Wish your life was a Christmas movie? Head to Ohio's own festive film epicenter
From the outside, Castle Noel looks like a typical church in small-town Ohio. But walk through the entryway and shout “Merry Christmas,” and the doors open to a whole other world.
In the grand hall, there’s a mania of Christmas memorabilia: larger-than-life Christmas toys sit by a 24-foot tree. A sleigh of stolen presents from the 2000 film “The Grinch” stretches toward the ceiling. At the center of the room, stairs wind up a mountain of chiseled snow to Santa Claus, waiting to hear your Christmas list and get a photo.
For a decade, the Christmas movie capital in Medina has been using Hollywood Christmas movie props and costumes to spread holiday cheer year-round in northeast Ohio.
The Klaus behind the creation
Mark Klaus has been mistaken for Santa Claus ever since he was a little kid. He started donning a red suit in elementary school, handing out candy canes to his classmates and spreading Christmas cheer.
Now that he’s old enough to have a long white beard that frames his rosy cheeks, the resemblance is uncanny. He and his wife Dana are behind the 40,000-square-foot celebration of Christmas, where rooms are filled to the brim with vintage toys, holiday window displays and, of course, iconic movie memorabilia.
Klaus said Castle Noel is just an extension of his family’s tradition of going over the top for the holidays.
“We always had a 16-foot-tall Christmas tree and all this amazing scenery in our house that my mom and dad would put together and the place was just spectacular,” he said. “And people would come from everywhere to see it.”
Klaus is a sculptor and artist by trade. Collecting Christmas memorabilia came later. He began with just a few props from “The Grinch”, which were being auctioned off for charity. Now, he has filled the building, and 21,000 additional square feet of storage, with Christmas movie magic.
Klaus said he’s always changing out what’s on display and adding more to his collection “so that Castle Noel can consistently be a living, breathing thing. So every time people come, they'll see some things they really loved before, but they'll see some things they never thought they were gonna see.”
A trip through Castle Noel
Energetic tour guides adorned in red and green guide customers through the interactive holiday experience, starting in Santa’s mailroom, where a conveyor belt collects kids’ Christmas letters.
On a cold Tuesday, tour guide Doug Meek gave tidbits of Christmas movie trivia, and prepared the families trailing behind him to enter into the “I Had That” Toyland, where Hot Wheels trucks race above your head and toy spaceships float.
“Girls and boys, are you ready to see some toys?” Meek shouted. “Alright, follow me!”
Every room holds a new holiday movie treasure: You can snap a photo next to the original Buddy the Elf costume or pose by Uncle Eddie’s actual RV from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” Nearly every holiday film favorite is represented. You like Miracle on 34th Street? They have Edmund Gwenn's Santa suit. Christmas with the Kranks? You can see the family’s snowman. A Christmas Carol? There’s a whole hallway just for you.
For Dana and Mark Klaus, the joy isn’t just in collecting scraps of Christmas scenes; it’s in sharing them. Klaus says Christmas movies are the heart of so many family traditions. And when people see a prop from their favorite scene, the excitement of the moment melts everything else away.
“To me, it’s a big responsibility to make the impact so overwhelming that I can get you to disconnect from whatever is going on in your life, at least for those two hours,” Klaus said.
Klaus understands that the holidays aren’t easy for everyone. He lost his mother on Christmas Eve when he was 16. It’s part of why he’s worked so hard to make the holiday special for other people.
“For me, it was very difficult to do Christmas,” he said. “So I'm really great at giving Christmas.”
Every year, he does just that for thousands of visitors, from the Christmas cuckoo clock that welcomes them to the singing penguins that harmonize to the grand finale of the tour: a trip down a reconstruction of the big red slide from “A Christmas Story”.
“People will say, ‘It must be great for the kids.’ No, what's really great is that I can turn somebody who's 80-years-old who goes down the slide laughing hysterically, that I could turn them into a kid,” Klaus said.
People of all ages took a tumble down the slide. Some whooped in delight, others marveled at the speed of the trip. One woman shouted, “Dream come true!” as she zipped down.
That’s exactly why he opened his kingdom of Christmas: to make dreams come true.