Tap your heels together three times, and you’ll be home.
Those were the instructions from Glinda the Good Witch gave to Judy Garland in the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz.
But today, the idea of tapping those ruby slippers together is enough to make conservator Dawn Wallace cringe.
“I spent probably over 200 hours just working on the sequins themselves,” says Wallace. “So, I take great care.”
Wallace is an objects conservator at the Smithsonian. She’s charged with caring for the famous ruby slippers worn by Garland in the movie.
“Every single time I pick up these shoes, they are an American treasure and they are iconic,” says Wallace. “I always feel excited, and I always get a little bit of a thrill knowing that I get to work with these amazing objects.”
It’s been a painstaking nearly two-year conservation process, cleaning every bead and realigning every sequin.
“The sequins on the toes, they were exposed to light during the filming,” explains Wallace. “So, those have more light damage. So, we do see some fading on some of those sequins.”
Wallace also points out there are some beads missing from the shoes, but says it’s, “part of their story.”
Wallace cares for all parts of the shoe, right down to the felt soles. She explains the slippers were lined with felt so they make minimal noise during dancing scenes. It’s those scenes that generations of fans, including Wallace, remember vividly.
“I think everyone always gets up they click their heels, and they get with their friends and family and they skip arm in arm.,” says Wallace. “And so, I think it—it hits you.”
As they return to public display today, they’re doing so amid renewed interest, thanks to the FBI’s announcement last month that they found another pair used in filming. That pair was stolen 13 years ago.
In fact, the agency even asked Wallace, who is now an authority on the chemical makeup of the shoes, to examine the recovered pair. She says she felt like a character from another movie.
“I almost wanna say it’s a little like Indiana Jones,” recalls Wallace. “It was very thrilling, but it also made me feel very proud knowing I’m helping return these stolen items.”
Wallace says she was worried about what the slippers would look like after being stolen over a decade ago, but she says they were recovered in similar condition to the other pair.
“Just using a little bit of water and small cotton swabs, being able to remove that dirt just really brought the shine back to the beads,” Wallace says of the restoration process.
After a couple of years out of public view, the slippers will now be back on display for fans to see.