An Autobiography: Chapter 44, Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle
By Thurston Moore | Nov 26, 2012
Georgianna’s favorite museum exhibit was the enchanting Fairy’s dream home of Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle in Chicago’s Museum of Science and Energy. This elaborate miniature dollhouse was created by the silent film star in the 1930s and donated to the museum in 1949. It has delighted millions with its tiny treasures, including murals and paintings executed by Walt Disney himself, chandeliers adorned with real diamonds, emeralds and pearls, the tiniest Bible ever to be written, and ancient statues more than 2,000 years old. This is truly one of the museum treasures of the world, and at the museum you can take a magical audio tour through its whimsical, intricate rooms.
Through her childhood, like Georgianna, Colleen Moore was always fascinated by dolls and dollhouses. Later in life, Colleen’s father suggested that she should pursue her passion for miniatures and dollhouses by creating the “dollhouse” of her dreams. Her position as one of the most popular actresses in Hollywood gave her the connections and resources to produce her miniature home of fantastic proportions. Beginning in 1928, she enlisted the help of many talented professionals. By 1935, more than 700 individuals had given their expertise, including surgical instrument lighting specialists, Beverly Hills jewelers and Chinese jade craftsmen. The price tag for this palace, which was 8 feet 7 inches by 8 feet 2 inches by 7 feet 7 inches and containing more than 2,000 miniatures, soared to $500,000. The Fairy Castle remains a timeless reminder of the imagination, ingenuity and craftsmen of cultures and artisans from all over the world.
Colleen Moore with her Fairy Castle.
In 1935, Colleen Moore’s fascination with her dollhouse was transformed by the Great Depression into a passion for helping children. She organized a national tour of the Fairy Castle, and it was a huge success, raising more than $650,000 between 1935 and 1939.
Here are some highlights of the Fairy Castle:
THE MAGIC GARDEN – A cradle of gold and pearls is sitting on a rocking tree. This was one of the favorite artifacts in the Magic Garden. The cradle was made with jewelry from her grandmother, which she inherited from childhood.
THE PRINCE’S BEDROOM – The sword standing by the wardrobe is Excalibur, King Arthur’s sword.
THE PRINCESS’ BEDROOM – The bed represents the bed that Sleeping Beauty slept in. The bedspread is the gold spider web that covered her for 100 years as she waited for Prince Charming. The platinum chairs are set with diamonds and have seats of green cloisonne´. Their backs are made from a pair of emerald and diamond lapel clips that belonged to Colleen Moore.
The Princess’ Bedroom
THE LIBRARY – The books in the library are all real. There are more than 100; many of them are handwritten by very prominent authors. On the reading stand is a tiny dictionary, given to Colleen by her father when she was only five years old. It began her miniature collection.
CINDERELLA’S DRAWING ROOM – The floor is made of rose quartz and jade from China. The chandelier in the center of the room is gold, hung with real diamonds, emeralds and pearls. The vases at each side of the door going into the Great Hall are made of carved amber more than 500 years old. They came from the collection of the Dowager Empress of China.
Cinderella’s Drawing Room
(Pardon me if I digress for a moment. Chicago and pearls reminds me of the time I was in Chicago and got lonesome for Georgianna. I called her and told her to catch the next plane. I then went out and bought a dozen red roses and a string of pearls to decorate the flowers. Was she ever delighted and surprised! You can imagine the dividends I received for that gift!)
THE DINING ROOM – A replica of King Arthur’s round table is in the center. The five needlepoint tapestries in the room depict the Knights of the Round Table. They were commissioned from Madame Jorey, a master needleworker in Vienna. It’s almost impossible to distinguish the stitches without the aid of a magnifying glass.
THE KITCHEN – The kitchen is filled with whimsical wall murals from various fairytales. The copper stove is meant to be the stove of the wicked witch from Hansel and Gretel. The Royal Doulton dinner service on the table is an exact replica of the set made for Queen Mary’s dollhouse at Windsor Castle.
THE CHAPEL – To the right of the chapel’s organ is a vigil light, with a very large diamond in the top, which came from Colleen Moore’s mother’s engagement ring. When she died, she left it to Colleen to put in the Fairy Castle. The silver throne is a copy of the famous English throne in Westminster Abbey. The statue on the pedestal is a bust of Pope Pius IX, and on the bottom is the seal of the Vatican. On the prayer bench in front of the altar is the Bible printed in 1840, the smallest Bible in the world, and sprinted from real type.
THE GREAT HALL – Throughout the Great Hall are scenes from fairytales. The knights in armor, at each side of the door, came from the collection of Rudolph Valentino. On a rosewood table are Cinderella’s glass slippers. They are hollow with high heels and have tiny red glass bows. Under the glass bell, the tiny chairs of the three bears sit on the heads of pins – the largest weighing only 1/150,000th of an ounce! Many of the treasures in the Great Hall are very old. For example, there is a bust of a woman on a green pedestal that is Roman and about 2,500 years old. On a table there are three statues of the Goddess Isis, more than 4,000 years old. At the foot of the stairs there are two jars; one is a 3,000-year-old alabaster jar from Egypt, and the other is a glazed porcelain jar from ancient Siam that is more than 1,000 years old. Looking through the clear glass in the center of the Chapel you can see the altar and a little tabernacle. On top of the tabernacle is a beautiful golden sunburst. In the center is a glass container holding the sliver of the true cross. This was given to Colleen by her friend, Clare Booth Luce, who was ambassador to Italy and received the relic when she had made her first audience with the Pope.
The Great Hall in the Fairy Castle.
Georginana’s dollhouse is now owned by Ayla Gerber, age 7, daughter of Tony Gerber, my web artist and graphic designer. Georgianna loved coloring books, too. Many years ago she purchased a set of Kate Greenway doll prints to color, and with color pencils she delicately brought them to life. These are framed, 17 inches by 21 inches. I see one of these charming prints every day: the little girl with hair down her back has a shawl and hat on, carrying a basket, picking flowers. I imagine that was Georgianna long ago.
Ayla playing with Georgianna’s dollhouse.
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