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Dives fail to raise ruby slippers from Tioga Mine Pit

By John Lundy/Duluth News Tribune

The most famous pair of missing slippers in the world still are missing.

But a diver found an intriguing potential clue in an Itasca County mine pit.

Last week, Itasca County Sheriff's Office volunteer divers looked for the ruby slippers that were worn by Grand Rapids native Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz" and were infamously stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids almost a decade ago. The slippers didn't turn up during the four public dives in the Tioga Mine Pit, said Rob Feeney, the museum's volunteer in charge of acquisitions.

But in a practice dive about a week earlier, one of the divers came up with what Feeney coyly described as "something that was of interest."

Actually, two somethings: a pair of containers, one a small duffel bag and the other a partially deteriorated tin can. It was apparent the can had been in the bag, Feeney said. "They had been down there a while."

The dives were staged at the mine pit, Feeney said, because of longstanding rumors that the slippers — stolen in August, 2005 — had been sealed in Tupperware with a weight inside and tossed in the pit.

The thought that the can and the duffel bag might have contained something was enough reason to turn them over to the Grand Rapids Police Department, Feeney said. As of Monday, police were still examining the items, he said.

Divers didn't discover anything that possibly could have been slipper-related during their public dives, Feeney said. But they did come up, unexpectedly, with a rifle. That, too, remains in police hands.

It might not be all that easy to find a pair of slippers in the Tioga Mine Pit. Although a mere blip among Itasca County's numerous bodies of water, it still covers 51 acres and reaches a depth of 225 feet, according to Minnesota Lake Finder.

The search for the iconic slippers isn't over, Feeney said.

"This is really just the beginning," he said. "We're never going to stop doing this until they're found or we know what happened to them."

He noted that the statute of limitations on the burglary soon will have run out, perhaps making the miscreant(s) more willing to speak up.

Meanwhile, two individuals have expressed interest in making offers for a carriage that's on display at the museum. Museum co-founder Jon Miner owns the carriage, which was made for President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and later appeared in about 200 movies, including "The Wizard of Oz." (As if it needs any more creds, it also appeared in John Wayne's last movie, Feeney said.)

Feeney said that Miner is interested in selling the carriage — for the right price — to bolster the endowment for the Children's Discovery Museum, which is attached to the Judy Garland Museum.

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