In October, I took a trip to Chicago and visited the Museum of Science and Industry. They have Colleen Moore’s 1935 Fairytale Castle on permanent display. She was a silent movie film star from the 1920s and 30s, and she took her dollhouse on a national tour to raise money for disabled children during the Great Depression. This is the front facade of the dollhouse. It truly is a fairytale castle. Many of the walls are painted with images from various stories.
The courtyard has a weeping willow tree that originally wept real water. Recently, museum staff restored the fairytale castle and they removed the water elements to better contain the humidity inside the case which helps preserve the other artifacts. The tree now has running lights that light in sequence. To the right is the rock-a-bye baby cradle which is made of real silver and gold. The tree actually rocks back and forth. The silver carriage is Cinderella’s and it is waiting to take her to the ball. The story of the Wizard of Oz is in relief on the left wall, and images from Don Quixote are in the back above the door.
Going around the fairytale castle to the right, the first room is the library. Colleen Moore did the library in a sea motif. Captain Kidd is above the mantle, Gulliver pulling the Lilliputian ships is above the left door, and Robinson Crusoe and his man Friday are above the right door. The world’s smallest oldest bible is in included in the collection, along with 100 other real books. A dictionary was the item that first sparked Colleen’s love of miniatures.
Next up is the castle chapel. On the candle holder Ms. Moore placed a good sized diamond which originally was in her mother’s engagement ring.
The grand hall is a museum of fairytale artifacts. Though you can’t see it in this image, the front is lined with more tables of precious things – Cinderella’s glass slippers are the smallest glass slippers ever made. Many of these items are significantly older than the fairytale castle, roman busts and Egyptian vases. Ms. Moore commissioned the spiral stairs without a railing because if the fairy folk stumble they can simply fly to catch themselves. Craftsmen etched the back glass windows with fairytale scenes – Jack and the Beanstalk, the Princess and the Seven Swans, and Prince Charming.
The left hand side of the castle shows the smaller private rooms. I was not able to get a good picture of the attic, but it is filled with left over items from the royal family’s earlier generations.
Coming in from the grand hall is a sitting room. The wall mural is of Cinderella. A small silver chess set sits near the fireplace. The floor tiles are quartz and jade and came from China.
King Arthur’s Round Table sits proudly in the dining hall. The glasses are real crystal and service is real silver. Skilled embroiderers created some of the smallest tapestries ever for the walls. The stitches are so close together they are hard to see even under a microscope!
The kitchen completes the lower level. Artists painted Jack and Jill on the wall. Colleen claims that the oven is from Hansel and Gretel’s witch. The porcelain dish set is one of only two created with the Queen of England’s pattern. The other is, of course, the set in the Queen’s dollhouse.
The first bedroom upstairs is the Prince’s bedroom. She set Excalibur is in his chamber, and commissioned a the little animal rug created from ermine fur and mouse teeth.
The Prince’s bathroom is gold and alabaster. The little golden cabinet in the front is from china. Museum staff replaced the bath’s running water fountain feature with acrylic.
The Princess’s bedroom is stunning. We see Sleeping Beauty’s bed and a lace comforter made of a golden spiderweb.
Last but not least, my favorite room in the fairytale castle. Colleen created the Princess’s bathroom in a motif to Undine, a german mermaid story. The dolphins used to pour real water. The silver and mother of pearl ceiling detail and the translucent walls are breathtaking.
The next time you are visiting Chicago, make sure to stop by the Museum of Science and Industry and visit this amazing piece of dollhouse history.
For further information and a video, CNN did a segment on the dollhouse house, which you can view here: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/colleen-moores-timeless-fairy-castle/