This week, we’re exploring mystical realms from Monday’s “Night Fairy” to Tuesday’s story on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fairy friends—and we even encountered the bizarre “Harvard Psychedelic Club”.
HERE IS Part 2 of a special story for parents … by author and marketing
consultant Lynne Meredith Schreiber—a parent herself …
BEHIND A TINY DOOR:
The Story of Ann Arbor’s Fairy Doors
… and the Roots of Belief, Part 2 (Click here for Part 1)
By Lynne Meredith Schreiber
I first heard about the fairy doors from another parent who took his daughter on a walking tour of downtown Ann Arbor. I Googled the words and landed at this site (www.urban-fairies.com).
Apparently, the first fairy door appeared in the home of Jonathan and Kathleen Wright, an Ann Arbor couple who renovated their historic house in 1993. Kathleen, a Kindergarten teacher, was running a childcare program in the house, and Jonathan was working in his field of illustration, design and specialty inks. While putting an addition on their 1895 house, located in the Old West Side neighborhood, they noticed a tiny wooden door one morning in a downstairs hallway.
Actually, it was Kathleen’s preschool students who noticed it. The Wrights’ two daughters had yet to be born.
“The preschoolers discovered it one morning,” Wright told me over coffee at Zingerman’s, a popular Ann Arbor deli. “They loved it. They speculated about what was living in there. One child said he saw a lion mouse. The door opens and inside they saw a miniature stairway. They put their hands in, found another door, but that door was always shut and locked.”
Wright will not actually admit to creating the fairy doors. He insists they simply appear or vanish, although he did spend two years “researching” the fairy doors, out of which came a book entitled, “Who’s Behind the Fairy Doors?”
Calling himself a “non-certified fairyologist,” Wright expanded on children’s drawings of the fairies they have spotted near or around the Ann Arbor fairy doors.
When Kathleen wanted a fireplace in their home, Jonathan built it—and another fairy door “showed up.” By then, daughters Samuelina and Delaney were part of the picture. Fairy doors have always been a part of their lives.
The fireplace fairy door has a window, too, and behind it a curving staircase leading to a balcony, fireplace and another room where sometimes a light is on. The consensus of the Wright children, and Kathleen’s preschoolers, was that fairies must live behind these doors.
Since then, fairy doors have appeared in at least nine locations in downtown Ann Arbor, including on the outside of commercial buildings, retail shops and the Ann Arbor District Library.
“If there was any intent, it was to be something free and accessible and fun and imaginative,” says Wright. “Imagination is the key to the fairy doors.”
“The M.O. of urban fairies seems to be that they mimic what humans do,” Wright says. At the same time, “they blend in. How much of it is mimicry for the sake of flattery, or for self-protection, who knows?”
On a sunny, February Thursday, Asher, Eliana, Shaya and I parked across from the Ann Arbor District Library and embarked on our mission. We walked straight to the back of the children’s section, to a bookshelf under the fairytale sign, and discovered a teal colored door leading to a hollowed-out space several-books deep. Windows on the spines of these books gave us additional views into this long fairy home, which was littered with a seashell, several pennies and a pencil.
Asher and Eliana negotiated what to say in the note they would leave for the fairies. They wrote in pencil on a yellow post-it, folded it and shoved it inside the transom above the door, which wouldn’t open. (We tried.)
“Wait—I think I hear the fairies!” Eliana exclaimed, her blue eyes wide.
I listened and gazed up.
Asher meandered off to find books. Three-year-old Shaya wanted to play the larger-than-life checkers game. Eliana kept peering into the fairy door.
“Mommy! Look!” She poked a finger at me. I saw green sparkles on it. “That must be fairy dust,” I said.
She nodded her head vigorously.
After a half-hour of supposition and exploration, we left the library and headed to Main Street. We stopped at the brick and wood door at the base of the exterior foundation for the Selo-Shevel Gallery. We crossed to the Ark and peered into the fairy door and fairy ticket window, where we saw a reel of tiny tickets with pictures of fairies on it. Asher and Eliana decided we couldn’t leave a note because it would obscure the tickets.
We continued on to Peaceable Kingdom, a store commonly known as “fairy central” for all the fairy paraphernalia sold inside. The door is located at the base of the exterior façade. We dropped to our knees, ignoring odd looks from passers-by as we sprawled on the city sidewalk.
Inside, we saw a fairy store, with items for sale on shelves. It looked quite involved and detailed and as if it led to more interior rooms but we couldn’t find a way in.
From there, we went to Sweetwaters Café on West Washington. This fairy door—really, a fairy kitchen—was located inside, beneath a high-top table and a wide window. The door fronted a four-walled, free-standing fairy-sized café, inside of which we spotted a table, tiny coffee cups and plates, and Eliana swears she saw some crumbs – evidence that the fairies had recently been there. We didn’t see any fairies, though Shaya left a small package of bread sticks as an offering.
After stopping for our own snacks at the counter, and learning from the café owner that he’d never seen a fairy—but that’s because adults can’t see them, he said—we meandered down South Ashley Street until we found Red Shoes, a gift store in an old house. On the way, we found another fairy door, one not on Wright’s map, located on a residential door. No way in, no windows or lights on, but sure enough, it was a fairy door.
At Red Shoes, we found the mother lode of fairy doors. Inside the store, low on the wall, the open doorway let little hands in to explore the abode, which was furnished. A door on the outside of the store provided another entry. It was red. Eliana left a note inside.
Children leave candies, coins and notes for the fairies. A lot of these gifts appear sometime later inside the Peaceable Kingdom fairy abode.
“So many coins are left—I’m sure the tooth fairy recycles some of that but I don’t think she deals in pennies much,” Wright says.
Sometimes the fairies collect the coins and leave them in a box at Wright’s house. He typically donates them to Food Gatherers. “Fairies don’t have any use for the money,” he explains.
After lunch at Ray’s Red Hots and an hour-and-a-half run through the Hands-On Museum, we popped into the People’s Food Co-op for a snack. We shed our winter coats and dropped into chairs – only to notice a fairy door behind the banquette, with a small green table and chairs in front of it. This one was also not on Wright’s map.
“Look, Mommy!” Eliana exclaimed. It was all I could do to keep my kids from pushing the woman who sat in front of the fairyscape away from her peaceful seat.
When the woman behind the counter told me that they added that fairy door 8 months ago, I shushed her. “My children believe,” I said.
She looked chastised.
“There will always be people who just don’t get it,” says Wright. “They need an explanation of why. Those people never will get it—but those who do are intrigued and enchanted by the concept of a fairy or being hanging out with us.”
A mythology has built around the fairy doors in Ann Arbor. Some people say, “Only in Ann Arbor could something like this happen,” and as a graduate of the University of Michigan, I understand that assertion. Ann Arbor is an island in the state of Michigan, a place of anything-is-possible, a hub of fervent belief and righteous indignation and protest and change.
But is it so hard to suspend our disbelief? Really?
Wright insists that making something imaginative and also physical, available, free-of-charge to the public contains its own magic. It’s something he struggles with, as others try to capitalize on the fairy doors—they are available for sale on eBay and in toy catalogs and an individual even approached Wright to ask him to buy into a commercial side to this endeavor. He politely declined, but cringes a bit as the guy makes money off what may be his idea. (Those are resin copies, whereas the fairy doors Wright promotes are carefully crafted of wood to evoke the style and nuance of the places where they are located.)
“This certainly could be profitable,” he says. “But it didn’t feel right to me.”
Wright has never seen a fairy. He listens intently to children as they describe their encounters, and he’s left journals in every locale for those who do spot them to jot down their impressions.
“If you think about all the dead space in a house—there could be thousands of fairies living there! One of the signs is having a fairy door – and missing socks,” he says.
“This is about believing,” Wright notes. “Belief doesn’t make something real or true. You can’t make something unreal by not believing or conjure something by believing.”
“I can imagine fairies—I’ve never seen one, but by golly I can imagine them. That’s what’s engaging about all this. It’s fun to imagine it—whether it’s real or not. The doors are real. How they got there”—he looks away, his hands open—“I leave that to whoever’s looking to figure it out.”
Lynne Meredith Schreiber has written five books and many magazine articles. She is the Chief Creative Officer of Your People LLC, a company that provides community-focused marketing and public relations.
NOTE on the photos with this story:
Some of the illustrations with this week’s series of articles come from
Victorian-era picture books, now in the public domain. The color
photos of Fairy Doors in this 2-part story were taken by photographers from Divine Light Media, a
high-school-age media-production group at First United Methodist Church
in Ann Arbor, which includes: Alex DeHart, A.J. Gay, Sarah Higdon, Joey
Houghton, Alex Koukios, Blake Martin, Eric Seitz and others. The Divine
Light crew retraced the steps of Lynne and her children—hoping to catch
glimpses of what they saw.
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(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)