Judge halts auction of Judy Garland dress

LAKE GENEVA, Wis.— Catholic University of America’s hopes of auctioning off Judy Garland’s dress from the “Wizard of Oz” could be melting away.

The U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York granted a preliminary injunction Monday that will put a pause on the auction or sale of the dress, according to court documents.

The dress was going to be auctioned off Tuesday at the Bonhams “Classic Hollywood: Film and Television” in Los Angeles. The sale would have benefited Catholic University of America’s new film program. The gingham dress has a presale estimate of $800,000 to $1.2 million.

The school is also prohibited from getting rid of the dress, per court documents.

Barbara Hartke, a woman from Lake Geneva, Wis., said she is the rightful owner of the dress, claiming it was given to her late uncle, Father Gilbert Harke. She said now that he has passed, the dress belongs to her, not the university.

“As a result of today’s ruling, the auction tomorrow will be postponed until the resolution of this case. The Court’s decision to preserve the status quo was preliminary and did not get to the merits of Barbara Hartke’s claim to the dress. We look forward to presenting our position, and the overwhelming evidence contradicting Ms. Hartke’s claim, to the Court in the course of this litigation,” Shawn Brenhouse said. 

Brenhouse is an attorney for Catholic University. 

“Catholic University continues to be committed to its plan to use proceeds from a sale of the dress to endow a faculty position in the Rome School of Music, Drama and Art, which it believes is in line with Mercedes McCambridge’s original intent and Father Gilbert Hartke’s desire to support and grow the University’s drama program,” he added. 

The rediscovered dress had initially been given to Gilbert Hartke, who was then head of the university’s drama department, in 1973 by actress Mercedes McCambridge, Leary-Warsaw said, although it’s not clear how McCambridge came to have it.

Somehow, in the years that followed, the department lost track of the costume until it became “something that people had thought was just a myth,” she said. Last year, during preparations for a renovation, a bag containing the shoebox was opened, and there it was — though how it got to where it ended up remains a mystery, Leary-Warsaw said.

The dress was in good condition, aside from a piece that had been cut away, while the blouse was more fragile.

In researching the dress, it was determined that Garland wore it in the movie in the scene where she is confronted in a castle by a threatening Wicked Witch of the West.

The case will be in federal court June 9. 

This is a developing story.

A request for comment from Barbara Hartke’s lawyer has yet to be returned.