Today, a pair of the ruby slippers will be sold at auction. Not just any pair, but those worn by Judy Garland when Glinda magics them off the Wicked Witch of the East’s feet and proclaims, ‘There they are, and there they’ll stay,’ they are the most pristine, and best made, of the five pairs known to exist from the production, and the only pair to not have felt adhered to the forward foundation. They are in excellent condition but not untouched by time.

As an ardent fan of the film, Judy Garland, and the slippers themselves, I’ve revelled in the release of new photographs of the slippers in the past few months, along with the opportunity, due to the slippers’ short tour to Solange Azagury-Partridge stores in Los Angeles, London, and New York, to see the slippers for myself.

But, while I’m excited by these prospects, and immensely glad to have had the opportunity to stare at them myself for over three hours in London, the idea of the auction still leaves me feeling quite sad indeed. These shoes are iconic, in the truest sense. They have been said to be the single most valuable piece of Hollywood memorabilia in the world, and regarding sheer dollars and cents, that may well be true. But to me, they’re more.

The ruby slippers would be as valuable to me, if they had no monetary value at all, and as a pair of shoes, they very really don’t. After all, after 72 years, no human being could ever wear them again. Placing them on a human foot would very likely destroy them. Their value is in their connection; not in what they are, but in what they mean.

Entering Solange in London a few weeks ago, I was immediately struck dumb by the slippers, resting silently in a glass case, in the middle of the small boutique. Staring at them for only a moment, I had a flash of everything they mean to me, of memories of sitting in front of the television, of endless hours reading about every detail of the production, and even of (yes) running around in a glittery pair of red shoes as a child. But more than that, standing in their presence, knowing what they are, and who wore them, I felt like I was in the presence of some small part of Judy Garland’s legacy, almost as if, in some small way, she was there, and I almost began to cry.

Steve Wilson, the curator for the film collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin, which holds in its collection five of the gowns originally worn by Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind, has said ‘[T]here’s nothing that captures the human aspect of film like a costume,’ and that is exactly what I experienced with the slippers. It was that moment of realization that the stories of the creation of The Wizard of Oz, Production 1060, are not just stories. This seems self-evident, of course, but I wasn’t alive then, so, for me, it only felt like a series of tales, rehashed over the years.

But rooted to that spot, staring at those shoes, I realized the filmmaking really happened, and Judy Garland really wore them. Of course, no one placed any value in the shoes then (they cost perhaps $13 at the time) and after the production they were placed in the loft of a barn on the MGM backlot, where they rested, largely forgotten, for thirty years, until costumer Kent Warner rediscovered them in 1970, and took them home. They were the pride and joy of his collection, as, like me, a fan of Judy Garland, and Classic Hollywood, until he was forced to sale them due to his own failing health.

But the slippers are not just valuable because Judy wore them; after all, her other costume pieces have sold for much less than the slippers will realize. They are valuable because they are the main plot device in perhaps the most beloved film in the world, seen by more people than any other. Their value is about us, about those of us who saw Oz as children, and still hold it close to our hearts. For others, they are nothing but a pair of gaudy shoes; for us, they hold a very real magic.

The shoes are not just, as so many have said, an abstract symbol of home, or fantasy, or family.  They are a very real symbol, of our own attachment to our own memories of Oz, of our own pasts. For me, that’s my childhood, entwined in Oz, as it were; being the Wicked Witch for Halloween, watching the film when I was recovering from heart surgery at the age of five, or receiving an Oz snow globe nearly every Christmas of my life.

The slippers are valuable to me because, in a very real way, they are part of my childhood, they are part of my life, they are part of me, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment, because our popular culture becomes a very real part of our lives and our identities, which explains why they are so valuable, in so many ways, to so many people.

So, the idea that they will be sold, to the highest bidder, reduced to monetary value, breaks my heart a little. I realize we live in a capitalist society, and that’s just the way it works, but I’ve genuinely shed tears over the fact I can’t have them, save them, protect them. I want more than anything, to see the slippers in a museum. If whomever wins the slippers today should ever read this, please know, what you possess is not just a relic of Hollywood history; you own a symbol of a very real part of many people’s lives, and they want, if not deserve, to see them.

My greatest fear with the auction is not simply that they will be sold, but that, after today, they will seemingly disappear. Now, it’s not fair to say that they’ve always been on display. Kent Warner never displayed them publicly, and their most recent owner only did so intermittently, but I always knew who owned them, and had some idea where they were.  After today, like Michael Shaw’s stolen pair, they will quite possibly disappear from public consciousness for years, if not forever.

I hope I’m wrong, I hope with all my heart I’m wrong.

If you’re the lucky winner of the slippers, please prove me wrong. Display them for the public. Let them see them; let them love them. At the very least, please email me, if only so I’ll know they’re safe.

UPDATE:

After the slippers failed to meet the $2,000,000 reserve at the December 16th auction, they were privately sold, through Profiles in History, to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for their forthcoming Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Personally, I could not think of a better place for the slippers to reside, back in the hands of the people who crafted them, safely protected for generations to come!