The Kansas City Fairy Princess celebrated her 81st birthday this winter, and returned to a familiar throne at the Kansas City Museum to hold court for a parade of children looking for holiday cheer.
In the early days, the Fairy Princess resided at Kline’s Department Store on Main Street, where she debuted as the department store opened its first Toyland in 1935. The store had discovered an old Druid fairy tale about a snow queen and spun the narrative into a Kansas City holiday tradition.
The Fairy Princess’s reign was immediately met with enthusiasm. Santa Clauses were a dime a dozen in those days. Only Kline’s had the Fairy Princess for children to visit during the holidays.
When the Fairy Princess tapped her wand — twice for boys, once for girls — a surprise package appeared on magic slides and turntables. Patrons paid 25 cents to be in her presence.
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After 35 holidays, the Fairy Princess went into repose, taking a break through the 1970s and into the early 1980s after Kline’s closed its doors in 1970. But the Fairy Princess re-emerged in 1987, when the Kansas City Museum revived the tradition, and she has been a consistent presence for Kansas Citians during the holiday season ever since.
For the past few years, she has also spent the month of November at Zona Rosa, the retail development complex in the Northland. Then, as usual, she returned to the Kansas City Museum for a few weekends in December.
Yasmeen Alodel-Azim, 10, of Belton, had never met the Fairy Princess before a recent Sunday.
Her family said she was going on a special outing and sent her to her room to get dressed up; they offered a clue — they flapped their arms like they had wings. So Yasmeen picked out the dress with a sequined top and lavender tulle skirt that she wore this Halloween as a fairy.
And when she stood in line in her sparkly silver shoes and thick white tights and saw a beautiful, blond girl with a wand and a tiara, she couldn’t help but grin.
“I feel happy,” Yasmeen said as she opened a gift package with her own tiara inside that the Fairy Princess had given to her. “The fairy is pretty nice.”
‘Tell them you are royalty’
The Fairy Princess always wears white, though the outfits have changed throughout the years. That first year in 1935, Fairy Princess Jane (Stevens) Roberts wore a floor-length, full-sleeve gown with a pointed crown. Fairy Princess 1949 Billie Brown sported deep red lipstick and a hairpiece. Fairy Princess 1966 Cara Cooper wore an ankle-length gown with a wide scoop neck.
Carol Barta was a little girl when she first saw the Fairy Princess. She was small but she had no fear. She was in awe of the beautiful woman before her.
“I remember how very special it was to have a beautiful fairy princess,” Barta said.
Years later, when she was between jobs in 1956, Barta saw an advertisement to become the Fairy Princess in The Kansas City Star. The man who interviewed her seem uninterested initially. But she had brought a photograph of herself competing in the Miss Prairie Village and Miss Kansas pageants dolled up and wearing an elegant, white formal dress.
The man peered at the photograph.
“Do you own this dress?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” Barta said. And he hired her on the spot.
Barta loved being the Fairy Princess and the adorable children with the bright eyes who came to see her. She tries to remember if she ever tired of the job, but she can’t. She spent Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings at the store, earning minimum wage for her work.
She remembers a little boy who took one look at her and became upset that she wasn’t Santa Claus. She tried every trick she could think of to make him smile.
“Finally, I whispered in his ear that Santa Claus was my husband, and oh, boy, did he perk up,” Barta said.
She made her own rules about how to make sure that the Fairy Princess experience went smoothly. She learned never to say anything specifically about mothers or fathers — not everyone had one. She dazzled children with her tall wooden scepter that was covered in glitter. She whispered about her secret elves to add to the mystique.
“I was just totally immersed in the whole idea of these darling children,” Barta said.
And when her daughter, Becky, was a young girl and heard on the radio that the Kansas City Museum needed part-time help with the Fairy Princess, Barta made sure her daughter went to the audition.
“Tell them you are royalty,” she told her daughter. “Tell them your mother was a Fairy Princess.” And her daughter got the job. It was 1989.
“We have generations of families who have been the fairy and come to see her,” said Paul Gutiérrez, recreation director for the Kansas City Museum.
‘Get on their happy level’
On this recent December afternoon, the Fairy Princess wears a full-length dress with a beaded, strapless bodice, a tulle skirt, a tiara and lots of sparkly jewels. Her name is Renee Rosinski and she smiles and waves at children who wait patiently behind a black curtain to see her in the Grand Hall of the Kansas City Museum.
Rosinski doesn’t dwell on holiday gifts. and she makes sure to say “holiday” and not “Christmas” and she certaintly doesn’t get paid for her services. She volunteers her time with four other girls to make sure the princess tradition continues.
This is Rosinski’s second year as Christmas Fairy Princess. The Olathe East student watched her older sister, Mia, participate in the tradition for the past four years. A neighbor originally told the Rosinskis about the tradition.
Some are more excited than others. What’s her advice on appealing to children that range in age and gender?
“You have to get on their happy level,” Rosinski says before she hops off her throne when a little girl named Ella is to shy to approach her. Eventually, the two pose for a picture, before Ella moves on to a craft station at the museum.
Outside, Carol Barta sits and greets children and their parents from her post in front of the line. She’s mentored and helped out with the Fairy Princess event for the past 10 years, and with her sparkly pin that says “Queen mother” and her festive velvet blazer, she is impossible to miss.
Something about this, the children she recognizes from year to year, the grandeur of the place, happy faces and holiday lights, can’t keep her away.
“In this crazy world, it’s so nice to have something so totally human,” Barta said, “with a little magic mixed in.”
The Fairy Princess will be at the Kansas City Museum on Saturday, Dec. 17, and Sunday, Dec. 18, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $10 per child, and the experience includes a holiday story, pictures with the Fairy Princess and crafts. The museum is at 3218 Gladstone Blvd.