Given the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems as if everyone could use some holiday cheer, and Castle Noel in Medina is just the place for a healthy dose of everything merry and bright. From film stills of Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in White Christmas to Cousin Eddie’s ramshackle RV from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to a Blizzard Vortex that spins visitors through a make-believe snowstorm, Castle Noel delivers a one-of-a-kind combination of a Christmas movie museum, interactive Yuletide experiences, and an unabashedly festive trip down memory lane.
Its mastermind is Mark Klaus, a sculptor, collector, curator, historian, and entrepreneur who has created the nation’s largest year-round indoor Christmas entertainment attraction inside a former church and some storefronts in Medina’s Public Square Historic District.
Yes, Klaus is his actual last name, and with his white beard and lifelong love of Christmas, he not only looks like Kris Kringle but also possesses a kind of Clark Griswold-like zeal that one would expect of someone who has amassed the world’s largest collection of holiday movie costumes, props, and memorabilia.
Klaus’s helper is his wife, Dana, a real-life Mrs. Klaus who does everything from leading tours to traveling to New York City to acquire Christmas window displays from Bloomingdale’s, Lord and Taylor, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Castle Noel’s incomparable array of department store windows transports visitors to a wonderland of whimsical scenes.
“We have a multi-million-dollar collection,” Mrs. Klaus says. “But it’s nothing unless we’re bringing joy to people. Otherwise, it’s just stuff.”
One of Castle Noel’s prize possessions is the outfit Will Ferrell wore while portraying Buddy in Elf. The Klauses have also recently acquired the baby clothes that Buddy’s daughter Susie wears at the end of the movie. The costumes are displayed together in a vignette, similar to other such displays, specially designed to evoke the film.
Visitors, for example, view the costumes of Patrick Stewart and other A Christmas Carol cast members through imaginary shop windows graced by details like period candlesticks, while the Christmas with the Kranks display includes the rooftop Frosty, a movie poster signed by the cast, and costumes worn by Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis. Other exhibits feature Cindy Lou Who’s bedroom set from The Grinch; the miniature house — complete with glitzy light show — that doubled for Danny DeVito’s home in Deck the Halls; and Bumble, the gigantic yeti used for the abominable snow monster in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. “We lured Bumble to Medina with gingerbread cookies,” Mrs. Klaus explains with a smile.
Like the holiday season itself, Castle Noel appeals to all ages. A multigeneration favorite is the “I Had That” Toyland Experience, which has toys, games, and dolls — including a Mrs. Beasley and a stuffed lion — that materialized on Christmas mornings in Mark’s and Dana’s houses from the 1950s to the 1980s. Although the Klauses collected toys for years before opening Castle Noel, the exhibit is growing because people keep bringing in their childhood playthings. “The woman who donated her Teddy Ruxpin bear cried when she saw it in the showcase,” Mrs. Klaus says.
While Santa’s Chimney Squeeze, “Castle Noel’s official training center,” gets guests wiggling and giggling their way through inflatable walls, the venue’s signature attraction is the Grand Hall. The soaring space contains an Enchanted Forest, with animated owls that once inhabited a Lord and Taylor window, as well as a big red slide where visitors take rides á la Ralphie Parker in A Christmas Story. “Anyone over 80 who goes down the slide gets their photo on our Wall of Fame,” says Dana. “Our oldest rider was 101½.”
Because of the virus, Castle Noel offers only private, reservation-required tours for limited numbers of guests, and on orders from Santa, a sani-elf continuously wipes down the facility with disinfectant. In the spirit of the season, the Klauses also have devised a special space for personal visits with the Jolly Old Elf.
“There’s a lot of Christmas magic happening behind the scenes,” says Mrs. Klaus. “Santa will be here until December 23.”