Auction of iconic “Wizard of Oz” dress blocked by priest’s family
The iconic blue-and-white checkered dress worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” was set to go to auction this week – but a judge has blocked that plan.
Catholic University of American in Washington, D.C. was attempting to sell the dress via Bonhams, an auction house, but the family of the late Father Gilbert Hartke said the dress actually belonged to him. Barbara A. Hartke, his niece and heir to his estate, said in her lawsuit the dress had great sentimental value to her uncle and that the school should not be able to sell it.
Hartke said the dress was given to her uncle while he was a priest, professor and chair of the drama department at Catholic University by actress Mercedes Cambridge. Cambridge once owned the dress and specifically gave it to Hartke, with whom she was in a long-term personal relationship that was only tangentially related to his position at the university, according to the suit.
Hartke helped Cambridge with her battle with alcohol and substance abuse and she gave him the dress as a thank-you, the suit reads. She had the dress because she was a close confidant of Judy Garland, according to the suit.
The suit alleges the dress had been missing until 2021, when it was found, along with some of Hartke’s other belongings, in a storage area at the university. He died in 1986 and his niece now wants the dress returned to the estate.
She asked for a restraining order against the school and auction house, which was approved by U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe in New York.
The order blocks Catholic University of America and Bonhams & Butterfields Auctioneers Corporation from selling the dress, at the intended auction on May 24, 2022 or otherwise.
As a result of the ruling, the auction will be postponed until the case is resolved, a representative for Catholic University said in a statement to CBS News.
“The Court’s decision to preserve the status quo was preliminary and did not get to the merits of Barbara Hartke’s claim to the dress,” the statement reads. “We look forward to presenting our position, and the overwhelming evidence contradicting Ms. Hartke’s claim, to the Court in the course of this litigation.”
There will be a pretrial hearing in New York City on June 9. CBS News has reached out to Hartke’s lawyers for comment and is awaiting response. A representative for Bonhams said they had no further comment.
The university confirmed in a news release about the auction the dress was given to Hartke by Cambridge when she was an artist-in-residence at the school in 1973.
Bonhams estimated the dress’s value at $800,000 to $1.2 million, and said it is “one of only two existing dresses retaining the original white blouse and only one of four blue and white pinafore dresses in existence,” according to the press release.
The school said the dress was given to the priest to be used to support the drama department and that the proceeds from the auction will endow a faculty chair position.
Another piece of memorabilia from the film was also missing for years. In 2005, a pair of the ruby red slippers Garland wore in the film were stolen by a burglar who broke a window at the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota and took them. The FBI recovered the shoes in 2018.