Keep Them Ruby: The Smithsonian Raises 350K to Preserve Dorothy's Ruby Slippers » YeahKC
ruby slippers smithsonian kickstarter
via The Washington Post

Keep Them Ruby: The Smithsonian Raises 350K to Preserve Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers

The Smithsonian Institute has finally reached their Kickstarter goal of $300,000 dollars to conserve Dorothy’s famous ruby red slippers. You know the ones, they basically put Kansas on the map when they debuted in Judy Garland’s 1939 classic, The Wizard of Oz.

As everyone local resident knows, this film has been cemented in Kansas’ history because it was the less than stellar backdrop of Dorothy’s humdrum life on the farm. Oh, and that very famous line, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” The Wizard of Oz is a part of the pride that comes with being from Kansas. So it’s no wonder this story has a special place in our hearts.

Over $350,000 dollars has been raised via the “Keep Them Ruby” Kickstarter campaign started by The Smithsonian Institute back in October earlier this year. Not only have they reached their goal, they exceeded it, with an extra $50,000 dollars more than they needed and, at the time of writing this article, there are only a few more hours left to donate to the cause.

The iconic rouge slippers needed some upkeep after being on display at the museum since they were donated in 1979, more than 35 years ago. The once brightly colored shoes began to fade, the sequence begun to lose their shine, and even the thread holding everything together was starting to fray. It’s no wonder though, the 78-year-old slippers are one of the most popular items in the Smithsonian (second only to the original handwritten Star Spangled Banner) and they need a little bit of extra care now.

With the help of over 6,000 contributors, and a little extra dough, the museum will begin to re-conserve the slippers with expert preservationists so they can gleam for visitors for another 78 years. The goal, however, is to prevent any further damage and not necessarily to make the shoes look like they originally did back on set in 1939. The donated funds will instead go towards finding the ideal conditions to keep and display the shoes safely. Some factors considered when creating this ideal environment are temperature, lighting, humidity – all of which can help in the deterioration of precious materials. It is likely that a completely new case will be constructed and a certain gas will be emitted into the case to regulate barometric pressure.

As can be imagined, the fragile shoes are not easy to maintain, clean, and display. This behind-the-scenes video reveals that the red sequins are made of gelatin, a material that doesn’t play nice with most abrasive cleaners. Instead, restoration technicians have to tediously clean each individual sequin with cotton dipped in ice water by hand. That is around 4,600 sequins, and hours of handy work.

This, among many other reasons is why the museum needed donations for this massive undertaking. Some people are wondering why a federally funded museum needs assistance with paying for the preservation of one of the most famous pairs shoes in the world. The answer is, the money from the government goes towards day to day operations i.e. staffing and core building operation instead of preservation. The Smithsonian actually relies heavily on private donations for many of its projects. The museum actually received the shoes after an auction in 1970 where the pair in their possession were bought for $15,000.

ruby slippers smithsonian kickstarter

These shoes paved the way (no pun intended) for future movie memorabilia to get funds for similar restoration efforts going on with other iconic pop-culture relics we all love so much.

So it is no surprise that so many donations rolled in, and so quickly. These shoes were a part of many childhoods. These shoes were in a film that touched almost everyone’s lives, whether they were scared of The Wicked Witch of the West or mesmerized by all the colorful glory that was Munchkinland, this movie was a viewing experience they will never forget. And in Kansas (and all around the world) people have come together to help preserve the most iconic shoes to ever be seen on the big screen.

These shoes, and other items like them, represent more than just part of a costume, they represent a moment in time that transcends generations and captures imaginations, moments that bring people together and are forever an historic piece of American Culture.

If you didn’t get a chance to donate to the #KeepThemRuby campaign, fear not! The Smithsonian would also like to display and conserve the Scarecrow’s costume as well. They’re asking for $85,000 and need your help to keep The Wizard of Oz costumes preserved to inspire future generations of museum goers!

Marnie Slater

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Marnie Slater is a freelance writer and performs stand up comedy. Follow her on Twitter for upcoming gigs and a whole lot of shenanigans.