GRAND RAPIDS -- Judy Garland is more to Robert Baneky than simply a favorite actress.
Baneky, of New York City, has copies of nearly all her albums, movies and TV shows, and scours video and album stores to pick up the few he doesn't have. He even seeks out singers and actors who might have worked with Garland in hopes they can share a few memories.
Baneky said Garland's art gave him an escape from a childhood in which he was abused.
"For me, she was a savior," Baneky said. "I'd lock my door, put on her albums and forget what's going on."
That attraction is what drew Baneky here Thursday for the opening of the expanded Judy Garland Museum, taking place amid the town's 28th annual festival honoring the actress.
Thousands of fans were expected in Garland's birthplace, a town of about 8,000 some three hours north of the Twin Cities, this weekend. Many of them are day trippers, said John Kelsch, executive director of the museum. But about half are like Baneky -- die-hard fans with such strong fondness for the actress that they travel thousands of miles to visit the festival each year.
Baneky said he's impressed by the new museum because it's larger than the old one, which he visited in 2001. It has the world's largest collection of Garland memorabilia, complete with paintings, magazine and album covers, original copies of her movie contracts, dolls fashioned after Garland and pictures of her family.
The museum, made possible by a $1 million, six-year fund-raising drive, is attached to Garland's refurbished Grand Rapids home, a modest, white two-bedroom where the actress -- born as Frances Gumm -- lived with her two sisters and parents until she was 4.
Before now, the Garland memorabilia was in an old bus station a few miles north of its current location. Visitors had to make two stops if they wanted to see both the museum and the Garland house.
Museum officials went to great lengths to recreate the home as it existed in 1925, even hiring a house detective to interview visitors and research photographs and insurance documents. The museum's prize holding is the carriage that carried Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion through the Emerald City in "The Wizard of Oz."
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