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Judy Garland's "Wizard of Oz" Dress Was Just Found in a Trash Bag

A university employee spotted the iconic costume while cleaning up.

Seeing as The Wizard of Oz is considered one of the greatest films of all time, you would think that anything from the film's set would be under safe keeping. Not the case. As reported by People, one of the iconic gingham dresses Judy Garland wore in The Wizard of Oz was found in June after being missing since the '70s. Where was it? In a trash bag.

The story involves the dress being gifted to a professor over 40 years ago, its mysterious disappearance, and its reemergence during some routine cleaning. Keeping reading to find out more about how the dress became misplaced and what will happen to it now.

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The dress was given to a professor in the early '70s.

Mercedes McCambridge in a publicity photo from the 1950s
De Carvalho Collection/Getty Images

An account written by Maria Mazzenga, PhD on the website of The Catholic University of America tells the entire story of how the dress was lost and found. The actor Mercedes McCambridge (All the King's Men, Giant) was an artist-in-residence at Catholic University in 1972 and 1973. She had come into possession of one of the gingham dresses—there were several—that Garland wore as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz.

Mazzenga explains that it's unknown how McCambridge came to have the dress—though she was said to be friends with Garland—but she gifted it to Father Gilbert Hartke, who was the head of the university's drama program. Hartke was known for his eccentric sense of style and interest in fashion.

It was found in a surprising spot.

The Tin Man, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz"
Warner Bros. Entertainment / YouTube

Hartke died in 1986, and there had long been rumors within the school that the dress was somewhere on campus. "I could never get confirmation on exactly where it was located," explained Matt Ripa, a lecturer and operations coordinator for the drama department, in Mazzenga's story. "I had looked in our archives, storage closets, etc. to no avail. I assumed it was a tall tale (of which many exist for Father Hartke)."

But, when the drama department's building was being cleaned prior to renovations, Ripa noticed a trash bag on the top of the faculty mailboxes. "On the trash bag was a note for our former chair stating that he had found 'this' in his office and that he must have moved it when he moved out of the chair's office… I was curious what was inside and opened the trash bag and inside was a shoebox and inside the shoe box was the dress!! I couldn't believe it."

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The dress was then examined for authenticity.

A dress from "The Wizard of Oz" at Julien's Auctions Gallery in 2012
Mark Sullivan/WireImage via Getty Images

Ripa put on gloves to look at the dress and take pictures of it, and it was later inspected by experts from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, which houses other memorabilia from The Wizard of Oz. While the Catholic University article notes that the museum employees were not allowed to officially authenticate the dress, they found it consistent with what would be expected from a dress used in the movie. For instance, it has Garland's name written inside, a secret pocket that was sewn into all the star's dresses, and evidence of sewing repairs that line up with the film's history.

It's now in a much safer place.

Ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz" on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Kris Connor/Getty Images

The gingham dress is now in Catholic University's Special Collections, where it is properly stored in a temperature-controlled environment—not in a trash bag. As for other pieces of Wizard of Oz history, there are five similar dresses out there that have been verified as "probably authentic," according to the university. One dress sold in an auction for $1.5 million in 2015.

The National Museum of American History is the home to several other pieces from the movie, including a pair of Dorothy's ruby slippers, an original script, and the Scarecrow costume.

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Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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