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Gaze Into Film History: Wizard Of Oz Crystal Ball On Display At Cornell

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Film buffs can now gaze into the history of movie-making. The iconic Wicked Witch of the West's crystal ball is on display at Cornell University. 

The prop is on loan from Cornell alumnus Jay Walker, but it only a little more than a decade ago that the piece of film history was found after it disappeared for nearly 70 years.

"It was assumed that it was owned by MGM," says Instruction and Outreach Librarian Lance Heidig, "Turns out it was the private property of this special effects artist and it was apparently in one of his storage rooms for years and years and years and discovered there."

Imperfections on the hand blown glass globe matched pictures from the film, authenticating it as the original prop used in the 1939 classic. 

Now, the ball is equipped with projection technology to show different scenes from the film on its surface, but back in 1939, film makers had to splice together several takes in order to create the witch's gazing globe.

"They shot the scene essentially twice. Once with the crystal ball blacked out and then you would film what was going to go in the crystal ball and then combined... splicing it together so you have the two pieces of film playing at the same time," says Heidig.

The crystal ball is the centerpiece of the university library's exhibit "The World Bewitch'd: Visions of Witchcraft from the Cornell Collections." The exhibit includes manuscripts and documents from the history of belief in witchcraft. Heidig says its the largest collection of its kind in North America. The crystal ball will be on display for eight weeks, and has already been a blockbuster hit.

"We had hundreds and hundreds of children and their parents come through on bring your child to work day and judging by their faces and their smiles, I'd say this is an iconic film that has resonated with generations of movie watchers," says Heidig.

There are several Cornell connections to the Wizard of Oz besides the owner of the crystal ball being a graduate of the university. Frank Morgan, the actor who played the wizard in the film attended Cornell in 1908 and 1909, leaving the university to pursue his acting career. Wizard of Oz author, and Chittenango native, Frank L Baum married a Cornell sophomore, Maud Gage Baum.

Where: Cornell University, Kroch Library Rotunda, Level 2B

When: From now until June 25th

Hours: 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday (And Saturday May 5th)

The exhibit is free and open to the public.