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Dorothy’s Red Slippers, the Wicked Witch, and Wheelock

FBI recovers iconic artifact from Wizard of Oz, stolen in 2005

Nobody wanted those ruby slippers that Dorothy wore in The Wizard of Oz more than the Wicked Witch of the West, famously played by Margaret Hamilton (Wheelock’23)—one of the best-known alums of Wheelock College.

The witch never did get the red sequined slippers, as fans of the 1939 cinema classic know, but someone eventually did—a burglar who stole them from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minn., on August 28, 2005, by smashing a glass case with a baseball bat.

On Tuesday, 13 years later, the FBI announced that the slippers, estimated to be worth at least $1 million, had been recovered, but released no further details.

In a now-classic Oz scene, Dorothy begs the witch to return her dog, Toto, and the witch agrees—as long as she can have the ruby slippers. She bends down to remove them from Dorothy’s feet, only to be zapped. “I should have remembered!” the witch screeches. “Those slippers will never come off—as long as you’re alive.”

Before the witch can harm Dorothy, Toto escapes, chaos ensues, and the slippers live to see another day on the young Kansas girl’s feet. Eventually, she is able tap her heels together, utter the powerful charmed words, “There’s no place like home,” and magically return, with Toto, to her home in Kansas.

The evil witch goes on to suffer a gruesome death when she’s splashed with water and melts into the ground, leaving her smoldering black hat behind.

Composite image of actress Margaret Hamilton who played the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizrd of Oz. Headshot and video still from Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland.

Margaret Hamilton graduated from Wheelock College in 1923 and taught kindergarten before launching her acting career. Her most famous role was as the iconic Wicked Witch of the West in 1939's The Wizard of Oz (right).

In 2003, the American Film Institute ranked the 50 Best Movie Villains of All Time—and Hamilton’s Wicked Witch was number 4. One line—“I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!”—is probably responsible for more childhood nightmares than almost any movie line.

Hamilton often talked about her worries that her character frightened children. In a 1975 appearance on the children’s TV show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, she talked about that. “Sometimes, Mister Rogers, I’m a little unhappy, because lots of children are quite scared by her,” Hamilton said. “And that always makes me feel a little sad.”

In fact, Hamilton loved children.

Born in Cleveland in 1902, the youngest of four children, she loved theater and wanted to pursue an acting career. But her parents insisted she first get a college degree, so she came to Boston and earned a teaching certificate from Wheelock College and its Wheelock Kindergarten Training School. (In June, Wheelock College merged with BU to form the Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development.)

After briefly teaching kindergarten, she focused her career on acting. Later in life, she returned to teaching, founding a kindergarten in a Beverly Hills church and leading the community’s board of education.

Hamilton returned to Wheelock several times in later years: in 1970 to receive an honorary degree, Doctor of Science in Education, and in 1978 as the college’s commencement speaker.

Hamilton, who married once and divorced, had one child, a son named Hamilton Meserve. She died in 1985 of a heart attack while living in a Connecticut nursing home. “She was always afraid of the impact [the film] had on kids,” her son said in a New York Times obituary. “She was constantly trying to reassure children that this was make-believe.”

The pair of recovered slippers is one of several pairs that were made for the movie.

According to the Washington Post: “The once-missing slippers are owned by collector Michael Shaw, who lent the slippers to the Judy Garland Museum every year. Museum officials wanted to keep the slippers in a safe every night, but Shaw didn’t want other people touching the delicate artifact. So Shaw delivered the slippers himself and placed them in the Plexiglass case.”

“We kicked ourselves in the butt for not putting them in the safe,” museum board member Jon Miner told the Washington Post’s Jessica Contrera in 2015. “Of course, the owner was dumbfounded. And so were we.”

A wealthy fan of the movie volunteered to give $1 million to anyone who helped find the missing slippers.

“They’re more than just a pair of shoes, the slippers,” Scott Johnson, Grand Rapids police chief, said in announcing the recovery. “They’re an enduring symbol of the power of belief.”

Doug Most, Executive Editor
Doug Most

Doug Most can be reached at dmost@bu.edu.

One Comment on Dorothy’s Red Slippers, the Wicked Witch, and Wheelock

  • Donald Denniston on 09.05.2018 at 1:44 pm

    It is my understanding there were more than one pair made for the movie (I believe two or three). As for children Margaret Hamilton really did love them so much she even banned her own son from seeing “Oz” simply because she was afraid it would give him the wrong impression of her being a bad person!!!

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