Area residents who love the year-end holidays -- and movies about them -- should not pass up the opportunity to make the short trek to Medina, a 27,000-resident community about 20 miles due west of Akron.
Castle Noel opened in November in its new permanent location -- the former Medina United Methodist Church on South Court Street just a couple of blocks south of Medina's picturesque square. It bills itself as "America's largest indoor year-round Christmas entertainment attraction."
You can visit the venue any time of the year, but the city is particularly charming around the holidays. I ventured over for a visit this past weekend.
Believe it or not, Castle Noel is the creation of a guy named Klaus -- sculptor/designer Mark to be exact. He grew up in Seven Hills and now lives in Hinckley. He even looks like Santa Claus with his long white beard.
He explained when he was growing up, his family did extensive decorating and lighting of their home during the holiday season, earning praise from relatives, friends and neighbors. Klaus' hand-crafted miniature Christmas-related art pieces are sold extensively on the Home Shopping Network and QVC.
He also shares his love for the Christmas season in a one-man theatrical show, plus "Live from the North Pole" radio specials. He has been featured in several magazines. One of his first collections contained antique carnival rides. More recently, he has collected props and costumes from several Christmas movies.
The latter collection has become known as "Holly"wood Christmas Movieland. It first opened in 2008 in a building in Brecksville. Until 2010, many of the items were displayed at Great Northern Mall. Now they are part of Castle Noel.
Klaus looked at dozens of locations for his museum, including in Branson, Mo., and Pigeon Forge, Tenn. -- the latter where Dolly Parton's Dollywood is located -- but wanted to stay near his home. The Methodist congregation abandoned the building in 2012 for a new building.
WHAT'S IN THE CASTLE
Visitors should plan to spend at least one hour to walk through the magic kingdom of Castle Noel. I was there for more than 1 1/2 hours. Klaus claims to have the biggest privately-owned collection of Christmas movie props and costumes.
One of the attractions in the 31,000 square feet that is so far occupied is Santa Klaus Mountain, a replica from "A Christmas Story." It's in the church's sanctuary, and features a curved red slide just like the one Ralphie gets booted down by Santa Claus. Visitors young and old can slide down, and even can purchase a photo of their experience.
One of the props in Santa Klaus Mountain is the 10-foot tall globe from the center of Santa's castle in "Santa Clause 3" starring Tim Allen and Martin short. On top, the words "naughty" and "nice" revolve. A 25-foot high Christmas tree also is in the sanctuary.
The house with 80,000 fiber optic lights used for the light show scenes in "Deck the Halls" is another great sight in the building. Although it appears to be a full-sized house in the movie, it's actually about 4 feet long.
Some movies from which costumes are displayed are "Santa Clause 1," "Santa Clause 2," "A Christmas Carol," "Elf," Jingle All the Way" and "The Ghost of Christmas."
Other props include Cindy Lou's full bedroom suite from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," a snowman from "Christmas with the Kranks," a foam doughnut from "The Grinch," the Grinch's sleigh and a life-size Turbo Man from "Jingle All the Way."
One of the biggest items on display is cousin Eddie's RV from National Lampoon's "Christmas Vacation." It sets in a courtyard between a storefront occupied by Castle Noel and the old church building. It looks a bit worn, to say the least!
Some hallways display posters from various Christmas movies, and there are dozens of Christmas movie and TV show publicity photos of famous actors and actresses such as Mary Tyler Moore, Edward Asner, Sid Charese, Dean Martin, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.
But there's much more. Klaus acquired about 30 vintage animated Christmas window displays from New York City stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's and FAO Schwartz, plus one from Higbee's in downtown Cleveland.
The Higbee's display features several house rooftops clad in blue lights. It is supposed to depict what Santa Claus would see as he flies over houses.
Ten window displays can be admired right now; the remainder are stored and await restoration. Several thousand square feet of the church remains unoccupied, giving Klaus plenty of space to expand.
Another part of the museum is an "I Had That" collection of thousands of vintage toys, games and some giant games to play such as Connect Four and Memory, plus many old Christmas toy commercials can be viewed. There's even a Flintstones gumball bank!
The vintage toys section of the museum is entered through the North Pole's twirling blue Blizzard Vortex tunnel. Keeping one's balance while walking through it is quite a task for some folks.
Visitors also can watch clips of classic Christmas shows while sitting in the church's balcony pews. Stained glass windows in the former sanctuary also remain, thus reminding visitors of the building's former use.
For more information, visit www.castlenoel.com.
DAZZLE AT STAN HYWET
For the past four years, I've enjoyed traveling down Interstate 77 to Cambridge for Dickens Victorian Village and the Guernsey County Courthouse light show. The latter is an computerized array of colorful lights choreographed to holiday music.
Well, this year Aurorans can see another computerized light/music show closer to home, as I did on my way back from Medina. It's called "Dazzle" and is part of the annual Deck the Hall year-end festivities at Stan Hywet Hall, the former John Seiberling mansion on North Portage Path in Akron.
The 10-minute light/instrumental music show plays three times each hour in the Great Garden. A number of songs used in the Cambridge light show also are part of the Stan Hywet show.
A 25-foot Christmas tree is the centerpiece of the display, but surrounding apple trees also are lighted. Altogether, the display and grounds twinkle with an estimated 750,000 lights.
A Stan Hywet spokesman said the main tree is one of only four huge LED-lighted trees which can produce any color in the spectrum. It can be expanded to change the show in future years.
The show itself is comprised of about 300,000 lights, which are connected with 3,500 feet of wiring. The show is energy efficient since it uses LEDs. FirstEnergy is sponsoring "Dazzle," with support from the Kenneth L. Calhoun Charitable Trust.
The festivities this year at Stan Hywet are themed "Heaven & Nature Sings." It was the second time in the last several years that I've visited the grounds during the holiday season, and it's always a delight, even though it was 20 degrees on the night I walked around the grounds.
Inside the mansion -- or manor house as it is called -- 21 rooms are decorated with inspiration from nature, including many Christmas trees and harps, horns and angels. Deck the Hall runs from 5 to 8 p.m. Dec. 11-15, 17-23 and 26-30. Santa Claus lights the courtyard Christmas tree outside the carriage house each evening at 5:30.
The courtyard also features the Gingerbread Bakeshop, Salty Reindeer Bavarian grill and a toasty fire to get warm by. Live music plays in the mansion's music room and there's a large poinsettia tree and other plants to see in the Corbin Conservatory. There's also a gift/snack shop called Molly's.
PARK'S COUNTRY LIGHTS
Another nearby place that I'd love to visit some holiday season is Lake Farmpark's Country Lights. As it did this year, it usually sells out shortly after tickets go on sale in November. I haven't been able to get tickets for the last couple of years.
Visitors are able to take a wagon ride through a beautifully-lit winter wonderland, enjoy special performances and demonstrations and visit with Santa Claus in the theater.
Although I've driven by Lake Farmpark a handful of times, I've never visited it, but really want to some day.
OTHER LIGHT DISPLAYS
A number of other places feature wonderful holiday lighting displays. Included are Lake Anna in downtown Barberton, General Electric's Nela Park in East Cleveland and Wheeling, W.Va.'s Oglebay Park. I haven't visited any of the three, but hope to some night.
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189