How a Priest's Vow of Poverty Is Complicating a 'Wizard of Oz' Dress Auction

Dorothy's surviving dresses probably have dog drool on them.
Dorothy's surviving dresses probably have dog drool on them. / Herbert Dorfman/GettyImages

If all had gone according to plan this week, Catholic University of America would have successfully auctioned off a dress Judy Garland wore in 1939’s classic The Wizard of Oz for over $1 million. But a dispute over who actually owns the dress—and whether a priest’s devotion to poverty affects that status—has put a halt to the proceedings.

According to The Washington Post, the Washington, D.C., school was set to sell the blue and white checked gingham dress, one of six Garland wore in the film, to raise money for its drama department. The garment had previously belonged to Reverend Robert Hartke, the department’s head, who received it as a gift from actress Mercedes McCambridge in 1973. (McCambridge was a friend of Garland’s as well as Hartke’s.) When Hartke retired and later died in 1986, it was left on the premises and subsequently discovered in a shoebox in 2021. That’s when the school decided to put it up for auction.

It's believed to be one of two remaining dresses with the accompanying blouse: The other was sold in 2016 for $1.6 million.

But this week, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Gardephe in Manhattan ruled that the dress’s provenance was under dispute and the auction at Bonhams could not move forward. Hartke’s niece, Barbara Ann Hartke, had filed a lawsuit to stop the sale, claiming the clothing belonged to her uncle’s estate.

Catholic University argued that because Hartke was a priest who had taken a vow of poverty, the dress should be considered a gift to the school; counsel for Barbara Ann Hartke countered that McCambridge had a personal relationship with the reverend and that the dress was intended specifically and entirely for him. (Or in toto, if you prefer.)

The dress is unlikely to come up for sale until its ownership is legally established, which might take months or years—unless the two can come to an agreement the next time they meet in court on June 9.

This is hardly the first time Oz-related apparel has been the subject of controversy. A pair of Dorothy’s ruby slippers were stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, in 2005 and didn’t resurface until 2018.

[h/t The Washington Post]