The magic of the Colleen Moore Fairy Castle

One kindergarten student went to the Museum of Science and Industry, loving the baby chicks as her favorite exhibit. I did too and so did my own children. But when I begin another trip in the room with the Colleen Moore Fairy Castle,I am constantly in awe. I am quiet and so overwhelmed by the intricate detail of the amazing workmanship, artistry and beauty every time I visit. Maybe I have missed something again. I always do. But one year, I finally bought a book before the Internet was a resource.

The creation is the ultimate dollhouse/castle donated by Colleen Moore to the museum in 1949. She was a  Hollywood icon and one of the highest paid actresses. She conceived and designed it with about one hundred Hollywood craftsman and designers between the years of 1928 to 1935. She spent about a half a million on the castle. It has toured the US raising over a half a million dollars to give to children’s charities. Currently, the castle has 11 rooms and wonderful stories to go with each room.

The following describes each room and the finishing touches that were fascinating to me and my children:

Kitchen: It was not just the Mother Goose fairy tale murals on the walls. The best thing I liked is the kitchen of the witch from Hansel and Gretel.

Dining Room: The tapestries on the walls are so intricate that you cannot see the stitches at and the silver ware and plates on King Arthurs table are made of gold. So many pieces are over 100 years old.

Cinderella’s Drawing Room: The floor is made from China combined with quartz and jade. There is a beautiful of mural of Cinderella. A grand piano with an illustration inside the top is an instrument I always wanted to play on. I took piano lessons for many years and taught lessons.

Great Hall: On walls, windows and the ceilings there are amazing drawings of several fairy tales. There is a rosewood table that has Cinderella’s slippers on it and the chairs of the Three Bears. Of course, the balusters throughout and the stairs are gold.

Chapel; On the prayer bench is a small bible. The smallest in the world and printed on real type. I always stared at the electric pipe organ with gold pipes and music pours from it. The stained glass windows are actually made with diamonds and emeralds taken from Moore’s brooch.

Library: Is a sea motif in beautiful blue shades. There are pictures describing the classic literature of Gullivers Travels and Robinsoo Caruso. There are over 100 real books in the library many of them handwritten by famous authors.

Princess Bathroom and Bedroom: The bath tub is silver and real water can flow from the dolphins mouths on both sides of the tub. The bed is the same that Sleeping Beauty, my favorite Disney character, slept in. There is also a golden harp instrument that I always wanted to play

Prince’s Bathroom and Bedroom: The bathroom is upstairs with a mirror filled jewels. The bedroom has a huge white bear rug with real mouse teeth that I was always a little afraid.

Attic: This is just like most attics. Things that used to be in other parts of the castle are stored in the attic.

Magic Garden: Another favorite of mine. I loved the cradle that rocked the baby and you could actually see Santa Claus all year round.

What professional care giving taught me about marriage

He let me in the door. He looked afraid.

I was a substitute professional caregiver and no one told him I was coming, or he just couldn’t remember, another symptom of progressive dementia. I followed him to the kitchen, sat down at the kitchen table and tried to introduce myself again but he had a difficult time…wondering where Sharon was; his full-time care giver.

I tried to create conversation asking about his family, but he seemed confused. He did have a daughter who was responsible for his care. He must have been having a bad day…he couldn’t remember her either. However, as time wore uncomfortably forward, he did remember. She lived in Colorado or was it Chicago?

In most homes, the refrigerator usually displayed the identifying factors of life, love and the family tree. A colorful ‘Happy Birthday Grandma’ magnet caught my eye but his wife, he explained, had left some years ago though he wasn’t specific on a date, time or year, even whether she had passed away. He did mention that they had done a lot together, his eyes less fearful of his own loss of memory and my reason for being there. He was still not sure.

Though emergency caregivers were always briefed about the client’s condition and a file was present at every home with the most recent documentation, the refrigerator offered a compilation of discovery. It serves as a file of life, the latest pharmacies visited as well as medical clinics and an array of family photos of all generations.

I was told to clean up the bathroom upstairs in this tri-level home so I attempted to do so. But not without his companionship…he was suspicious while I constantly tried to reassure him.

As I began to pass a bedroom, a miniature dark blue Victorian two-story dollhouse with white trim dominating most of the room, caught my attention. It was huge, my eyes wide with excitement since I had a passion for the small and lifelike.

It started with the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago when I was young. The Colleen Moore Fairy Castle, the dollhouse of her dreams and every young girl who spied it, containing over 1500 miniatures; Jack and Jill tumbling down the hill in one room, Cinderella’s drawing room, and King Arthur’s round table in another. Every fairy tale imaginable was displayed in the castle.

This beautiful Victorian sat on a platform that extended pretty much the length and width of the bedroom with workbenches surrounding it along with a few cabinets…low against the walls for materials.

“My wife and I worked on this together,” he spoke in a small, peaceful tone. “We worked on everything together up until the end.”

Each room was intricately decorated with furniture from the 1930’s and 1940’s. Each room was uniquely wallpapered sometimes with wainscoting or borders as he pointed out who did what. There were clocks, and artwork that adorned the walls along with bookcases, removable books, and ornate oriental rugs that covered the floors. He still knew what switches worked as he lit each room; one adorned with a Christmas tree for the holidays, even rooms designated for the grandchildren with dolls and toys.

He described their fascination for completing the house. How they began, their challenges with each room, there determination to work together. And it was then that I glimpsed how the Victorian represented the floor plan of a marriage.

The porch was somewhat empty compared to the rest of the home and he knew I noticed.

“That is where we had to stop…that is when she…” He did not finish his sentence and walked out of the room.

He sat back in his chair in the kitchen, lost in confusion for a brief moment. “Who are you?” He asked again somewhat disturbed and we called his daughter to explain. She was able to get through to him, but during my brief time there, he was quiet, still not sure of the next moment.

Before leaving, I noticed that each room in the dollhouse was still glowing with soft light…even the Christmas tree blinked with color.

“The lights in the dollhouse are still on,” I reminded him.

At first he looked at me with fear, and then his eyes finally relaxed as he thought.

“Maybe I will keep it that way,” he said.

Finally, I got it…my own lights shimmered in realization. The collaboration of the Victorian dollhouse truly defined the magic of what marriage should be.

Not just words of endearment spoken between two on a journey but the action taken to building a meaningful partnership. Enthusiastically addressing the challenges together displayed in various rooms. Passionately obtaining knowledge and recognition to improve each other’s craft.

Not a superficial marriage, as many dollhouses can display, but an ongoing demonstration of how to truly stay in love. Regardless of his Alzheimer’s, he was able to remember the details of his love; offering him peace during moments of question.

Ultimately, he had taught me the true meaning of unconditional love; how it is challenged and how it can be rescued.

In the end, what else matters? I knew then that I wanted to travel the same glorious journey in my own life.

Now, he and his Victorian Dollhouse remind me of my destiny; the beginnings, the struggles, the joy and the finishing touches, as I build my own dreams of love, companionship and total commitment to the one I love.

Picture: Courtesy of the Strong Natural Museum of Play