UPDATE: The Ruby Slippers will be displayed in American Stories beginning April 12
The famous Ruby Slippers Judy Garland wore in the 1939 MGM film The Wizard of Oz are showing their age and need to be removed from display in February in order to prepare them for a new exhibition called “American Stories,” opening April 5. The slippers are currently on view in “1939” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History through Feb. 22, and the museum will be open until 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18 and 19. Regular hours, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., resume Feb. 20.
The Wizard of Oz is a fantasy tale about a journey to a magical land and was based on the 1900 novel by L. Frank Baum (1856-1919). In addition to its many other merits, the MGM movie ranks as a milestone in the history of Technicolor because of its extensive color sequences set in the Land of Oz. The magical shoes, changed from the book’s silver slippers to those with an iridescent red hue, played a central role in the film. The Ruby Slippers were designed by Gilbert Adrian, MGM Studios’ chief costume designer. Adrian also designed the many costumes in The Wizard of Oz, including Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow costume.
“These slippers are beloved by our visitors, and we are honoring that affection by placing them in a central location among the great stories of American history,” said Marc Pachter, interim director.
“American Stories” will showcase historic and cultural touchstones of American history through more than 100 objects from the museum’s vast holdings. Joining Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers will be the rarely seen walking stick used by Benjamin Franklin, a sunstone capital from the Mormon temple at Nauvoo, Ill., Abraham Lincoln’s gold pocket watch, Archie Bunker’s chair, Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves, a fragment of Plymouth Rock and Kermit the Frog.
The Ruby Slippers were donated anonymously to the museum in 1979 and have been on almost continuous display since. The yellow brick road will still be represented to visitors by the hat from the Scarecrow costume worn by Bolger in the film. Because of the delicate nature of that costume, the museum is rarely able to exhibit it. Visitors can also visit the website to see the slippers under conservation.
The movie’s costume designer altered commercially manufactured red shoes by attaching red netting to their tops and heels and covering it with red sequins. Movie costumes and props are made quickly and cheaply; they are meant to last only for the brief duration of the shoot—not for posterity. Now in their seventh decade, the shoes are fragile. In the current “1939” exhibition, the slippers have been displayed under a red-filtered light to help the color seem more robust.
The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. To learn more about the museum, visit americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.