A federal judge on Monday blocked Catholic University from auctioning off a memorable white-and-blue dress worn by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz” after a Wisconsin woman filed a lawsuit claiming she was the rightful owner of the gingham pinafore garment donned by Dorothy.
Judge Paul G. Gardephe of U.S. District Court in Manhattan granted a preliminary injunction a day before the dress was scheduled to be auctioned in Los Angeles, where it had been expected to sell for more than $1 million. Catholic University had planned to use that money to endow a new faculty position in the Rome School of Music, Drama and Art.
Judge Gardephe ruled that the dress could not be sold by Catholic University until the lawsuit was resolved. Both sides are set to meet in court on June 9.
In her lawsuit, filed earlier this month, Barbara Ann Hartke claims the dress belonged to the estate of her uncle, the Rev. Gilbert Hartke, who was once chairman of the university’s drama department and received the dress as a gift in the 1970s from the Academy Award-winning actress Mercedes McCambridge, who was also an artist in residency at the university.
Ms. McCambridge had “specifically and publicly” given the dress to Mr. Hartke as a demonstration of gratitude for “helping her battle alcohol substance abuse,” the lawsuit states.
Mr. Hartke died in 1986, and Ms. Hartke says she is his closest living heir.
The lawsuit states that Ms. McCambridge was a “close confidant” of Ms. Garland, but it is unclear exactly how she obtained the dress.
The university has contended that the dress was a gift from Mr. Hartke, and that it was his wish for it to be kept within the institution.
Shawn Brenhouse, a lawyer for Catholic University, said in a statement on Monday night that the judge’s decision “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,” Mr. Brenhouse said.
Anthony Scordo III, a lawyer for Ms. Hartke, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Monday night.
The fragile dress has become legend ever since Ms. Garland wore it in the Technicolor classic in 1939, complementing the plaid look with ruby-red slippers sought by the Wicked Witch. Ms. Garland wore several versions of the dress, but only one other is known to still exist. It was sold in 2012 by Julien’s Auctions for $480,000. In 2015, it sold again for nearly $1.6 million.
The location of the second dress had been a mystery until it was found by chance last year in a shoe box, inside a bag, sitting on top of faculty mailboxes. Matt Ripa, a lecturer and operations manager at the drama school, found the bag when he was cleaning up the area in preparation for renovations of the Hartke Theater.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History helped authenticate the dress, which includes a fitted bodice, a high-necked blouse and a full skirt, with a fabric label inside inscribed “Judy Garland 4223.”
Ms. Hartke claims in her lawsuit that her family was never made aware of the discovery by the university. They had known a dress existed, and were surprised to read headlines about preparations to auction it off “without any compensation to its rightful owners,” the lawsuit states.
“There is no documentation demonstrating that” Mr. Hartke ever donated the dress to Catholic University, according to the lawsuit.
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