Jerry Carlson: Believe in Magic Again

Jerry Carlson: Believe in Magic Again

Mailboxes in front of the 3-1/2-feet-tall structures installed at public parks around Minnesota invite passersby to write down wishes for the elves to grant. Children ask for toys, adults ask for peace of mind and Jerry Carlson (and the elves) collect the mail and sometimes share letters at

Icelandic lore says the dwellings are for the huldufólk (“hidden people”), who provide their visitors with strength, good luck and good health. Jerry first learned of the concept when he and his wife watched the movie Eurovision, in which an Icelandic competitor in a singing contest visits an elf house for good luck. His research since then indicates that many Icelanders still believe in the concept.

Child leaving donation at elf house display
Children often leave wishes for the elves at the houses in public areas. Occasionally, they’ll share one of their toys: a child asking for a LEGO set once left a Pokémon toy in return.

“It’s important to them to have this understanding that there’s something that might be a little more wonderful out there,” he says.

The first house Jerry built, now installed in a whiskey barrel koi pond in their backyard, was a birthday gift to his wife. He has since built seven altogether, using a sawmill’s discarded log offcuts.

Design ideas might come from dollhouses, haunted houses or the window and door placement in a children’s playhouse. “Each house has its own personality,” Jerry says. They’re intended to be whimsical: in some, solar lighting mimics a fireplace’s flickers for a few hours after dark.

Positive Responses

Small Icelandic-style elf house sets in Minnesota
The first elf house Carlson built, as a gift for his wife, is placed in their backyard against a hill planted with pollinators. They occasionally see rabbits going in and out of the hollow structure.

Responses from the public have been positive. Icelandic people have appreciated finding a slice of their culture in Minnesota. People also appreciate the wonder, Jerry said: he told of a woman who approached him during an installation to tell him how wonderful the project was, and how children would love it.

“I said, ‘You’re allowed to like it, too,'” Jerry says. “When we’re kids, we’re told to believe that reindeer can fly. You have the kids so excited they can’t sleep at night because they know something amazing’s going to happen. If you want to come to the elf house and feel like a kid again, just know that it’s OK to want to believe in something again.”

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