An Urban Fairy Phenomena?

Fairy Door Ann Arbor“That’s a fairy door,” said Stephen Kerr – well known Ann Arbor resident and artist – pointing to the ground near the entrance of a local music venue. I knew Ann Arbor was home to thousands of artists but I hadn’t realized some of them were small enough to fit in your pocket.

Kerr explained that doors built for creatures shorter than fifteen centimeters are found on almost a dozen downtown buildings, “They are perfect replicas of the larger doors they are on.” I peered at the tiny oak door with a miniature stainless-steel doorknob and stained glass window,’ The Ark ‘ scrawled in black ink. Jeff Daniels plays the Ark when he’s in town and I could envision music-loving fairies slipping through the diminutive entrance.

“The fairy doors started appearing about ten years ago. Some stores have maps to help people find the fairy doors,” Stephen said. Self-described fairyologist, Jonathan B. Wight, was the first to discover a fairy door in his house in 1993. It’s rumored he’s behind similar doors that started appearing at downtown businesses in 2005.

Previously unaware that an urban fairy phenomenon had sprung up in the American Midwest, I set out to find a fairy. Peaceable Kingdom – an art and gift store – has fairy maps, a fairy door and tiny windows peering into a fairy-size replica of the store. I peered through the teeny windows nestled under the store’s street-front display, no easy feat on arthritic knees. A Jack Russell terrier ambled over to sniff my hand, happy to have someone at canine eye level, but the fairies were out.

With fairy-door map in hand, I set out on the trail of the littlest residents of Ann Arbor – sometimes called A2. It appeared fairies hung out in some unlikely places. Google’s AdWord headquarters has a fairy door, as does the University of Michigan’s MOTT Children’s hospital. The university is one of the world’s foremost research schools but it’s not above a bit of whimsy with its own fairy door.

Visit Ann ArborAt the Kelsey Museum of Archeology there are no fairy doors but the Egyptian coffin of Djehutymose has its own Facebook page. Somehow separated from its mummy, social media is helping Djehutymose. “Other mummies have liked its Facebook page and there is some discussion on the page about finding the missing mummy,” laughed Terry Wilfong, Professor of Egyptology. I wondered if the fairies could help.

At the University’s Nichols Arboretum, over three hundred of species of peonies waved in the early morning breeze, the fragrance reminding me of Saskatchewan summers. Tucked in the woods overlooking the carpet of peonies, a sign read ‘Fairy Woods and Troll Hollow’. “It’s for kids,” explained Intern Joel Klann, “they like to make miniature fairy houses out of sticks.”

My next destination was Matthaei Botanical gardens. I skidded to a stop at a large display inside the front door. A sign extolling people to ‘Build your own fairy garden’ was surrounded by tiny chairs, birdhouses, and even miniature wine bottles for the fairy with a preference for Chardonnay. “Have there been any sightings?” I asked Allison Correll, Visitor Services & Events Supervisor. She just laughed but I wondered about this Michigan preoccupation with fairies. If they were real, why settle here?

It could be the food. With over 200 restaurants, 65% with fairy-friendly outdoor seating, Fodor’s Travel called A2 one of “America’s Best College Towns for Foodies.” Maybe it’s because Ann Arbor decriminalized marijuana in the 1970s, or perhaps that just accounts for the number of people who think they’ve seen a fairy!

Thinking a bigger lens might help spot fairies, I headed to the Detroit Observatory, the second oldest building on the University of Michigan campus. Nearby Great Lakes create dreadful astronomy conditions, but in the mid 19th century it was necessary to have a planetarium if one wanted a research school so one was built. Even a fairy might find that logic confusing.

As my tour group watched Program Coordinator Karen Wight point the telescope towards the sky, explaining how early astronomers sighted stars, the doors to the room slammed shut – apparently on their own. “It’s the fairies,” cried one of our group. I spun around; it might have been a trick of the light, but for a second, I thought I saw a gossamer wing slip under the door.

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