Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle – Chicago, Illinois

Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle – Chicago, Illinois

A History Geek’s Dream, In Miniature

When I was a young girl, my mom and I had a dollhouse that we worked on together. I used to love creating a little world for the family that “lived” there. As I grew up, I pushed aside that little girl pursuit and became interested in the typical teenage things – boys, fashion, and music. Miniatures were a thing that belonged in my past. It just didn’t interest me any more.

But when I found a dusty old book about a fairy tale dollhouse castle at a yard sale several years ago, my interest was rekindled. I had only ever seen doll houses, but this was a doll castle. First I was intrigued. Then, gradually, as years passed without ever going to see it in person, my interest morphed into fascination, which grew to become a slight obsession. To those of you who are regular readers, it should be no surprise that I am fascinated with miniatures. After all, I’ve written about them here, here, and here. And I absolutely love castles, so this was the ultimate dollhouse as far as I was concerned!

So when it came time to plan a little trip for my birthday weekend, I knew just where I wanted to go: Chicago.  The Windy City has a lot to offer visitors, but for miniatures enthusiasts, it is of special interest as it is home to both the Thorne Miniature Rooms and Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle.

The Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle

Colleen Moore created the castle with the help of her father in 1928. It measures nine square feet and the tallest point of it is 12 feet high. But it’s not just any dollhouse, and Colleen Moore was not just any woman.

Colleen Moore was a silent film star in the 1920s. She was considered one of the most fashionable stars of that era, a trendsetter credited with making the bobbed haircut popular among American women. She was also a savvy investor who became a partner in the Merrill Lynch firm and wrote a book about investing in the stock market.

Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle has been on display at the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago since 1949. In all honesty, it seems a bit out of place there. MSI is essentially a science museum, with exhibits on robots, optical illusions, physics, energy, and so on. Yet tucked away in an alcove adjacent to the (Brain) Food Court you’ll see this wall:

Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle - Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle at the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago.

Just opposite the sign is the semi-dark room that holds Colleen Moore’s masterpiece.  The castle is encased in glass on an elevated platform. A recorded announcement with details of the castle and its furnishings plays above visitors’ heads as they peer inside. Every time I went around the castle I saw or heard something new, so I would go again. I think I circled it at least four times.

The Courtyard

Upon entering the room, the first part of the castle that you will see is the courtyard.

Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle - the Courtyard.

The large tree just beyond the gates is a weeping willow. Ms Moore decided to depict the tree quite literally, with teardrops on its branches. To the left of that is a silver horse and carriage set for Cinderella, and to the right of the gate… do you see that fuzzy pink thing? Well, it’s a cradle, of course! As in “Rock-a-bye Baby, in the Treetop.” The tree was motorized and it rocked from side to side, making the cradle sway.

Also, you can’t see it in this photo, but the castle’s cornerstone is gold instead of gray.  It was laid by Sara Roosevelt, the mother of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Moving along to the right, the end of the building features a series of pictures depicting scenes from Aesop’s Fables, including “The Fox and the Grapes” and “The Ant and the Grasshopper.”

Aesop's Fables depicted in the artwork on Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle.

The Library

Turning the corner, we came upon the library. More than 100 books rest on the shelves in this room, and they are all real. Many of them are handwritten by prominent authors. The library was decorated with a nautical theme – bright blue paint, murals of ships at sea, furniture with shell motifs, and so on. It was meant to evoke a sense of adventure as depicted in the stories of Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver, Captain Kidd and other adventurers. The bookcase didn’t dominate the room. In fact, it’s so far off to the right in the photo below it isn’t even visible.  It was hard to tell that it was supposed to be a library (the bibliophile complained), but nonetheless fun to look at.

The library in Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle

So many details! A secondary theme was astronomy. The pillows are shaped like stars and moons, the dome of the ceiling looks like the night sky.  The wood floor had an astrological design inlaid in its center.

A little further down, a cubbyhole room on the second floor was the treasure room of Aladdin. I tried to take a picture, but it didn’t turn out well enough to share.

The Chapel

Then we came upon the Chapel, which has stained glass windows of Bible stories and a gold altar. On the prayer bench in front of the altar is a small Bible printed in 1840. It is the smallest Bible in the world, and is printed from real type.

Here are some shots I took of the Chapel and its furnishings.

The Chapel in Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle.

The Chapel Altar in Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle.

As you move on to the next room, you can look back at the chapel through a long window (above) and see the altar and tabernacle. On top of the tabernacle is a beautiful golden sunburst, in the center of which is a glass container holding a sliver of the true cross. This was given to Colleen by her friend, Clare Booth Luce, who was Ambassador to Italy. Luce received the relic when she had her first audience with the Pope.

The Great Hall

From there, we turned the corner again and found ourselves gazing at the great hall, the largest room in the dollhouse. It has an etched ivory floor, and a ceiling painted with figures from the classic Brothers Grimm tales.

The Great Hall of Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle, on display at the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago.

The Great Hall contains several items of interest.  For instance, two ancient statues of the goddess Isis – one of lapis lazuli, the other of green glaze. There is also a pair of hollow 1/4 inch glass slippers to fit a 5-inch Cinderella.  Under a glass dome, the tiny chairs of Goldilocks’ three bears sit on the heads of pins—the largest weighing only 1/150,000th of an ounce! On either side of the arched doorway leading to the courtyard, there is a silver knight in full armor. These figures came from the collection of iconic early film star Rudolph Valentino.

The exterior of the great hall features three figures – a female in plain dress, a male noble, and an older rich woman. They are Cinderella, Prince Charming, and the Evil Stepmother. The figure above them, arms outspread, is the good fairy welcoming you to Fairy Land.

Cinderella figures outside the Great Hall of Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle

The Drawing Room

As we rounded the last corner, we came upon the drawing room.

The Drawing Room of Colleen Moore's Fair Tale Dollhouse Castle.

This room is full of silver furniture and miniature musical ornaments. The wall features a mural of the Cinderella story. Another Cinderella scene, featutring her pumpkin/carriage, is located inside of the rosewood piano. The floor, made in China as a custom order for Moore, is rose quartz banded in jade. The vases at each side of the door going into the great hall are made of carved amber more than 500 years old.

The Prince’s Bedroom & Bathroom

Above the drawing room is the Prince’s bedroom.  Unfortunately, I did not get any good photos of this room. There was a white bearskin rug on the floor, which Moore had a taxidermist make from ermine skin and mouse teeth.

The Prince's Bathroom in Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle, Chicago

Next to the bedroom was a small bathroom. Small, but no less elegant than the rest of the castle! Mostly alabaster, the room included a gold, jewel encrusted mirror over the shell-like wash basin. The gold Japanese chest is approximately 500 years old.

The Dining Room

Back on the lower level, next to the drawing room, we see the dining room, which reminds us that we are looking at a fairy tale dollhouse castle, not just an ordinary dollhouse. A semi-round table with throne-like chairs dominates the center. Gold plates and tiny knives and forks, also gold, are set out, awaiting guests. The glasses are crystal—and most of them are more than a hundred years old!

The Dining Room of Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle in Chicago

Five needlepoint “tapestries” in the Dining Room (in the shadows of this pic, unfortunately) depict Arthurian legends’ Knights of the Round Table. A master needleworker in Vienna created them especially for the fairy tale dollhouse castle. It is almost impossible to distinguish the stitches without the aid of a magnifying glass.

The Kitchen

Next to the Dining Room, of course, was the kitchen.

The kitchen of Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle in Chicago

The kitchen is where fairy tales reign. Over the door are the three Little Pigs, and to the right, Jack and Jill are tumbling down the hill. The copper stove reminds visitors of the stove in which the wicked witch locked Hansel and Gretel. The oven contains the pie baked with four and twenty blackbirds. The Royal Doulton dinner service on the table is identical to the set made for Queen Mary’s doll house at Windsor Castle.

The Princess’ Bedroom & Bathroom

Back upstairs, above the dining room is the bedroom of the Fairy Princess.

Bedroom of the Princess in Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle, Chicago

The bed represents the bed that Sleeping Beauty slept in. The bedspread features a gold spider web that covered her for 100 years as she waited for Prince Charming. The two chandeliers have light bulbs the size of wheat grains… and they actually work!  Chairs in the Princess’ Bedroom are platinum with cloisonne seats and backs made from diamond and emerald clips. They were stunning!

Platinum jeweled chairs in Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle

The Princess’ bathroom was just as grand.

The Princess' Bathroom in Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle, Chicago.

Oddly, the most interesting thing I saw in the exhibit was a miniature book:

Thorne Rooms Book at Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle in Chicago.

It turns out that Colleen Moore was a friend of Narcissa Niblack Thorne, who created miniature rooms around the same time. Visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago can see 68 of the Thorne Rooms. (For my review of the Thorne Miniature Rooms, click here.)

If you enjoy seeing the world in miniature, Chicago is an absolute must, as host city to both the Thorne Rooms and the Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle. Be sure to follow me on Instagram for more detailed photos of the castle that are not included in this post!

Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle
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