Thursday, August 6, 2015

Minnesota 2015 - The Judy Garland Museum

When I was making plans for this trip my travel buddy mentioned that the Judy Garland Museum was located a short, by Minnesota standards, distance away. Many of my friends suggested, and I personally felt, that as a gay man it was my obligation to pay it a visit. More than one referred to it as "Gay Mecca".

Judy spent the first 4 years of her life in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Her parents were part owners and operators of The New Grand Theatre, a vaudeville house in the small city. They lived in a modest home, which has been moved to the museum's site, a shopping mall stands on it's original lot, from 1919 to 1926. The home was originally built by a steamboat captain in 1892.

One of the first of, as we were soon to become aware, many impressive artifacts on display is an original script from the MGM and Judy Garland classic "The Wizard of Oz". Understandably the lions share, pun intended, of the museum is dedicated to this movie. There is case after case of trademark kitsch. Dolls, games, cookie jars and toys, all tied to the film. There were wall pockets, bric a brac and key chains each referencing the iconic movie. It all appears to be on loan from the same person. This got me to thinking, "How much Wizard of Oz crap does this woman own? This is one sick obsession! This woman needs professional help!" 

There was one piece that spoke to me in a special way. A plastic showboat with backdrops based on scenes from the movie. We had a similar toy growing up. A theatre stage with changeable sets, backdrops and set pieces made from cardboard allowing us to create our own unique imaginary landscapes. Another unusual piece was a replica of Professor Marvel's wagon reimagined as a rolling magazine rack.

After this almost exhaustive display we got to the good stuff! As I turned a corner I saw, set on a turntable like those used a car shows, the carriage in which Dorothy and her posse ride upon their arrival in the Emerald City. The "Horse of a different color" sequence. I almost wet my pants. My travel buddy looking at the information placard on the wall said to me "Read this!" The carriage was owned by a "prop jobber" who would rent props and set pieces to the studios. Bette Davis also rode in it in "Jezebel". During a renovation in 1990 a small plaque was found affixed to the carriage stating that it started life as a gift from several supporters to Abraham Lincoln. A group of benefactors got together to purchase it and give it to the museum. It is, to me, the definition of a national treasure. The thought of the doomed president riding in it as well as the childhood memory of seeing it each year during the annual telecast of "Wizard of Oz" was deeply moving, almost haunting. One of those completely unexpected surprises that life occasionally hands us.

In this section there is also a test dress for Judy's "Oz" costume and one of the spears, made of wood, carried by the Wicked Witches guards.

The house is accessed through another room in the museum. A T.V. plays a continuous loop of people talking about Judy as well as tape of her performing at different points in her life. A collection of Judy Garland paper dolls and dresses is also shown here. The house would be just, well, a period house were it not for it's connection to the show biz legend, although one can imagine Judy and her sisters rehearsing their act, as they sometimes did, on the staircase landing.

Returning to the museum one is treated to a viewing of an Andy Warhol silkscreen of Garland, her boots from "The Harvey Girls" and leopard print hat and muff belonging to the star. There is the hat she wears while singing the "Peanuts", number from "A Star is Born" contracts and a mike from her television show, a costume sketch from her final film "I Could Go On Singing" and the gold record for "Over the Rainbow" commemorating 1,000,000 copies sold.

Sadly a pair of the Ruby Slippers, one of only 4 known, loaned to the museum each summer, were stolen 10 years ago. There is a $1 million reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible. A documentary short has been made about the robbery titled, aptly, "Who Stole the Ruby Slippers". The base of the display case sits in the gift shop of the museum patiently waiting their return.


  1. how was the refreshment counter?

  2. It was difficult to find because of all the pill bottles.