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In 2005, a pair of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz was stolen from her hometown in Minnesota. Who took the iconic shoes, and where did they go? In an eight-part narrative podcast, two journalists search for answers.

No Place Like Home

The Atavist Magazine, No. 116


No Place Like Home is a presentation, direction, and production of C13Originals, a Cadence13 Studio, in partnership with The Atavist Magazine. Cadence 13 is an Audacy company.

Ariel Ramchandani is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Guardian, Undark, and other publications. Her story “When the Devil Enters” was published by The Atavist in November 2016. 

Seyward Darby is the editor in chief of The Atavist.

Reporter and Writer: Ariel Ramchandani
Cohosts: Seyward Darby and Ariel Ramchandani
Executive Producer: Chris Corcoran
Director: Lloyd Lochridge
Editor: Alistair Shurman
Producers: Paige Hymson and Valerie Thomas
Engineering, Research, and Production Support: Patrick Antonetti, Sean Cherry, Adam Przybyl, Ian Mandt, Bill Shultz, and Bob Tabaddor
Mixing and Mastering: Chris Basil
Art Director: Ed Johnson
Illustrator: Joel Kimmel


Prologue

They were supposed to be silver—silver slippers on a golden road. That’s how Dorothy’s shoes are described in L. Frank Baum’s 1900 book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. But in the film version, the color changed. A screenwriter hastily crossed out “silver.” Technicolor was about thinking brighter. The shoes would be ruby instead. 

The Wizard of Oz had five directors over the course of its development, which resulted in a carousel of auteurial visions. The design for the slippers changed, too. First they were simple, then ornate, then somewhere in between. The final version started out as white silk pumps, manufactured by the Innes Shoe Company in Los Angeles. They were the type of shoes a woman might wear to work, priced at around $12. At Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio behind The Wizard of Oz, the costume department wrapped the pumps in red netting, then hand-stitched sequins onto them with silk thread. There were thousands of sequins, made of clear plastic with burgundy paint applied, so they’d appear bright red under the studio lights. The last touches on Dorothy’s soon-to-be-famous shoes were pronged rhinestone bows. 

How many pairs were made? Some film historians say seven, because actors’ contracts stipulated a clean costume for every day of the week. But there may have been more, or fewer. Shoes for close-ups, sparkling and pristine. Shoes for dancing and skipping, with felt attached to the soles to muffle any scraping and tapping. Slippers for Judy Garland, with her name written on the tan leather interiors. Slippers for her stand-in, who was on set until the last possible moment before a take, while Garland did schoolwork in her trailer. Garland was only 16, but so talented that she could nail a dance sequence on the first try as if she’d been rehearsing it all day. 

When did you see The Wizard of Oz for the first time? Christmas, maybe—your cheeks flush from a cozy fire, crinkled wrapping paper scattered around you on the living room floor. Film critics and historians have described it as the most American of movies: Home is in the heartland; evil emanates from the East and West; the city is all smoke and mirrors. The film offers comfort but also excitement—it’s an adventure into literal color. And it all begins with the slippers. 

The conversation between Dorothy and Glinda in Munchkinland is surprisingly short. Where is Glinda going in her glowing bubble? Why isn’t she more helpful? The Good Witch warns the girl who fell from the sky never to remove the red shoes that have suddenly appeared on her feet. “Keep tight inside of them,” Glinda chirps before she vanishes. “Their magic must be very powerful.”

Do not for your life let go of the shoes. Dorothy doesn’t. One step, then another, with an elegant flick of her foot. Her world is widening with every skip and stride. 

The ruby slippers became iconic. Ask anyone who cares about them why they do and they’ll echo Glinda: magic.

Four known pairs remain in the world. One was given away by MGM in 1939, as part of the promotion for the film’s release, to a lucky woman in Tennessee. That pair was later sold at auction, and then again to an anonymous buyer. The shoes haven’t been seen publicly since 2000. Rumor has it that a major celebrity—someone like Oprah—is probably their owner now. 

Another pair was sold in 1970, at a first-of-its-kind Hollywood memorabilia auction intended to clear MGM’s backlot of what executives had decided was mostly junk. A young man named Kent Warner felt differently; he believed MGM was sitting on a gold mine. He was hired to sift through piles of props and costumes and to catalog the items suitable for auction. According to industry legend, Warner unearthed at least three pairs of the ruby slippers in MGM’s wardrobe storage, high up in a warehouse. One set became the star of the auction. Warner presented the shoes to prospective buyers on a velvet pillow. They sold for $15,000—nearly $100,000 today—and then were donated to the Smithsonian a few years later. Now people line up to see them behind glass at the National Museum of American History. They’re the most requested item on view; visitors arrive at the front desk and ask, “Where can I find the slippers?” When they see them, glittering in their display case, some people cry, like they’ve encountered the Shroud of Turin. 

Another pair Warner kept for himself, and MGM didn’t stop him. These are the nicest slippers, in the best condition. They may have been used in the close-ups at the beginning of the film, when the slippers sit on the stockinged feet of the witch crushed by Dorothy’s house. In the telling of Rhys Thomas, who wrote the definitive history of the shoes, their allure began to overwhelm Warner. People came to his house to see them instead of him. As Thomas put it, “The charm of the slippers plain wore Kent out.” Warner sold them in 1980, perhaps to pay for his medical treatment: He died four years later of an AIDS-related illness. Warner’s pair was eventually acquired by Leonardo DiCaprio and Steven Spielberg, who plan to exhibit it in the yet to open Academy Museum of Motion Picture Arts. 

This podcast is about the last authenticated pair of ruby slippers that Warner found. He sold them for about $2,500 to a friend, a child actor turned memorabilia collector named Michael Shaw, who’d become entranced with The Wizard of Oz when he was under contract at MGM. For more than 30 years, Shaw took his shoes on the road, lending them to museums and showing them at charity events. They became known as the Traveling Shoes. 

In 2005, these slippers made their way to Grand Rapids, Minnesota, Garland’s hometown. They went on display that summer at the Judy Garland Museum, a quaint, kitschy landmark attached to the movie star’s childhood home—a white clapboard house with a porch. The museum advertised the slippers like crazy, and people came in droves to see them. Kids often arrived in costume. There were a lot of Dorothys.

The shoes were supposed to be in Grand Rapids until Labor Day. But late one night that August, someone broke into the museum and took them. All that magic—and the millions it was worth—disappeared in an instant.

Where did the ruby slippers go? And who took them? Finding the stolen slippers became a matter of cultural resurrection and, for some people, an obsession. 

Welcome to No Place Like Home.

—Ariel Ramchandani, Writer and Cohost

Seyward Darby, Cohost


Binge the full season on Apple Podcasts.

No Place Like Home is a production of C13Originals, a Cadence13 Studio, in partnership with The Atavist Magazine.


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  2. They Don't Like Being Owned
  3. Very Accomplished Thieves
  4. Everything Is Lining Up
  5. Who Can You Trust?
  6. Dear Dorothy, Hate Oz, Took Shoes
  7. Terribly Happy
  8. The Robin Hood of Hollywood

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