bag, and inside was a shoebox and inside the shoebox was the dress!! I couldn't believe it. My co-worker and I quickly grabbed some gloves and looked at the dress and took some pictures before putting it back in the box and heading over to the archives. I called one of our faculty members and former chair, who [had] always told me the dress existed and that it was in the building, to let her know that I had found it."

The Smithsonian Institution, while not authorized to authenticate objects not slated for its collection, said the dress "was consistent with the other objects from the film, and that the evidence around the dress was strong," Mazzenga wrote. She added that at least five others used in the movie have been "verified as probably authentic."

The recent find had been a gift to the drama department head, Father Gilbert Hartke, from Oscar winner Mercedes McCambridge (1949's "All the King's Men") during her 1970s time as an artist-in-residence, she added. The university has several photos of the late Hartke holding the dress, and a 1973 article in the student newspaper The Tower said McCambridge "recently presented … Hartke with Dorothy's dress in hopes that the precious gift will be a source of hope, strength and courage to the students."

It was unclear how McCambridge came to possess one of the "Wizard of Oz" wardrobe dresses. She and Garland were Hollywood contemporaries and by some accounts personal friends.

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