You helped us reach our goal to conserve and display the Ruby Slippers!
At a little past 11:15 p.m. on Sunday, October 23, 2016, you took us somewhere over the rainbow. With over 5,300 backers, our "Keep Them Ruby" Kickstarter campaign reached its goal of raising $300,000 to support the conservation and display of Dorothy's Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz. The team here at the museum is obviously thrilled with the tremendous show of support for this project, but what about museum visitors? Volunteer Larry Margasak interviewed visitors about why the nearly 80-year-old film has such staying power.
When museum visitor Mike Peterson moved from Belvue, Kansas, to Surprise, Arizona, he took a bit of The Wizard of Oz with him. Stenciled on his kitchen wall is Dorothy Gale's famous line from the fantasy world of Oz, telling her dog Toto that she has a feeling, "we're not in Kansas anymore."
Shortly after Peterson paused at the museum's pair of Ruby Slippers, Kimberly Newkirk nostalgically gazed at the shoes in their glass display case. She felt connected to the movie's star, Judy Garland. She's from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, where Judy was born as Frances Ethel Gumm on June 10, 1922.
Grandparents, parents, and children ask for the pair of sequin-covered, iridescent shoes more than any other object in the museum. When visitors were asked recently about their thoughts of the movie, they described it as magical, a wonderful fantasy, and scary. They said it represents hope, achievement, happiness, friendship, and, of course, the feeling that "There's no place like home." Older visitors remembered the first time they saw it. Children talked about how many times they've seen it.
The museum's Ruby Slippers are located at the entrance to the American Stories exhibition—but they're not the only Oz object on display. Dorothy's magic world was created with a then-novel Technicolor camera. The camera, located in the Places of Invention exhibition, doesn't answer this question: What is so enduring about Dorothy's fantasy trip to Oz? Why does the story stick with us like it does?
To answer that question, we asked the movie's passionate fans: museum visitors.
"It was a magical theme of make-believe, a romantic adventure of a fantasy land," said Peterson, 68, the visitor who has Dorothy's words stenciled on his kitchen wall. "It had good music, catchy tunes, it was something people of any age could enjoy."
Newkirk recalled Oz-related festivities she enjoyed as a resident of Judy Garland's hometown, including tours of the big, white house where Garland was born, a Wizard of Oz festival, and the Judy Garland Museum.
To Newkirk, 52, the movie's other famous line, "There's no place like home," has a special meaning. "She thought everything would be better if it was different, but then wanted to go home to her small town and family," Newkirk said. "It paralleled my life. I'm a small-town girl. I do relate to Judy as Dorothy."
The film's multi-generational appeal is seen at the museum every day.
Kylie Rovnak, 13, from Sarasota, Florida, who played a Munchkin in a Wizard play, said she loved the movie because of its characters searching for what they needed most: a heart for Tin Man, a brain for Scarecrow, and courage for Lion. "One represents love, the Tin Man. Scarecrow wants to be smart. The Lion wants courage. It [the movie] shows that it's within you" to get what you most desire.
Added Parson Rose, 10, of Greensboro, North Carolina, "We all need to find something we don't have. We don't have something but we really want it. The Tin Man didn't have a heart and it made me feel sad." But to Allison Rector, 10, of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, the film meant "happiness, because the Wicked Witch is dead."
The film's fans are all over the world. To Danielle Hodder, 28, visiting from Townsville, Australia, "It's a story of hope. It's about something that every person wants to achieve. It's about friendship. They all have to see the great Wizard."
Raymond Lapointe, of Lincoln, Rhode Island, is 61 but said, "I still remember the Wicked Witch scared the daylights out of me. I couldn't sleep."
At age 74, Molla Siegel, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, is joining her two grandchildren and their parents this Halloween in wearing Wizard costumes. Her six-year-old granddaughter came up with the idea of the whole family dressing up as characters in the movie. "I'm going to be the good witch," she said.
Kerry Ruiz, 59, of Chino, California, said the movie was "magical. It was love. It was strength. Dorothy was resilient." And Barbara DeAngelis, of Staten Island, New York, said the film shows "you're not far from home if you keep dreaming."
Scarecrow actor Ray Bolger once said of the movie, "The philosophy of Oz is man's search for basic human needs—a heart, brains, courage. And that, chum, will never be old hat."
And after the film became a regular on television, Tin Man actor Jack Haley described the movie's staying power this way: "The Wizard of Oz is a toy for a new group of kids every year."
Barely two weeks after opening, The Hollywood Spectator shared a perspective that endured. "The Wizard of Oz is much more than a visual treat," the publication said. "It is a really human document, one with a lesson in it, one of the few to which grandfather can take his grandchild and both of them find entertaining…it is a piece of screen entertainment which can be shown every year from now on."
Larry Margasak is a retired Washington journalist. He is a volunteer with the museum's ambassadors, who roam the building to assist visitors, and also is a volunteer researcher and writer for several divisions of the museum. His last blog post was about Hollywood during World War II.
It's not the end of the journey for Dorothy and her friends at the Smithsonian. We have big news coming down the yellow brick road on Monday!