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WASHINGTON – For nearly 50 years, rumors swirled about Catholic University of America regarding the alleged presence of an authentic piece of film history.

Even Matt Ripa, lecturer and operations coordinator for the university’s drama department, had searched extensively – and unsuccessfully – for the mythical blue-and-white checked gingham dress worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale in 1939′s “The Wizard of Oz,” Smithsonian Magazine reported.

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The dress, reportedly gifted to the Washington, D.C.-based university in the 1970s by a former drama department artist-in-residence, had vanished without explanation until Ripa noticed a nondescript bag on top of the faculty mailboxes while prepping for renovations.

“I was curious what was inside and opened the bag. Inside was a shoebox, and inside the shoebox was the dress! I couldn’t believe it,” Ripa wrote in a university archives blog post.

“My co-worker and I quickly grabbed some gloves and looked at the dress and took some pictures before putting it back in the box and heading over to the (University) Archives. Needless to say, I have found many interesting things in Hartke during my time at Catholic University, but I think this one takes the cake!” he added.

According to the university, the dress had been gifted in 1973 to Rev. Gilbert Hartke, the storied head of the drama program, by actress Mercedes McCambridge, who had served as artist-in-residence in 1972. In turn, Ripa said it was fitting the cinematic memorabilia resurfaced in the building bearing Hartke’s name.

Maria Mazzenga, curator of the American Catholic History Collections at the university, said in a statement obtained by Smithsonian Magazine that the circumstantial evidence authenticating the costume “is strong,” noting that McCambridge and Garland were contemporaries who “were believed to be friends.”

Garland died of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 47, four years before McCambridge’s donation, the magazine reported.

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