Most people in this college football town are accustomed to a roar coming from “The Big House.” That’s home to the Michigan Wolverines stadium that recently held over 100,000 boisterous fans. But a softer sound in the Ann Arbor night is the flutter of fairy wings. During the day, a child’s squeal brings a smile when a whimsical six-inch fairy door is discovered on a downtown establishment. What better way to discover this walkable city than on a Fairy Door hunt?
Fairy Door History
This fairy door tale began in 1993, when Ann Arbor resident, Jonathan B. Wright, made a tiny hallway closet for children’s use in the century-old home he shared with his wife and her daycare facility. Days later, the children discovered a six-inch fairy door adjacent to the closet. Multiple and unexplained fairy doors appeared in the Wright home thereafter.
Since 2005, fairy doors have popped up mysteriously all around Ann Arbor. The first was spotted outside Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea on West Washington Street, only to disappear and reappear later. Then more doors emerged, each crafted for its habitat. The fanciful landmarks are now part of the city’s architecture. Grown-ups stoop to look at the fairy doors, while children merely kneel for a closer view. And the doors keep coming.
Fairyologist Jonathan B. Wright
Although Wright doesn’t deny he has a special association with urban fairies and accepts the title of “certified fairyologist,” he’s evasive about being their fairy godfather, so to speak. Since he’s a trained illustrator and graphic designer, he does feel comfortable crafting fairy memorabilia, which explains his all-things-fairy website. He authored Who’s Behind the Fairy Doors?
Notable Ann Arbor Fairy Doors
The Peaceable Kingdom at 210 S. Main Street could be Fairy Door Central. One fairy door is outside and two are inside. It’s possible to see a fairy gift store scene inside all doors. The shop is stocked with nostalgia items, Mexican folk art, fine jewelry and countless trinkets. Children purchase gifts and place them on the doors’ landing. The shop sells fairy postcards and has a fairy guest book.
Nicola’s Books, located in the Westgate Shopping Center, has a fairy door over a mantel. It’s dark-colored with a gold knocker and doorknob, flanked by two fairytale books. At the Ann Arbor District Library, a double-sided door is in the Fairytale and Folklore section. Look inside the door to see a room filled with books and furniture.
Other notable doors can be found at Red Shoes Home Goods. Its red door matches the shop’s front door. At the Michigan Theater on E. Liberty Street, there’s a small fairy door at the base of the outside door. Sometimes movie tickets hang from the door opening. As for other doors, it’s up to the Ann Arbor visitor to find their favorites.
Fairy Door Information
At some fairy door establishments a guest book is available to sign or to ask fairy questions. Many are answered, perhaps by the fairyologist. A Fairy Door map is free (also online) and postcards sold. Leaving a small gift or drawing beside any fairy door is welcomed.
Unfortunately, the fairy doors have copycats about town, many put in shops by the owners. The iconic doors are showing up in nearby towns or in a field or just about anywhere. But it’s Ann Arbor that lays claim to their origin.
Jonathan B. Wright’s website is chock full of fairy lore, plus a free map where to find his (oops, not his but the) fairy doors.
For all other Ann Arbor information, contact the city’s tourist bureau.