The grey sky and rain that hung over Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minnesota, when Prince died there on April 21 was gone, as were the thousands of letters, photos, paintings, scraps of clothing and other mementos that fans had attached to the chain link fence surrounding the star’s recording studio and home. When Paisley Park re-opened as a museum on Thursday, less than six months after Prince died from an accidental overdose of prescription painkillers, the sky was blue, the air crisp, and the fans who walked out of the buses that carried them to what is – for them – a sacred shrine, orderly. Some came from as far away as London and New York. Others from down the street or across the state.
Chris Skluzacek, from Montgomery, Minnesota, was the very first fan to walk through the door of Paisley Park. “I can’t believe I’m here,” she said as she jumped up and down and squealed. “I’m so excited.”
Behind her was Doris Newby McFadden, who had come from Philadelphia and dyed her afro purple for the occasion. “This is an opportunity of a lifetime,” she said. “To get even a little glimpse of Prince’s world is surreal to me. He was a musical genius. There is no one like him. I want to see the studio where he recorded. I want to see the purple piano he played. Mostly I want to see his personal items, his crazy toothbrush and his slippers and bathrobe.”
She almost didn’t get the chance. Although fans had purchased tickets for the Oct. 6 opening in August, they were alerted on Tuesday that there might be a delay. On Monday, the Chanhassen City Council voted to table a zoning request that would allow Paisley Park to reopen as a museum. Residents of the small bucolic suburb of Minneapolis are concerned about traffic, parking, safety and other issues that could accompany the 600,000 fans projected to visit each year. In Chicago, sisters Gloria and Yvonne Brown were stunned to learn their tour might be canceled. Yvonne had gotten special Paisley Park T-shirts made for their visit. She had her purple jean jacket, and her son, Christopher, ready to go. “I was so nervous, I was praying that they wouldn’t cancel,” she said.
In the end, they didn’t – not for the first day, anyway. With the City Council set to reconvene and make longer term decisions next week, the grand opening got the green light. Christopher got off work at the BNSF Railroad at 11:50 p.m. and the three Browns hopped in their car for an eight-hour drive and chalked the commotion up to fate. “Prince was always mysterious, always doing last minutes shows and showing up late,” said Christopher. “So all the mystery makes sense.”
And so, on a sunny fall morning, Prince’s most die-hard fans walked quietly off the tour buses that dropped them outside the compound, and headed right through the front door in a single file. “Don’t call me a fan,” asked one young woman who had come from New York. “I am a spiritual connection.” Another echoed the sentiment: “I just want to walk on the ground he walked on.”
Inside the compound, thousands of artifacts from Prince’s life have been “laid out in detail,” said Joel Weinshanker, part of the company managing the tours. He choked back tears as he talked about the time and care that went into re-creating Prince’s world for his fans. “He knew a lot of his work would only be appreciated after his death. We went through emails and texts and messages [to be true to his wishes]. You feel Prince here. You see the genius. It’s like DaVinci’s workshop.” In addition to connecting Prince to his fans, the urgency to open as a museum quickly, he said, was to cover operating expenses. Shortly after Prince died, he said, they found “Prince masters in rooms with no air conditioning because the air had gone out. We have archived 7,000 items that would have deteriorated.”
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Chanhassen Mayor Denny Laufenburger is confident that the leaders of the community will find a way to be “respectful and careful” to preserve the natural beauty, lakes and trails that define Chanhassen – as well as the spirit of its most famous citizen. As he said, “Paisley Park can be the next Graceland.”