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Wisconsin woman claims she owns Judy Garland's 'Wizard of Oz' dress, up for auction

Posted at 11:31 AM, May 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-06 17:42:28-04

LAKE GENEVA, Wis. — A Lake Geneva, Wis. woman filed a lawsuit claiming she is the rightful owner of the dress worn by Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz," and the lawsuit may prevent the dress from going up for auction.

Barbara Hartke, 81, of Lake Geneva has filed a lawsuit against the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. According to the lawsuit, the university is planning to sell Judy Garland's dress from the Wizard of Oz during an upcoming auction. However, Hartke is claiming the dress belongs to her family.

In a description of the item, the university said Garland wore the dress throughout the scene set in the witch's castle when the Wicked Witch of the West captured Dorothy and threatened her.

The lawsuit says the university is estimating the dress will sell between $800,000 and $1.2 million.

Hartke is suing for equitable relief and damages. She said the dress belongs to the Estate of Gilbert V. Hartke, and she is the niece and closest living relative of Gilbert, who passed away in 1986.

Catholic University is claiming the dress originates or has the earliest known history with the late Mercedes McCambridge and Catholic University. However, according to the lawsuit, the dress was specifically and publicly given to Gilbert Hartke's estate.

The dress resurfaced in 2021 in a storage location on the Catholic University campus, with other items belonging to McCambridge. Since its discovery, the lawsuit says the university has made no attempt at contacting McCambridge's heirs.

The lawsuit also says it appears the university has no ownership interest in the dress because there is no documentation demonstrating that McCambridge ever donated it to Catholic University.

McCambridge apparently gave the dress to Hartke because they had a long-term personal relationship. The lawsuit says McCambridge credited Hartke for helping her battle alcohol and substance abuse. The gift of the dress was a thank you for his counseling and support.

Now, Hartke wants a preliminary injunction, preventing the university from continuing with the auction.

While the university claimed ownership of the dress, Hartke says it belongs to her uncle’s estate, because it was specifically and publicly gifted to him. She filed suit against the university and auction house this week. Both organizations confirm they are reviewing it.

TMJ4 has called Hartke and her attorney but have not yet heard back.

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