At first, a vast, bustling metropolis like Chicago does not seem a likely place to find fairy tales. But there is magic everywhere, if you take the time to look for it. During my trip, this came in the form of a Christmas market and a visit to the Museum of Science & Industry.
The Christmas market was German-style, meaning there was lots of sausages, wooden toys, and lebkuchen (nom!) One wooden hut even had signs made from gingerbread, and inside there was a carousel-shaped display of it. Very Hansel and Gretal! There were also glass Christmas tree ornaments inspired by fairy tales, such as Cinderella’s slipper and Little Red Riding Hood.
I had the pleasure of attending this market with Kristin, who runs the blog Tales of Faerie. Her posts are so interesting and have inspired me a lot! When I knew I was going to Chicago, we chatted via email to arrange a meet up. It’s always lovely to meet internet friends in real life, to put faces and voices to typed messages. LDRs are great, but you can’t beat going out for tea and having a wintery stroll together. I hope this is the first of many more fairy tale blogger meetings! You can read Kristin’s post about our little outing as well!
On the last day of my trip, I went to the Museum of Science & Industry with friends. Again, a science museum doesn’t sound like a very fairy tale place, but it was here that I found Colleen Moore’s castle. Colleen Moore was an American actress, most famous for her parts in silent films during the 1920s. Aside from acting, Moore had a passion for doll houses. The castle was made by her father in 1928, and decorated with help from one of Moore’s set designers as well as a host of artists, authors, jewellers, taxidermists, and Hollywood’s most skilled crafters. Moore continued adding artefacts to it until her death in 1988.
What I found most captivating about Moore’s castle is that everything inside it is real. The miniature bearskin rug is made from real animal fur, and the bear’s teeth are actually from a mouse. The books in the library are tiny novels, written by famous authors including F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck. The world’s smallest copy of the Bible is in there, too! The toiletry set features a tiny razor which actually cuts, and the hairbrush has bristles made from strands of fox hair. The princess’s bedroom furniture is adorned with gold and diamonds, the murals and pictures on the wall were painted by artists and designers (including a portrait of Mickey and Mini Mouse from Walt Disney Studios), the tapestries were hand-sewn by a master needle-worker, and the castle has proper electricity and running water.
The castle is also not short of fairy tale references. There are two bedrooms, one for a prince and one for a princess. The princess’s bed linen is adorned with patterns of cobwebs, which is a nice nod to Sleeping Beauty. In the entrance courtyard stands a silver coach and horses, all ready to take Cinderella to the ball. Beside it is a weeping tree, reminiscent of Ashputtel and The Juniper Tree. There are no banisters on the staircase in the Grand Hall, because faeries can fly so they don’t need to hold on. In the kitchen, a mural of a witch decorates the wall behind the pots and pans. On the right-hand wall is another mural of the three little pigs.
The fairy castle arrived at Chicago’s Museum of Science & Industry in 1949. It receives an estimated 1.5 million visitors each year, and is worth around $7 million. This video shared on the museum’s website shows the castle undergoing some conservation work:
As well as a valuable exhibit, Colleen Moore’s fairy castle is a living manifestation of her dream. She worked hard to create it exactly how she imagined it. Moore and the hundreds of people who contributed to her project are proof that you’re never too old for dolls or fairy tales, and if you’re going to follow your passion then you might as well pull out all the stops. Thanks to them, the fairy castle is now alive for everyone to enjoy – children, daydreamers, historians, artists, and fairy tale fans alike.
Amelia Starling is a writer and folklorist. She graduated from the University of Winchester with a degree in Creative Writing, and is Senior Editor for Folklore Thursday. She loves travelling and collecting stories, and spent 15 months living in Japan doing this alongside teaching English. Amelia blogs about folklore and fairy tales at The Willow Web. You can follow her on Twitter @amyelize.