You can help conserve Dorothy's Ruby Slippers

By Erin Blasco
One of the Ruby Slippers, with a small heel and a beaded bow, covered in sequins, sits under a microscope.

Update: Thanks to you, our Kickstarter campaign to "Keep Them Ruby" was a success and we have the support we need to conserve and display Dorothy's Ruby Slippers. Stay tuned for updates on the project. 

Whenever I tell people which museum I work at, I always casually add, "You know, the one with the Ruby Slippers." I've never had to follow that up by explaining what the Ruby Slippers are—people of all ages, from around the country, they all recognize that pair of shoes. They're a landmark, both in this museum and in American culture. They don't belong to an individual or even to the museum. They belong to you, the public.

And today they need help from their friends. At age 77, the Ruby Slippers are in need of conservation. We want to keep them on view as part of our culture exhibition that will open in 2018, and there's lots of work to do to prepare them for long-term display.

One red shoe covered in sequins with a bow with glass beads. It has a small heel. Text: "Keep Them Ruby"

While their magic endures, the materials they were made of in 1939 require extensive conservation work and research so we can maintain them in displayable condition. They also need a special display case that will protect them—light, humidity, and extreme temperatures could damage them—while still allowing them to sparkle as millions of people pay them a visit each year.

A man in a black and white sweater peers into a microscope. He wears purple gloves. In his right hand, he holds one of the Dorothy's Ruby Slippers gently by the heel.

That's why we're asking you to join our journey to conserve and display the Ruby Slippers. We hope you'll support the "Keep Them Ruby" project, the second Kickstarter campaign by a Smithsonian museum. (Last year's Reboot the Suit campaign by the National Air and Space Museum was a resounding success.)

For the next 30 days, I look forward to sharing incredible Wizard of Oz stories in American history with you. Follow the Ruby Slippers' journey on social media (we're on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) and support Keep Them Ruby by sharing the fun with your friends.

As the museum's social media manager, I'm also excited to hear about your memories and experiences with the books and movie. Stay tuned to the hashtag #KeepThemRuby for chats, Q&A sessions with our experts, and opportunities to share your memories.

Recently, two of the museum's Facebook fans shared memories that reminded me of the power of these iconic shoes and this legendary movie: "I still remember seeing the Ruby Slippers 30 years ago at the Smithsonian," wrote one of the museum's Facebook fans. "I was in sixth grade. One of the greatest highlights of the entire Washington, D.C., school field trip." Another wrote, "The first time I saw The Wizard of Oz on a color TV at our neighbors' house (1965, I think), the Wicked Witch with the green face scared me so badly my dad had to take me back home to watch it on our black and white TV!" 

Last week, I met a Smithsonian intern who told me she learned to use her family's VCR as a kid just so that she could watch and re-watch The Wizard of Oz over and over again. "What I like about Dorothy is that she's independent," she told me. "It's such an American story."

In foreground, the pair of Ruby Slippers on display in a case. In background, two children look into the case, smiling.

I can't wait to hear how the books, movie, and various spin-offs have touched your life—and learn more about what we can understand about American history through the Wizard of Oz story. After all, Dorothy, Tin Man, Lion, and Scarecrow have been part of American culture for a very long time, from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum in 1900 through 1978's The Wiz and the Broadway phenomenon Wicked.

"Pop culture isn't meaningless," says Entertainment Curator Ryan Lintelman. "Engaging in popular culture, like watching The Wizard of Oz on television with your family, isn't just for turning your brain off and having fun. All these things come from popular culture: identity, community, and learning about the world. It shapes how we think about the world. Imagine being a young girl watching the movie, especially in 1939, what other female role models might you have had in popular culture? Somebody who is plucky, and not scared, and able to achieve incredible things? It might help to inspire you, and that's beyond just the associations with family and fun."

Sheet music cover featuring illustrations of characters from Wizard of oz as well as photos of actor's faces who appeared in the movie.

So have courage, friends! Our Kickstarter project launches today and we're thrilled to share great rewards for backers, exciting videos, and behind the scenes stories from our conservation lab with you. Join us on our journey to Keep Them Ruby.

The Ruby Slippers return to display in the museum on October 19, 2018.

Erin Blasco is an education specialist in the New Media Department. At St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Erin ran the spotlight for many performances of The Wizard of Oz, which featured a live Toto. Unfortunately, she regularly blinded half the audience by accident and eventually moved to sound board.