The most famous crystal ball in the history of film — the crystal ball from The Wizard of Oz — arrived at Cornell for exhibition from somewhere over the rainbow and can now be found in the Kroch Library rotunda from April 25 until June 25.
The crystal ball is showcased as part of “The World Bewitch’d: Visions of Witchcraft from the Cornell Collections,” a collection first started by the University’s co-founder and first president Andrew Dickson White that documents the spread of ideas on witchcraft across Europe, with a focus on the history of persecution of accused witches.
The Wicked Witch of the West used the crystal ball in the iconic film to track Dorothy and her friends’ whereabouts as they journey down the Yellow Brick Road, explained Lance Heidig, reference and instruction librarian for Olin and Uris libraries.
The Walker Library of the History of Human Imagination, a private library in the home of founder and owner Jay Walker ’77, housed the crystal ball since it was re-discovered in a prop house after it was missing for many years.
Walker and Eileen Walker ’76 MBA ’78 together chose to loan the ball to the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collection, located in Olin Library. The ball’s appearance at Cornell marks the first time it has been displayed anywhere other than the Walker Library, according to the Cornell Chronicle.
The Wizard of Oz was “special and exciting” when it first came out in 1939, and many people of that generation “feel [it] is the best movie of all time,” Heidig said. In fact, prior to the advent of on-demand streaming services, the public waited for the annual broadcasting of the film, and given the anticipation to the event, it felt like “the longest day in the year,” Heidig said.
“You got one chance a year to see it because they broadcast it on television. You got this one only chance,” Heidig said.
Today, however, given the ease of access to streaming services, people can watch the film at any time, rendering the movie not “special any more,” Heidig said.
“I don’t think people get the magic of it. But my father saw it when it first came out in 1939 … It is the first time we saw a movie in color. So the exclusivity made it very special.” Heidig said.
When visitors to the collection first saw the crystal ball, they were thrilled to see “something from this important movie is here,” Heidig said. Many people “stay and watch large section of the movie” projected beside the crystal ball.
“It may be not as special for younger generations. … [But] there are people of my age and older, they have tears in their eyes. They are just moved,” Heidig said. “You see their eyes light up, you see their smiles.”
The crystal ball brings with it additional connections to the University: the actor who played the wizard in the movie, Frank Morgan ’1921, attended Cornell for one year in 1909, and Maud Gage Baum ’82, the wife of the author of the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Lyman Frank Baum, also attended Cornell in 1881-1882, before dropping out of Cornell to marry him.
“[The crystal ball] is a nice association with our witchcraft materials, and again it is associated with our history of our first President who is a book collector,” Heidig said. “We have the largest collection of witchcraft materials in North America [thanks to him].”
When “Hundreds of hundreds of people” attended Cornell Bring Your Child To Work Day on April 26 — the day after the crystal ball arrived — many made a visit to Kroch Library to see the crystal ball at Cornell.
“I don’t know who will enjoy it more, the young children or the adults, but everyone who saw the movie want to be able to stand there and tell people about this thing,” Heidig said. “Seeing their smiling and laughing and taking lots of pictures and taking lots of selfies, it was really fun. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”