peeking through the
BY OMAR MAHMOOD, DAILY ARTS WRITER
Fairy door located inside of Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea on West Washington.
There is a fairy door by the box
office at Michigan Theatre. I sat
in that little corner on a Sunday
afternoon, watching the people as the
fairies do. A good-looking couple, just
a tad too old to be undergraduates, reit4
the listings as they stood holding hands
by a poster for Boyhood.He wore a gayly
colored shirt and a fedora, and she wore
a black-and-white patterned dress with a
brown buckled belt.
A car revved by on Liberty, its windows
down in the afternoon sun, the radio blast-
ing. The couple didn't look around at the
car. Instead, as if they overlooked the rest
of the world, he took her and and twirled
her around, and they danced a slow dance
not altogether in accord with the music.
The world has a way of coming alive when
one watches from a fairy door.
Old German folklore tells us that once
upon a time, in the woodlands, there lived
fairies. But more than that is only humble
guesswork. Still, I wondered what fairies
really look like. And I would trust only my
own eyes to tell me. So I set out to find a
fairy for myself. As it happens, Ann Arbor
is the place for such a quest. The world's
only bonafide fairyologist has lived here all
Ann Arbor resident Christopher H.
U/Daily Wrightbecame interested in fairies in 1993,
when the first-ever fairy door appeared in
his too-year-old fairytale home on the Old
West Side. It had been built into the base-
board of a hallway leading to a stairwell -
six inches tall and whitewashed, framed
modestly, and topped off with a bronze
doorknob. It opened up to a checkered floor
and a flight of black-and-white stairs.
Many years later, The Fairy Doors ofAnn
Arbor is now a book published by Wright
that documents his fairyology research. It
is largely based on eyewitness drawings
and descriptions that he then renders, as
an artist, into fuller-fledged illustrations.
In the book, Wright tells us that imagina-
tion is the key to these fairies. But I was
My first stop was the storied Michigan
Theatre. Underneath the lightbulb-stud-
ded canopy, right beside the box office, is a
set ofvarnished double doors. It sits tucked
away in the middle of the fanfare. Fair-
ies are notoriously shy of human folk, so I
approached the little door with some trepi-
dation. I knelt down and peered inside. The
door was hardly ornate, with humble knobs
and hinges, but an ode to the Theatre all
the same. Panes of glass revealed a picture
frame, which I suppose is how the fairies
watch their films.
I saw a scattering of 'fairy droppings' -
pennies, alittle pink hairpin, small golden-
brown leaves from past fall, a shiny blue
pebble, some M&Ms and a wad of Orbitz.
I also noticed a green glitter that I would
later see at every subsequent fairy door I
I leaned my back on the wall of the post
office and folded my legs, my Peshawari
U/Oaily chappals not so out of place. I gazed up at
the ceramic ceiling, painted all sorts of gold
and pink and red and swirled into flowers
and ribbons. I hadn't noticed it before, but
fairy dust does put one in a ceiling-gazing
There was a festival going on that Sun-
day as the fall term came around. Main
Street was merry. I came to find myself
in the original Sweetwaters on Main and
Washington. I looked about in vain for
a fairy door, finally coming up with the
shamelessness to ask the girl at the bar.
She rolled her eyes at your twenty-year-
old fairy hunter and pointed behind me.
There it was: not only a little fairy door, but
a dainty little fairy coffee shop next to it as
As I looked on, a little girl in a glittery
purple dress and colorfully rimmed sun-
glasses scurried over to the fairy door and
knelt down, as her parents looked on. I
moved to the side, recognizing that before
her I was but a patzer. The fairies were
cooking, she told us.
I found that her parents had recently
moved to Ann Arbor and were excited
about fairy doors. They were even think-
ing about getting one at their new house,
though that of course is best left to the
fairies. Their daughter, Adia, agreed very
kindly to be interviewed. Five years old,
her blue eyes twinkled with delight as she
giggled into her mother's ear. With some
humility, she gave earth-shattering testi-
mony of the time she saw a fairy. It was a
"She had pink and blue wings and a pink
and blue dress," Adia told me.
As we talked, I learned that the fairy had
wings. Adia had given her a penny.
"We found it in the book library," she
continued, this time without prompting
from her mother. "They didn't tell people
because the fairies get mad., But they told
Emboldened by the promise of Adia's
testimony, I made my way down to Peace-
able Kingdom to visit another fairy door.
Here the offerings seemed to have been
all collected, but that familiar green glit-
ter was present all the same. The fairy
door's resemblance to the door of the busi-
ness is immediate, though the fairies have
embellished it with some seemly railings,
and built upon the step. These urban-fair-
ies have not forgotten the charm of their
woodland forefathers, though I would have
to ask Adia to be sure.
There aren't too many better ways of
discovering Ann Arbor than by hunting for
fairies. But be careful of what you might
find. As I roamed about in search of more
doors, I stopped by the Black Pearl. A help-
ful waiter there told me he had seen a door
close by, and walked me down a couple
stores to a little crevice beside Life is Good.
This door was taller by a bit than the other
doors I had seen, and also a bit ominous.
I paced back and forth on Main Street,
examining the neighboring storefronts, but
the door seemed to have a design of its own
this time. And it was a little too hidden.
This, Wright believes, could be Ann
Arbor's first goblin door.
n the corner of Washtenaw Avenue
and Hill Street, in the middle of
George Washington Park, stands a
gaudy paint-covered rock.
First brought to Ann Arbor in 1932 from a
landfill in Pontiac Trail - unpainted, with a
plaque commemorating George Washington's
200th birthday added shortly thereafter -
over the past 92 years it has become something
else entirely. The Rock, now capital R, is a
monument to hundreds, if not thousands,
of different student organizations, causes,
messages, and last year, a marriage proposal.
It's not clear who started painting it or when,
though most sources place the start of the
tradition at about the 1950s when, according
to a 1987 letter to the editor in the Ann Arbor
News, several Michigan State University fans
painted MSU on it, necessitating a fresh coat of
paint over the letters by University fans.
By the summer of 1993, the practice of
painting the rock had attracted enough
attention that the city of Ann Arbor held
a public hearing on it to address resident
concerns, resulting in a management plan
created by then-Superintendent of Parks and
Recreation Ronald A. Olson. The plan called
for the placement of a trash container, clean up
of the Rock's base, and other regulations that
are mostly still in place today, allowing the
paintingtradition to continue.
While the multitude of writing it has
accumulated over the years hasn't lent it a
lot of physical depth - in reality, the paint
coveringthe Rock is only a few inches thick, as
found by a Daily reporter who drilled through
the paint in 2010-- its significance as a campus
tradition both for students and alumni, as well
as local residents, is uncontested.
Jessica Black, facility supervisor for Ann
Arbor's parks and recreation department, said
to the best of her knowledge, the Rock is the
only object of its kind across the city's parks.
She said while the city neither condones nor
condemns painting the Rock, its existence
brings something unique to the park and that
uniqueness comes with positive aspects, such
as the fact that both the Rock and the park
don't get tagged with graffiti very often.
"There's a sense of ownership in painting
it, for the college students and high school
students," Black said.
The city's policy isto remove paint that ends
up on the greenway around it. Otherwise, all
the paint that makes it onto the Rock is left
alone until painted over, usually within the
day. Black said she couldn't remember a time,
over her tenure with the Parks Department,
that anything that would be considered
offensive enough to warrant removal had been
painted on the Rock itself.
Second-year medical student Max Shlykov
is the vice president of the medical school
chapter ofWolverines for Life, which regularly
paints the Rock. The organization works with
the campus community and several organ
and blood donation groups, including the
Michigan Eye Bank and the Red Cross, to
promote donating. They typically paint the
Rock before their Be a Hero at the Big House
event, which usually occurs right before the
Michigan vs. Ohio State University football
game. During the event, Wolverines for Life
and a similar organization at OSU compete to
see who can register the most blood and organ
donors, as well as bone marrow donors as of
"I was like 'Hmm. Interesting,"' Shlykov
said about his initial reaction to coordinating
the painting of the Rock. "But I knew that it
was somethingtraditional, something special,
somethingthatkind of gets people's attention."
He said for the group, the main point of
painting the Rock was to raise awareness
and bring people to the event to sign up to be
"It's very visible whenever you drive by,
it's a part of the campus that gets a lot of foot
traffic, it's very noticeable," Shlykov said. "It's
a very iconic piece of Michigan. I'm new here,
this is only my first year, but I'm kind of finding
out the little iconic pieces of Michigan here."
LSA junior Tucker Schumacher, who
is currently working on starting an
undergraduate chapter of Wolverines for
Life, agreed. Schumacher, who is a transplant
recipient himself, has been painting the Rock
with Wolverines for Life since he was in high
"They had me come down and do that
with them a couple years ago, and that was
pretty cool," he said. "I already knew it was
for Wolverines for Life, so I was pretty much
game to do anything to help them out, but it
was cool to be involved."
"Because it's so big on U of M's campus,
painting the Rock's a big deal," he added.
LSA senior Saif Jilani, whose organization,
the Pakistani Students' Organization, also
paints the Rock, said in an e-mail interview
that along with raising awareness for the
group, painting the Rock was also a great .w
experience for him because of the strong
tradition associated with it on campus. Last
year, the organization painted Pakistan's flag.
"Before attending Michigan I was told to
make sure I visit the Rock," Jilani wrote. "I
feel like painting the Rock is an intrinsic part
of the Michigan experience and my time here -
would be incomplete without doing it."
Fairy door located outside of the Blue Tractor on East Washington Street.