In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy was able to go home to Kansas simply by tapping together the heels of her ruby slippers three times and repeating “there’s no place like home.”
It appears the long-lost dress worn by Dorothy in that classic 1939 film is in for a far more complicated journey home.
Just prior to the much-anticipated sale of the Judy Garland-worn “Dorothy” dress at Bonham’s Tuesday, May 23, a judge put a halt to the proceedings. Pre-auction estimates for the blue and white gingham dress offered by Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., were as high as $1.2 million.
But U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe in Manhattan squelched the sale of the famous costume at the Hollywood memorabilia event in Los Angeles when he granted a motion for a preliminary injunction during a hearing in a lawsuit brought forward by the family connected to the dress.
In 1973, the dress was given to the Rev. Gilbert Hartke, head of Catholic University’s Drama Department, by actress Mercedes McCambridge, an Artist in Residence at the university at the time and a personal fried of Judy Garland. The dress remained at the university ever since. Hartke died in 1986 and the dress went missing in the late 1980s, only to be discovered in July of 2021 during remodeling preparations at the university, tucked away in a shoe box inside a bag atop mailboxes.
Hartke’s niece, Barbara Ann Hartke, 81, filed a lawsuit against the school and Bonham’s earlier this month after media accounts that the dress was going up for auction.
In her lawsuit, Ms. Hartke said as her uncle’s closest living relative, the dress belongs to her. Her position: the dress was given to him as a personal gift. She claimed in her lawsuit the university “has no ownership interest in the dress as ... there is no documentation demonstrating decedent ever formally or informally donated the dress to Catholic University.”
Catholic University countered that as a Dominican priest, Hartke had taken a vow “to never accept gifts in his personal capacity” and thus the dress could not be part of his estate and belonged to the university.
Judge Gardephe blocked the planned auction of the dress until the lawsuit challenging its ownership is legally settled through proceedings in Manhattan federal court. Another hearing is set for June. The ruling could potentially postpone the sale of the dress for months or even years. In which case, it might take a wizard to untangle this dress mess.