Hey, it's good to be back! First, a quick word of thanks to Tony Dierckins from Zenith City Press and to my colleague, News Tribune reporter Jimmy Lovrien, for covering for me while I was away this past month. I hope you enjoyed their columns as much as I did. And with that …
Mike asks: Was there a place called Storybook Garden in Marble, Minn.? I recall it; it had fairy tales. I went looking for it one time, and someone remembered it from the early ’60s.
Mike, you’re surely talking about Fairyland Park, which operated just west of Marble from 1948-72. It was a “classic Americana 1950s roadside attraction” on U.S. Highway 169, according to an 2013 online publication by Tim Wick of St. Paul, whose parents owned the park in the 1960s and 1970s.
The park, which was open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, featured life-sized fairy tale figures and scenes — 38 displays in all, Wick wrote.
Fairyland Park opened in 1948 and was the creation of Myrtle Gustafson, a local sculptor, painter and builder. It appears that Gustafson and her friends built most of the park themselves, Wick wrote, though not much else is known about her.
In 1960, Wick’s parents, Melvin and Faith Wick, bought the park.
Faith also was a budding artist, and she learned to sculpt out of necessity by caring for and replacing the park’s figures, Tim Wick wrote.
In 1966, more than 6,000 people visited Fairyland Park. Adults were charged 50 cents (35 cents for kids under 12) to walk the winding forest trail through the park.
“Subjects of the scenes included presidents, fairytale people, nursery rhyme characters, old men, old ladies, children, wicked witches and others,” Wick wrote. “The figures in the scenes are life-size. Children most feared the witch. The witch would talk, move her head and flash red eyes, making her lifelike. Of all the scenes in the park, the wicked witch was the most popular.”
It was always a side job for the couple, their son wrote. Melvin was a millwright with U.S. Steel’s iron ore operations; Faith had a master’s degree in education and worked as a schoolteacher and Itasca County’s director for special-needs adults and children.
By the early 1970s, the park was “an anachronism,” Wick wrote — “folk art from a different era.” Fairyland Park closed in 1972, and the Wick family sold it. The park’s objects were sold to a man from the Wisconsin Dells area, while the land and buildings were sold locally, Tim Wick wrote.
After the family sold Fairyland Park, Faith Wick used her skills to begin creating dolls and other gift items. Her designs were eventually mass-produced, and a successful business grew from the venture. She never returned to education.
Today, as a coda to the Fairyland Park story, 200 of Faith Wick’s dolls and nursery rhyme creations are on display at the Children’s Discovery Museum in Grand Rapids, giving visitors young and old a look back at the little slice of storybook life that once stood along the highway outside of Marble.