(Image: Michael Shaw)

Prior to the night of August 27th -28th 2005, when this pair of ruby slippers was stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, they were owned by Michael Shaw of Los Angeles.

According to Rhys Thomas, “During the 1980s, Shaw displayed his shoes at more than 25 shopping malls around the [United States]. Further, this pair was exhibited in a privately owned movie memorabilia museum in Hollywood, and occasionally dressed the windows of several small stores in the Los Angeles area” (Thomas 222).

Physically, the shoes were known to be “in very good condition, ” (222) with a slightly darker shade sequin, a rich burgundy, covering the shoes when compared with the other authentic pairs (222). Rhys Thomas believes this darker sequin suggests the shoes “might have been used for static and close-up shots” (222). However, the orange felt which covered the leather soles “elimat[es] the possibility that they were worn by Judy Garland during extra-close-up shots” (222).

Like the other pairs of slippers, “the red silk faille uppers and heels [were] covered with hand-sequined georgette, the leather soles [were] painted red, with orange felt adhered to the front foundation of each shoe” (from the toes to just past the ball of the foot) (Thomas, 222). At the writing of the Thomas book, in 1989, the bows were “perfect, missing no rhinestones, bugle beads or center jewels” (222) Like other pairs, the bow itself is crafted from strap leather dyed red.

(Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

The bows themselves appear to exactly cross match the  shoes held by the Smithsonian. While the right Smithsonian bow is notably more angular, the left bow on this pair is similarly shaped. The left Smithsonian, and  right Shaw bows also seem to match, which is particularly interesting given the dissimilarity of the sequins between the two pairs.

As Thomas previously established in the appendix to his book, the shoes themselves also cross-match with the Smithsonian pair. The right shoe, size 5C, bears the production number 5C 11859 D536, while the left shoe, size 5BC, has production number 5BC 15250 (225). Like that pair, “[i]nside the right shoe is the label, embossed in silver, reading Innes Shoe Co. Los Angeles, Pasadena, Hollywood” (222). Also identical to the Smithsonian shoes, “inscribed on the white kid [leather] lining [of each shoe, on the inner right side (when looking at the toes)], is the name Judy Garland, written neatly with black ink in block letters” (222). “The rubber cap on each heel [was also] painted red” (222) like all other pairs (except “Dorothy’s Shoes”).

(Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

These shoes were “privately purchased [by Michael Shaw] from Kent Warner” in 1970, “reportedly [for] $2,500” (Thomas, 222-223).

These slippers initially travelled to Grand Rapids, Minnesota, the birthplace of Judy Garland, in 1989 for both the 50th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, and to celebrate what would have been Garland’s 67th birthday (Thomas, 223). Until 2005, Michael Shaw continued to offer them for public display around the country, exhibited on several occasions at the Judy Garland Museum.

As stated previously, it was there in August 2005 that the ruby slippers disappeared in the middle of the night. Meant to be on loan until September 5th, it seems that someone gained entry by breaking through an emergency exit door window at the back of the museum. The glass case that held the slippers was then smashed and the slippers removed. The building was at the time only two years old, equipped with the best security system available, able to warn a security firm when doors or windows were opened, or motion detected. The firm received no signal. The system seems to have been left unactivated.

(Image: Michael Shaw)

All other items in the museum, including other costume pieces from The Wizard of Oz, were left untouched.

They are the most famous, and valuable, shoes in all Hollywood history, and today, they could be anywhere. Although, I honestly doubt, given they have now been out of trained hands for over five years, that they exist today. At the very least, they are likely badly damaged today, possibly a far cry from their state in 2005.

In the hope that they may still exist, I would like to follow the Ruby Slipper Fan Club in issuing an open letter to the person, or persons, who may have the shoes today:

If you have the pair of Judy Garland’s ruby slippers described above, please be aware that these shoes were made in the autumn of 1938 and are today approximately 71 years old. They were not made to long endure past the six months of Oz’s shooting schedule, so it is quite amazing that the shoes actually still exist in the first place.  These shoes were fragile when they were newly created (as I can attest by my own efforts to replicate them), and  this is in part why so many copies of the shoes were made.

Due to their age and condition, the shoes should not be handled by bare hands.  Your skin’s natural oils can easily stress the threads, or damage the sequins, possibly removing the dye used to redden them. If one were to attempt to wear them at this point, the shoes would rip themselves apart.  They were crafted from a basic satin pump with the sequined georgette overlay. That overlay has many strands of sequins attached by a simple, single, thread – 71 year old thread, which is, understandably, extremely fragile.  If a single thread were to break, an entire row of sequins could easily work its way off the shoe.  The tissue paper inside the shoes should not be removed, as it is required to maintain the shape of the shoe.  Something as simple as taking the paper out could potentially cause the shoes to fall apart.

While it is clear that you do not respect Michael Shaw’s ownership, please understand you have something that millions of people love, and believe to be of inestimable cultural value. As such, please handle them with care.  As much as I do understand the desire to possess the shoes (as evidenced by my own efforts to replicate them), I still truly believe they are best placed in capable hands, able to preserve and share them with the public.

Please care for them, as they are worth more than you could ever imagine to millions of people.

(Image: Time Warner / Warner Bros.)