Mark and Dana Klaus love Christmas. Big time.
You’ll find them at Castle Noel in Medina, Ohio, where the Christmas spirit lives all year. Big understatement.
Inside of a former Methodist church, at the city’s historic town square, the Klauses pay homage to the holiday as it’s been commercialized in movies and department store window displays.
It is no amateur undertaking in this community of 26,000 that is 30 miles south of Cleveland.
What we have are original costumes and props from many of the best-known contemporary Christmas movies, a time capsule of classic and vintage toys, wintry scenes from some of the nation’s biggest department store windows. And one dreamy setting after another.
The Grinch lives at Castle Noel. That means the character’s original mask, costume, vehicle, sleigh and more.
Whoville is here. As in town setting, signage and characters, including Cindy Lou.
Movie posters, showing celebrities in costume, are propped next to the original attire. Think Will Ferrell’s “Elf.” Joel Grey’s ghostly white in “A Christmas Carol.” Vince Vaughn’s leather jacket from “Fred Claus.”
“It’s all about making folks feel like a kid again,” Dana Klaus says. What is displayed fills 40,000 square feet, and the couple contend no other private collection of this type is larger.
The attraction opened in 2013 and changes from one year to the next. It is a study in surprise and excess, from a ceiling with 100,000 glass ornaments to a 10-foot cuckoo clock in an enchanted forest window display.
“It’s always evolving, always changing,” she acknowledges.
Castle Noel exists and expands because of her husband’s delight in collecting cultural remnants from his favorite holiday. Mark Klaus – and, yes, that’s his real last name – years ago began rescuing department store window displays from post-holiday destruction or a life of musty warehousing.
Now Klaus owns dozens of these colorful, elaborate fantasylands. They come from Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Lord and Taylor, Sak’s Fifth Avenue and – most recently – Toronto stores.
Klaus looks the part for this role, especially at this time of year, right down to his white beard and red, pinstriped suit. He also is an artist who long ago became known for cold-cast porcelain sculptures that are small in stature but rich in detail.
His imagination for design turns interactive at Castle Noel. Visitors pass through a blizzard vortex and later ride a slide from top to bottom of Santa Klaus Mountain.
Don’t be surprised if it looks and feels like the slick chute that Ralphie flew down, after a harrowing talk with Santa and his elf about that Red Ryder BB gun.
Can’t get enough? The Klauses have designed a second attraction too: Alien Vacation Mini Golf, a three-dimensional experience. But that’s another story, for another time.
All tours through Castle Noel are guided and last up to two hours. Admission is $21, less for children, senior citizens and military. castlenoel.com
Long before Castle Noel, the biggest buzz in Medina was all about bees. That dates back to 1869, when Amos Ives Root opened a business that sold honey, beeswax and beekeeping supplies. The beekeeping work gained international respect, in part because Root figured out how to harvest honey without destroying beehives.
The business, A.I. Root Company, remains family owned and specializes in production of high-quality, hand-crafted candles. That means church candles, dinner candles, a wellness collection of candles and more. rootcandles.com
The Medina County Beekeepers Association, which has 200-plus members, meets monthly, conducts beginner beekeeping classes during winter and organizes an annual Bee Festival in July. medinabeekeepers.com
Cleveland has its own unique reason to visit during this time of year. It is the epicenter for “A Christmas Story,” the movie about Ralphie’s hope and angst that generates a cult-like following and marathon showings on TV during the holidays.
In an average Cleveland neighborhood, near downtown, is the 1895 house where much of the 1983 movie was filmed. Guided house tours and access to an adjacent museum of movie memorabilia (such as props, photos, little bro Randy’s snowsuit) happen all year and cost $13 (less for children, senior citizens, military). achristmasstoryhouse.com
Guides dish out trivia and backstories about the film’s production. Example: Higgins Department Store was a real Cleveland business until 1992. A third-floor loft is rented for overnight stays and sleeps up to six, starting at $395 (rates vary by season).
Next door is the retro Bumpus House, a reference to the film family’s neighbors. Hound Dog Haven and Stolen Turkey suites accommodate four and six guests, respectively. Overnight rates start at $195 per night. bumpushouse.com
Best is the gift shop, a leg lamp lover’s dream. Buy it as a tree ornament, night light, as a 50-inch-tall lamp or dozens of other ways. Pink bunny suits and slippers are for sale too, as are Red Ryder BB guns, decoder pins and just about every other defining item in the film. redryderleglamps.com