Standing at the top of the Big Red Slide on Santa Claus Mountain, I recall a scene from the film “A Christmas Story.” Ralphie and his brother are pushed down a similar slide by a devious elf after a less-than-satisfactory visit with Department Store Santa.
Fortunately, zipping down this slide is safe enough for even the 101½-year-old who holds the record. So I position myself on the burlap bag and whoosh! It’s a fast and fun trip to the bottom, which marks the end of our adventure through Castle Noel Christmas Museum.
It was mid-October when we visited the museum in Medina, Ohio, a town of 27,000 about 35 miles southwest of Cleveland. Though the holiday season was still a good month away, crowds of eager visitors lined up for the 75-minute tours through what has become one man’s fantasy-come-true.
You can blame Mark Klaus (yes, his real name), 55, for this over-the-top holiday immersion which opened in 2013. The artist/sculptor, who made his fortune selling collectibles and creating Hollywood sets, is obsessed with all-things-Christmas and wants to celebrate all year long.
“People are excited about what we’ve saved here and I love seeing the joy and love on their faces,” said Klaus, who grew up in a Cleveland suburb, where, thanks to his father, “our house was a Christmas wonderland.”
Klaus is carrying that tradition forward, although in a much bigger way.
He created Castle Noel in a 40,000-square-foot, 1890s church and school that covers a half-block in picturesque downtown Medina (pronounced Ma-DY-na). It’s a collection of sets, props and costumes from just about every Christmas film you can name — “Elf,” “A Christmas Story,” “The Santa Clause,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and more.
“We have more than 400 props and costumes from ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas,’ alone,” Klaus said.
Tour guides with snappy narrations also take visitors through elaborate animated department-store window displays that once drew thousands to Macy’s, Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale’s.
According to Klaus, stores previously destroyed their window displays at season’s end for fear they would be used inappropriately. He managed to persuade the stores to allow him be the caretaker of history.
For example, on Jan. 1 of this year, Klaus and crew spent the night on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel after joining thousands who came to get last looks at the Christmas windows at Saks and Lord & Taylor. The following day, the holiday scenes were dismantled and packed for the trip from New York City to Medina. Four months later, they were assembled and ready for viewing at Castle Noel.
And the work continues — always.
“There is almost always something new to see,” Klaus said — perhaps because additional movie props and holiday décor are stored in a nearby 10,000-square-foot warehouse. “We never take a day off. We work seven days a week.”
As we progressed through the castle’s maze of rooms, I understood why we had to sign a waiver. Tools, mannequins, costumes, holiday décor and festive flotsam filled every corner and cranny in the unfinished areas, which were just as fascinating as the finished exhibits.
We also passed through the “I Had That!” toy collection from the ‘50s through the ‘80s; a Blizzard Vortex that challenges visitors to remain upright (it’s not easy, believe me); and the Chimney Squeeze — inflatables in a tunnel that mimics Santa’s trip down the chimney. More than 75,000 glass tree ornaments have been wired and glued one-by-one on walls and ceiling.
If this doesn’t saturate your senses, check out Alien Vacation Mini Golf on the same property. The attraction employs “props from 20 sci-fi films to reinvent another story,” says Klaus’ wife, Dana. “Aliens crash land on earth and are here for a good time.”
E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at firstname.lastname@example.org
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.