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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY. Fairies are moving into Ann Arbor, Michigan, or, at least, that's what one artist wants people to believe.

Detroit Public Radio's Celeste Headlee reports that tiny fairy doors have started showing up around town.

CELESTE HEADLEE reporting:

The first appeared on the wall outside Sweetwater's Café. It was a six inch white wooden door with a carved jam and miniature bricks framing the outside. Since the spring of last year, seven more doors have appeared at businesses around Main Street.

Cathy Thursby(ph) is the owner of a shop not far from Sweetwater's Café; she says she didn't really know she was getting a door until the bright red and white porch appeared on the front of her store in November of last year.

Ms. CATHY THURSBY: You know, I heard rumors and mutterings about it, but you know, it's all kind of, like, hush-hush.

HEADLEE: Thursby's door doesn't open, but she says people from all walks of life come by to look at it. Visitors write in the fairy journal she keeps on her sales counter.

Ms. THURSBY: From little children wearing fairy wings and, like, and elderly couple, you know, bending down on their hands and knees and peeking through. I mean it's just all different types of people.

HEADLEE: There's no lack of public art in Ann Arbor. Art covers the fire hydrants and drips down the sides of bridges, but Carol Lopez says the fairy doors are different. She's the owner of a toy store called The Peaceable Kingdom that got its own door several months ago. Lopez says the doors are unsponsored, unauthorized public art, and people love them.

Ms. CAROL LOPEZ (Owner, The Peaceable Kingdom, Ann Arbor, Michigan): It's produced the most amazing traffic of little kids and old kids, middle-aged ladies crawling around on their hands and knees peeking in those windows. It's really been awfully fun.

HEADLEE: In front of her shop is a country blue door with a white closed sign and a brass kick plate; and when the door is opened, visitors can see what looks like a tiny general store cut out of the wall.

Ms. LOPEZ: The worst thing that has happened is a parent dragged a kid in and demanded that somebody that was here at the counter tell her kid that there was no such thing as fairies.

HEADLEE: Did they do it?

Ms. LOPEZ: No. She said she couldn't do that.

HEADLEE: The man behind all of this is illustrator Jonathan Wright. In 1993, his wife was running a preschool program out of their home. One night, Wright installed a fairy door on a whim, and when he saw the delighted and enthusiastic response of the children, he built more.

He began to build doors in downtown Ann Arbor early last spring, after Wright heard about how the businesses there were struggling to attract customers.

Mr. JONATHAN WRIGHT (Fairy Door Artist, Ann Arbor, Michigan): I'd like to see them thrive, and that's part of what I want to contribute - is something that's lasting and fun and that can maybe revitalize some interest in the downtown area.

HEADLEE: Wright says the biggest surprise for him was that children started to leave gifts for the fairies, and storeowner Thursby has also found gifts near her door.

Ms. THURSBY: Flowers and these little baskets. Little itty-bitty baskets, and tiny babies and I had a handmade mattress and pillow once.

HEADLEE: The whole project could easily be too cute, but the word most used to describe it is charming. And Thursby thinks it's wonderful to see people get so enthusiastic about something so simple and innocent.

Wright has received letters from many people all around the country asking him to build doors for them in their homes; so far, he hasn't done that, but he says he's almost certain more fairy doors will appear in other cities, even if he's not involved.

Mr. WRIGHT: I know in St. Paul there's a door in a park already in a tree. It's a different scale, but it's a similar thing happening. It's bound to spread beyond Ann Arbor.

HEADLEE: Wright and his wife are working on a couple children's books based on the fairy doors; the first is expected out next year.

For NPR News, I'm Celeste Headlee in Detroit.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: And you can see photos of those fairy doors at our Web site npr.org.

DAY TO DAY returns in just a moment.

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