You may have seen them if you’ve ever visited Ann Arbor before. They’re hard to notice at first, but look down and there they are: tiny doors built into buildings or homes, large enough only to fit a mouse or, if you’re well-versed in folklore, a fairy. The doors have a curious history in Ann Arbor, and there have even been parodies and copycats that have followed since they were first installed. But this all adds to the quirky charm that’s so characteristic of this city, and it’s why the fairy doors are so beloved.
The first fairy door of Ann Arbor was “discovered” in 1993, in the home of graphic design teacher and University of Michigan alum, Jonathan B. Wright. Several others were found in his home over the years, and some were even said to disappear. Soon, fairy doors began to appear throughout Ann Arbor. Wright created a website, “Urban Fairies” in which he provides a map for tourists of the places where he’s discovered public fairy doors. Tourists will sometimes leave trinkets beside the fairy doors, such as small toys or flowers.
Though it’s commonly known that Wright is the artist behind the fairy doors, he prefers to refer to himself as a “fairyologist” who’s discovered fairy doors throughout the city. In doing so, though, he created quite a trend that now other cities have begun to mimic. There’s some debate over whether or not Wright created the concept of fairy doors originally, but here in Ann Arbor, locals will tell you that he were the first. Wright has also written a book about the phenomenon, entitled Who’s Behind the Fairy Doors?
There were once ten public fairy doors but, in keeping with the mysterious nature of them, some have disappeared over time. There are still some fairy doors, however, that you can find walking through the city, especially using Wright’s tour map.
Double glass doors that match the real doors of the Michigan Theater can be found to the side of the doors, sometimes with the image of a picture frame behind them.
The Ark, a local music venue, features its own miniature built into a wood panel of an exterior wall.
The Red Shoes, an antique store in the city, has a favorite fairy door with a characteristic red door that can be found both on the interior and exterior of the shop.
Peaceable Kingdom was a gift shop in Ann Arbor that closed in April of 2017. However, the fairy door, which shows a fairy-sized gift shop inside, still remains.
UM’s Mott’s Children’s Hospital has a small fairy door labeled the “Wing Wing” of the hospital, for “Faireez, Insectz, Burdz and Batz.”
Sweetwater’s Coffee & Tea’s fairy door is inside, so it’s harder to find, but look at the baseboards on the opposite wall of the counter. There you’ll see a small fairy-sized version of the cafe entrance.
Nicola’s Books, a local bookstore, has a small fairy door above the fireplace made of two book spines: Andersen’s Fairy Tales and Cinderella and Other Italian Fairy Tales. Clearly, the fairies have a reading preference!
At least two subsequent fairy doors have also opened in Sweetwater’s. You can also find a small, grey goblin door in downtown Ann Arbor, which displays the tombstone of a fairy beside the entrance.
The question is where to stay while exploring this local phenomenon, and the answer is the University Inn of Ann Arbor. Unlike fairy doors, we’re easy to find, at the intersection of Washtenaw Avenue and Stadium. We also offer 10% discounts to families and students visiting the University of Michigan, or parents of athletes for either UM or Eastern Michigan University. Contact us today to book your stay.