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Catholic Life

Iconic Dorothy dress has been there ‘all along’ at Catholic University

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The dress worn by actor Judy Garland in the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz” is seen at The Catholic University of America in Washington July 7, 2021. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Father Gilbert V. Hartke, founder of The Catholic University of America’s speech and drama department, and Carol Pearson, a graduate student, are seen in this undated photo with the dress worn by actor Judy Garland in the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz.” (CNS photo/Special Collections, courtesy The Catholic University of America)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — It turns out there really is no place like home for a prized piece of movie memorabilia that came to The Catholic University of America’s drama department about 50 years ago. Missing for decades, the university’s long-rumored possession of the blue gingham dress worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” showed up without much Hollywood fanfare this summer in a white trash bag stashed high in a theater department’s office.

The rediscovery of something that had almost seemed legend in the drama department – except for photos of it and descriptions from people who remembered seeing it – echoes a theme taken right from the classic 1939 movie. Dorothy promises never to look for her heart’s desire “any further than my own back yard” after likely taking to heart the wizard’s advice that everything she was “looking for was right there with you all along.”

In early June, in preparation for renovation of the university’s Hartke Theater, a department faculty member sorting through things noticed a white trash bag. Inside it was a green shoe-sized box whose contents needed no explanation for Matt Ripa, a lecturer and operations coordinator in the university’s drama department. He took one look inside and immediately recognized the faded blue squares and the aged yellowing blouse of the classic film dress.

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