For 22 years, Scapes, 61, has been creating his vision of turn-of-the-century America in the 26-ft.-by-46-ft. basement of his two-story colonial-style house in Schaumburg, Ill. Scapes's inspiration: a 1947 visit he made as a boy to a life-size exhibit called Yesterday's Main Street at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. "It was stepping back into a different America," says Scapes. "It was such a nice feeling."
In 1976, shortly after moving into a new house, Scapes shared his desire to re-create that half-remembered world with Diane, the neighborhood sweetheart he married in 1960. "She had a strange look on her face," he says. "In fact, she said, 'You're nuts.' " Undaunted, Scapes, a mechanical engineer, began drawing up plans, buying lumber and working on his vision whenever he could while raising four kids. "I've seen it grow on a weekend-to-weekend basis," says Scapes's son John, 29. "I'd come home from college and—oh! Another building."
Scapes stocked his alternate world with antiques, and what isn't authentic he created himself. "Everything is handmade," he says, "the buildings, the streetlamp, the popcorn wagon." And Main Street doesn't end. Thanks to an illusion created by mirrors on the basement wall, it curves away, past the general store and off into the imagination. "My granddaughter once asked me," says Scapes, " 'If I walk through that glass, will I be back in 1899?' " He pauses and looks down his street. "I would like to think so," he says.
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