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Castle Noel.
A nervous Santa (Mark Klaus) is about to take a ride down the Christmas slide.

Castle Noel

Field review by the editors.

Medina, Ohio

Even as a teenager, Mark Klaus was obsessed with playing Santa. On Christmas Eve he'd put on a fake beard and Santa Claus suit and run through the yards in his neighborhood, figuring that the kids wouldn't believe a "visit" from Santa, but would believe a brief glimpse of him from their bedroom windows.

Castle Noel.
Will Ferrell's suit from "Elf."

As an adult, Mark became a successful commercial artist and sculptor, known, not surprisingly, for his Christmas ornaments. He now looked like Santa Claus, even without the suit, and began collecting props from Christmas movies, and then entire animated Christmas windows from department stores. "I told myself, 'Man, I bet people would love to see stuff like this,'" said Mark.

Needing a showcase for his collection, and convinced that his joy of Christmas must be shared, Mark found a big abandoned church in Medina, Ohio. To him it looked like a castle, so he named it Castle Noel. He stuffed it like a Christmas stocking and opened it to the public in late 2013. Covering half a city block, it is the largest indoor Christmas attraction in the USA.

Castle Noel.
A giant animated bear soaks in snow beneath Santa Mountain..

"I work on this thing all year, seven days a week," Mark told us. "I don't want people to go home and say, 'That was nice.' I want them to go home and say, 'You have got to go see this thing!'"

Castle Noel's pizzazz-fueled vision of Christmas is Mark's way of showing the world that Christmas can be as holly jolly in July as in December (Castle Noel is open year-round). "Yes it's Christmas, but it's not a bunch of wreaths and trees," said Mark of his Castle Noel collection. "It's the fun stuff."

Castle Noel.
High heels ride a high heel conveyor belt to the top of a spinning high heel tree.

Visitors are escorted through the attraction by a succession of tour guides, each offering factoids and backstories for the frequently over-the-top exhibits. The first things that they see, even before entering the building, are a terrifying 16-foot-tall statue of The Mouse King from The Nutcracker, and the rusty RV of Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation. An unexpected combo, but it prepares visitors for the craziness to come.

Like House on the Rock and House of Eternal Return, Castle Noel is a dark, labyrinthine, hermetically sealed wonderland, "a journey where you don't know where you're really at," said Mark. Visitors walk through a Polar Vortex tunnel and an "I Had that Toy" room filled with Easy-Bake Ovens and Hot Wheels, then watch a performance of Jingle Bells by an animatronic Yeti. They see familiar Christmas movie props such as Will Ferrell's costume from Elf and the snowman that fell on Tim Allen in Christmas with the Kranks, as well as obscurities such as the Father Winter beard from Santa Claus: the Movie and Vince Vaughn's jacket from Fred Claus. One of Mark's favorite film relics is Cindy Lou Who's neon-pink bedroom from Jim Carrey's How the Grinch Stole Christmas. To get it he had to design and build the previous owner a Grinch-style nail salon. "You do whatever it takes to get what you need," he said.

Castle Noel.
Mark Klaus makes a surprise appearance in the Jim Carrey "Grinch" display.

Every January, just after New Year's Day, Mark and his crew drive to Manhattan to harvest the latest crop of animated Christmas windows from stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord and Taylor, Macy's, and Bloomingdale's. Mark boasts that Castle Noel's visitors see more Christmas displays in Medina than New Yorkers do in New York. The tour winds past at least a dozen of the animated fantasies, including a North Pole mailroom, an assembly line of high heel shoes, a giant cuckoo clock (visitors get to see its mechanical innards as well), and several bizarre versions of The Nutcracker, including one where a Goliath-size Elizabethan woman lifts her dress to reveal a puppet show between her legs. The designs and colors reminded us of the gaudy floats in Mardi Gras World; Mark described them as "incredible, magnificent pieces of artwork."

Castle Noel.
An original Mr. Potato Head and a Starsky and Hutch board game in the "I Had That Toy" exhibit.

Mark's obsessive attention and unflagging energy are well-known at Castle Noel. The guides relate how, in addition to restoring and repairing all of the window displays, he spent months getting each fake beam in Santa's walk-thru home exactly right; how he somehow found the miniature house prop from Deck the Halls ("Mark has a sixth sense about this stuff") and spent three years rewiring its 80,000 fiber optic lights; how he insisted that 100,000 glass ornaments be glued, one by one, to the ceiling above "Santa's Chimney Squeeze." As visitors try to wriggle their way through, the guide flips a switch and sets overhead chandeliers flashing; the reflections off the ornaments turns Santa's chimney into a kind of acid flashback disco. Mark has said it reminds him of gazing upward under a Christmas tree.

Castle Noel.
Drew Hocevar, one of the angry elves from "A Christmas Story," gives a shove to a lucky visitor.

"Most museums are kind of quiet and dead and that's not me," said Mark. "I want this place to be alive."

The tour stops at a set of swinging doors, which open dramatically to reveal Castle Noel's cavernous Grand Hall. In it are displayed 400 props from The Grinch alone (including the Roast Beast) as well as the rotating Naughty-or-Nice globe from Santa Claus 2 and Arnold Schwarzenegger's TurboMan suit from Jingle All the Way. Here, too, is an exact replica of Santa Mountain from A Christmas Story, featuring the slide that Ralphie was kicked down by Santa's boot. Every visitor ends the tour with a slide ride, and a few times a year lucky tour-takers are given a push by celebrity visitors Drew Hocevar and Patty Johnson, the angry elves from the film. Their hand and footprints, as well as those of Ian "Randy" Petrella, are preserved in slabs of concrete outside Castle Noel. "Sometimes I marry people and shove 'em down the slide," said Mark, who clearly enjoys his role as Marriage Santa.

Everyone over 80 who rides the slide (including Mark's 95-year-old father) has their photo added to Castle Noel's Wall of Fame -- but so many seniors have qualified that the Wall has run out of room. Video frames now cycle through all of the pictures. Mark plans to add a keyboard search so that family members can call up photos of their loved ones who may have ridden the slide years ago. "I never leave anything alone," said Mark. "Castle Noel will never be completed. I always have to make it better and better."

We asked Dana, Mark's wife, who works at Castle Noel (but not as Mrs. Claus) what she thought of Mark and his limitless Christmas cheer. "I just kind of roll with it," she said. "He does make life interesting."

Castle Noel

Castle Noel

260 S. Court St., Medina, OH
Downtown. On the east side of US-42/S. Court St., a block south of the courthouse square, in a former red brick church.
Hours vary by season. Closed only mid-Jan to mid-Feb. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $21.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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