By Frank Vascellaro

GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. (WCCO) – John Kelsch has helped put Grand Rapids on the map by celebrating the life of its biggest star – Judy Garland.

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Some say “The Wizard of Oz” is the most-watched film of all time.

“Three-and-a-half billion people have seen ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” Kelsch said.

This feat makes Grand Rapids’ native Garland – born Frances Gumm – the most-watched movie star of all time. And people from all over want to see where it started.

The house where Judy Garland grew up has been restored to what it looked like in the 1920s.

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And the attached museum in her honor is filled with movie memorabilia any Oz fan will recognize, such as the carriage that brings the characters to the Emerald City and one of Dorothy’s test dresses.

The 38th annual Judy Garland Festival begins later this week. Fans can follow the yellow brick road to catch a glimpse of Grand Rapids’ own claim to Hollywood fame- one that’s been very good to this small town in the northwoods.

“Since the festival started about 40 years ago, we have generated millions and millions of dollars in publicity for this little town,” Kelsch said.

And Kelsch says starting next summer, an even bigger collection of “Wizard of Oz” material will be on display here.

One item you won’t find at the museum, however, is the actual pair of ruby slippers worn in the movie. They were stolen from the museum eight years ago, and the case is still a mystery.

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The Judy Garland Festival runs from this Thursday through Saturday.

Frank Vascellaro