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I Don’t Think We’re In Kansas Anymore: Dorothy’s Dress Found at Catholic University

Photo courtesy of Catholic University of America Special Collections

by Jacqueline Jedrych

One of the most iconic aspects of the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz is the checkered blue dress worn by Judy Garland. This dress, rumored to have been gifted to Father Hartke by actress and artist-in-residence Mercedes McCambridge, was recently rediscovered in Hartke Theater during renovations. 

Reverend Gilbert Vincent Ferrer Hartke, O.P. is the namesake of the Hartke Theater that houses the drama department, due to his contribution as the founder of the theater program and Department of Speech and Drama. During his tenure, students such as Ed McMahon, Jon Voight, Susan Sarandon, and Robert Moore received their education. Many legends surround the life and work of Father Hartke, with varying degrees of truthfulness. One such legend is his extravagant collection of theater clothes, including a silk Nehru jacket, a six foot long aviator scarf, a Russian fur hat, and light blue canvas sneakers, according to McCambridge. 

Rumors of the dress have swirled around Hartke Theater for generations, with mentions from The Tower and McCambridge’s autobiography stoking the fire. 

“I had looked in our archives, storage closets, etc. to no avail,” said Ripa. “I assumed it was a tall tale (of which many exist for Father Hartke).”

This summer, Hartke Theater is undergoing renovations. While clearing out offices, Lecturer and Operations Coordinator at the Drama Department Matt Ripa stumbled across a box. 

“I noticed on top of the faculty mailboxes a trash bag and asked my co-worker to hand it to me,” said Ripa. “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.”

Rumors were not enough, however, to confirm the dress’ identity. Archivists with Catholic University’s special collections set to work, looking through The Tower’s archives, University records, and Father Hartke’s papers, as well as researching the relationship between the figures involved. Judy Garland’s friendship with Mercades McCambridge, McCambridge’s friendship with Hartke, and pictures of Hartke with the dress offered strong support for the dress’s authenticity. 

The archivists took these findings to Ryan Lintelman, Curator with the Division of Cultural and Community Life, an expert with the Smithsonian Museum of American History’s Oz memorabilia collection. Lintelman and his team helped the archivists compare the dress to known objects from the movie. For instance, other confirmed dresses that Garland wore had a tendency to rip where the pinafore straps met the shoulders, necessitating a seamstress to repair them. The Hartke dress has these small mends. Other details include a secret pocket for Dorothy’s handkerchief, and “Judy Garland” written by hand in the same script as other dresses. 

Although the curators who viewed the dress were not authorized to officially confirm the dress, the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of its authenticity. 

The Catholic University special collections have received a number of requests for access and loans, the dress must first be stabilized. In order to allow the dress to be shared with the campus community and the world, archivists at CUA will work to make sure it is able to be preserved. Once this has been achieved, a display and access policy will be formulated, and Dorthy’s dress will step off of the screen and into life at Catholic University. 

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