Leave a message with the ‘universe’ at ‘Wish Booth’ in Chester

CHESTER — As visitors and townies alike enter Chester from the north, it’s hard not to spot the 12-foot-high red wood and glass phone booth that would look a home in London.

This is not a working phone booth per se; it is a “magical” space that invites visitors to enter, pick up the receiver and say their innermost wish aloud. As the wish is “transported” to the universe, the star atop the booth flashes.

“It’s a quiet, sensitive place where you can talk about your inner most desires,” explained Caryn Paradis, collaborator/designer.
 
A 3-foot yellow star shines atop, and the curious sign “Wish Booth” draws visitors in.

Pulling on a long purple, vertical door handle gives you access into the small intimate space, a 42- by 42-inch platform with sides that rise 12 feet.
“That’s just it,” said Paradis. “You walk in and it’s right tight to you all the way around. So, it like envelopes you, like a little hug.”
Creator Christopher Owens, a Chester artist, said this is interior design that inspires people.
“It’s warm, it’s welcoming, it’s a bit whimsical and hopefully it inspires,” he said. “So, it’s a space inspiring a response and it works, it really works better than we thought.” 

Attached to the former New York City pay phone is a note that reads, “This phone is equipped for DIRECT DIALING to The Universe.”
Upon lifting the receiver, a voice with a soothing British accent reads a poem full of encouragement and sentiment about wishes.
 
“I wanted people to feel the feeling at the edge of one’s inner and outer self, the edge of I and me, the personal commitment to trust the outer world a little, with a small step,” poet/narrator Matthew Griffiths wrote in a text.   
The one-minute recording includes this excerpt: “So, see that change you want, and feel the way your wish, will nudge the universe. Now words have magic, so you must speak, to start this magic arc…” 
The recording ends with “After this bell, speak your wishes here.”
After the wish is spoken you can look up through the glass roof and see the star atop the booth flashing light.

“Speaking something out loud, whether it’s to yourself or to another person or to the universe, it has power,” said Paradis.
Upon seeing the booth in Owens’ Deep River studio, Paradis immediately recalled a story she had heard on “This American Life” about the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that hit the Tohoku region of Japan, resulting in some 15,000 deaths.
“Someone had put in a phone booth near one of the sites…” Paradis started to say, immediately overcome with emotion.
“Where you could talk to someone that you lost,” she said. “I got chills.”
“So, they have all these recordings of people talking to their mother or their husband or wife that they lost,” she said. “‘I love you so much,’ ‘Wish I could talk to you.’”
“The reports have been it has helped people not find resolution or closure, but they feel like they’re talking to their loved ones,” she said. “It has this incredibly beautiful, deep meaning.”
Owens recalled the first time he listened to the Wish Booth recording and was inspired to articulate a wish.

“The booth was still in my studio and all of this had just been an idea,” he recalled. “Matthew’s words were meant to inspire you to really leave a wish from the most inner places of your being.”
The poet’s words, as Owens recalled, “It ended up being a poem about moments and touching, even one person. About a place where we watched a sunrise and felt the heat and let all life’s noise fade away and how we may all feel the warmth of the morning sun, like a blanket out of the dryer, like diving into a field of grass, like the feeling of sheets off of a clothesline. I wish everyone can live in this same moment.”
He immediately felt the power of the wish as he spoke it out loud.
“It was almost an out of body experience,” he said.  “Did that just come from me?”
“When I was finished, I was blown away that it actually worked,” he said. “The place, the space, the cathedral like booth and Matthew’s introduction actually worked. It brought out something that I didn’t think I had inside.”
Both Paradis and Owens have listened to some of the almost 1,500 wishes that have been anonymously recorded. 
“There were some that brought tears to our eyes,” Owens recalled. “It was intimate, way more powerful than we imagined.”
“Caryn and I were taken aback because when we dreamt this up we didn’t quite get the gravity of – this is what we were hoping for, that the messages would be beautiful and heartfelt and they are,” he said. 
Paradis recalled listening to some of these sincere messages with Owens.
“We’re both listening to them and we’re like, ‘I feel like this is a massive responsibility,” she said.
“A lot of it was about what you wish for the people that you love – the majority,” she said. 
These wishes included “I want everyone in my family to have a beautiful, happy life.” “I want everyone’s travels to be safe.” 
“One woman, oh my God, she said, ‘I just want to be cured of cancer,” Paradis said. “I just burst into tears and then Christopher burst into tears.”

“Then there are other things about regret, but a lot is just about love,” she said.
Kim Vickerman was inspired by the booth’s surroundings. 
“I think because you stand in the booth and you look out when you have the receiver in your hand, you look out and Chester’s magical in itself and then there’s the river (Pattaconk Brook) right there and the water was rapidly moving over the rocks and the gentleman’s voice was soothing,” the 55-year-old said. “It was just a little mystically, magical to me.”
“When it was time for me to make a wish, I really took it very seriously,” this Branford resident said. 
“My wish was more time with my family and also, be thankful for the time I have with my family,” she said. 
The actual booth has deep meaning for both Paradis and Owens. 
“It is actually leftover windows from the Brushmill (by the Waterfall),” said Paradis, whose design firm, Paradis Interior Design, did the recent renovation/design of the former Chart House restaurant.
Owens took all the old sashes and built a glass structure on his Chester property and used the remaining sashes to create the tall wish booth, reminiscent of the glass elevator in “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.”
For Owens, the Wish Booth takes him back to early Chester.
“At one point Chester had something like 40 factories and there’s only four left,” he said.
“When the Chart House, in the ’70s, did what they did, that actually saved that factory from falling down or being bulldozed like all the other factories,” he said. “So, by them putting the restaurant in, it saved that factory.”
“The fact that I got those windows and was inspired to build all of these different structures, just from the lineage of those windows, I love the connections,” he said.
The structure was erected on the downtown Chester spot in early December 2022 and will come down, to possibly be relocated within the community, on Feb. 14.
“We’re also talking about maybe bringing it to other cities, so we’re working on a design that is kind of more vandal proof,” said Paradis. “I would love to see this be a movement. Christopher’s really has been moving in that direction, as well.”
“It just brings hope,” she said. “It makes you think and we need hope right now.” 
“We’re in a funky place right now and so, it would be nice to just have something that focused completely on your heart’s desire,” she said. “Also, when you listen to the recording it kind of puts you in that mindset of generosity. I think it makes people think of other people.”
“We need to all turn outward a little bit and notice what’s going on around us and think about the other people around us,” she said. “That’s really where we want this to go.”
 

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