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Photo TR: The Enchanted Forest


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In August 1955, NBC's "Today Show" went live from Ellicott City, MD, to cover the grand opening of the world's second "theme park" (behind Disneyland, which had opened just weeks earlier), The Enchanted Forest. This, of course, wasn't a theme park as we know them today, but a playground of sorts for children featuring life-sized dioramas of their favorite storybook characters.

 

For the next three decades, the family-run park brought much-needed revenue to the area in the form of tourism, spawning a Forest Motel and Forest Diner right across the street and providing employment for dozens throughout the county--hundreds of people throughout the years.

 

Flash forward 32 years later to 1987, and the park is just closing its doors. Following a brief and partial re-opening of the park in 1994, it was sold to a real estate developer, and a large portion was torn down and turned into a strip mall. What was left was routinely vandalized and burned in a couple different arsons. The John Waters/Johnny Depp movie "Cry Baby" and an episode of "Homicide: Life on the Street" were filmed in the ruins, but beyond that, some unauthorized vandals and curious photographers, the park remained uninhabited and was slated for complete demolition by the mid-2000s.

 

Then something funny happened. I won't bore you with the details, but a request for a silent auction item for a non-profit charity turned into a donation to a local petting zoo, which spurred the interest of some local volunteers who, in turn, got a national paint manufacturer, national hotel chain, nationally famous fiberglass artist and local house moving company involved and during the past several years managed to relocate and restore most of the original park (minus several powered attractions added in the 1960s and '70s) just 10 miles away from its 1955 location.

 

I was involved in a small way during the first year of the project and returned during the second year for a book signing during a celebration of what would have been the original park's 50th anniversary, but I hadn't been back since. This weekend my girlfriend, Kelly, and I decided to take her 4-year-old daughter, Lauryn (the park's prime demographic), and check out the latest happenings at the "new" Forest. Enjoy!

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Happy Easter, TPR!

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Not pretty enough! After dyeing them, we had to paint them to make them "extra beautiful."

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Aren't they pretty?

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We finished off the morning, before I had to leave to spend Easter with my own family, dyeing Easter eggs since we were too tired to do that upon our return the evening before.

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Of course, the Easter Bunny didn't forget me, either. I'm told the Razzles were picked out by Lauryn especially for me.

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The Easter Bunny brought Lauryn not one but two Easter baskets! Then her grandfather stopped by and brought her another. Counting the one Kelly's friend gave her last week, that's four Easter baskets--or three more than I ever got when I was a kid.

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However, our weekend fun was far from over. We began Easter morning with a hearty breakfast of scrapple and eggs. And Kelly was a little too excited that her dining room table was going to make a TPR photo report.

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After some walrus fun with straws, we piled back in the car for the final two-hour drive home and called it a night.

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This was my dinner. Envious yet?

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And today it's a Red Hot and Blue chain barbecue restaurant.

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Following a brief stop by Kelly's grandparents' house so we could get Lauryn cleaned up and give her grandfather a birthday present, we ended our 1950s day with dinner here, at the Old Dutch Mill Farm Drive-In, opened in 1954. Of course, by the time I was a kid it was better known as the Old Mill Pancake House.

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...and some metal candy canes.

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And we end our virtual tour of the new Enchanted Forest with more random sweets from the old birthday house, including a concrete cupcake...

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And this was one of the train cars, now reconfigured as a photo-op seat in the maze.

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This was the engine for the old Alice in Wonderland train ride.

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Little Boy Blue slept through the whole thing, naturally.

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I'm not sure who Howie the Elf is, and I don't remember him from the original Enchanted Forest, but he showed up when we followed an "unwise" path in the maze.

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Insert your own "better to eat you with" joke here.

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Purple and green? I'm not sure how to tell Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother, but I'm not sure she picked the right decorator....

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Hansel and Gretel sure do enjoy that concrete candy!

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As has his rather haughty-looking wife.

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Peter, Peter "Punkin" Eater's wife's house, however, has been fully restored.

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The tepee and covered wagon are still undergoing renovations.

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...to Squidward (who were decidedly NOT part of the original Enchanted Forest in 1955).

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Today it travels from SpongeBob...

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This bridge used to be a lot longer and led across a "river" to the Merry Miller's House and some of the other water-based attractions, I believe. I think the bridge also once carried signs for the nursery rhyme "Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross," but I could be wrong.

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"I wish some little girl would come kiss me."

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And now we take a slight detour to Dillon, S.C., where the recession is hitting South of the Border harder than we thought.

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Here's Rock-a-Bye Baby... yeah, this might set even more bad examples than the pipe-smoking bear.

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I'm not sure this made sense to me even as a kid, but apparently Sleeping Beauty lived in this tree until she was 16 because this is where the good fairies raised her... yeah.

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Um, Mary, you do know we have modern irrigation systems now, right?

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I wish my dickories were made out of hickory.

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Jack and his giant kept watch over the newest additions of old stuff to the new park, housed in a pine tree maze new for 2009.

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Noted!

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...so we found another slide to play on instead.

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No hayrides today due to the rain, unfortunately...

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Just in case you needed a refresher.

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Apparently Charlotte learned how to paint.

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"Yes, that was my cousin you saw sitting on his chimney, waving to traffic. But we try not to talk about it too much, especially around Grandma."

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"Wha--did that little girl just kiss the donkey? Ewwwww!"

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Baby lamb alert!

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This was taken approximately .0000002 seconds before she reached in to give the donkey a nice big hug and kiss on the muzzle. Needless to say, we about ran out of Purell following that incident.

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Hey, TPR! 'Sup?

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This is the Easter Bunny's house. At the old park, live rabbits lived in here. Today they live in hutches beside the house as part of the park's petting zoo.

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Today she's a slide (but not a very good one, according to Lauryn).

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...and the ugly duckling.

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...the swan...

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Mother Goose used to be mounted on a tractor that took visitors on a ride through the old park, originating at Robin Hood's Barn with her friends...

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Lauryn's up for the Rainbow Slide challenge!

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The Rainbow Bridge was an immensely popular attraction at the original park. Back then it cost a dime per slide. Today it's free with your paid admission... and there are shredded tire chips at the bottom.

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Other mice from the original carriage have been converted into picnic tables and a cheese slide.

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Inside it is now a diorama of the prince placing the glass slipper in Cinderella's foot. I don't remember if these figures appeared in Cinderella's Castle in the original park, but I suspect they did. Also, check out my feet in the reflection!

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Driven by tractors underneath these mice, this pumpkin coach used to ferry riders across a moat for a visit to Cinderella's Castle in the original park.

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Sadly, these original signs pay homage to two attractions that were not salvageable from the original park. I wonder if they'll be recreated for future seasons.

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Keeping in mind this attraction was built in 1955, does anyone else think this spider bears a too-strong resemblance to Johnny Depp in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"?

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Oh... that's why!

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Aww, the Big Bad Wolf looks sad. I wonder why.

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See, this piggy's smart. He built his house out of bricks. Unfortunately, it was so time consuming that it eventually drove him mad. Now he spends each day sitting in his chimney, waving at traffic.

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Shouldn't have built your brothel out of sticks, piggy.

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Shouldn't have built your house out of straw, piggy.

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Before moving on to our next fairy tale diorama, I'd just like to give a quick "WTF?" shout-out to this concrete log dining room set placed randomly near Willie and Jonah. Thank you for indulging me.

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Inside Willie: Jonah of Bible fame, who apparently has found Nemo.

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If there is one symbolic icon of the old Enchanted Forest it is, without a doubt, Willie the Whale. And unlike the Merry Miller, the lyrics to his nursery rhyme are still available online: "Wee Willie the Whale, with his curly tail, for all the world to see. Every girl and boy jump with joy, as happy as they can be!"

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So just what do you think those three men were doing in that tub in the first place...?

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Does anyone but me think it's creepy that Little Toot has hollow eyes?

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The Merry Miller apparently was once a super-popular nursery rhyme, as a quick Google search shows that his house (including this one) was part of virtually every storybook theme park built in the 1950s and '60s. Unfortunately, I've never heard of it, and I'm unable to find the words online, so the best I can tell you is that inside this particular house is a miller and some rodents, and at the original Enchanted Forest they used to dance in a circle (now they're stationary).

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Lauryn laughed about this for about 10 minutes, and we couldn't figure out why. Later, when I asked what her favorite part of the day had been, she said it was "the statue of the lady with her butt sticking up in the air."

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Know what nursery rhyme this is from? Neither does anyone else.

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This, for the record, is his house. Also crooked.

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This is the Crooked Old Man. And as my final act of volunteer theme park restoration, I sat him on that bench in 2005. I suspect he's a politician.

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Fun fact: Maryland was the first state to legalize dinnerware marriages.

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Meanwhile, Jill does her best Paris Hilton impression.

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The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe slide, however, I had nothing to do with. But it's still an iconic part of the old park, restored to its former glory, so it's all good.

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Also, this is MY concrete mushroom! I mean, I didn't paint it or set it in the ground there or anything... but I spent the better part of one afternoon chipping and sanding the old paint off of it so the new paint could be applied. Yeah!

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Yeah, it's Humpty Dumpty. But you know what's even more interesting? See those giant lollipops in the background (also from the old birthday house)? I carried them off the pickup truck when they arrived at the farm directly from the original Enchanted Forest. And I'm darned proud of it!

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Outside the house, not only is Papa Bear smoking; he's also inviting little boys and girls to sit between his legs....

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"Papa Bear has a pipe? And there's a dead hunter in his house with a gun? Just wait until I tell the ACLU about this!"

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Why, it's the three bears' house, of course! And there's Papa Bear, smoking his large, politically incorrect pipe. Notice the stuffed hunter mounted over the fireplace... and he's holding a gun! Oh, those wacky, innocent 1950s!

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Any guesses who lives here? Here's a hint: One of these rooms is too big, one is too small, and one is just right....

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Next up: the birthday gazebo. This cake is one of several pieces that was taken from the original park's birthday house, which was made out of concrete "candy." While most of the child-sized fairy tale houses now reside at the new park, most of the full-sized buildings, including the birthday house, castle entrance, Robin Hood's Barn, Cinderella's Castle and Enchanted Mountain (which featured waterfalls and housed an Ali Baba ride) could not be moved.

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Our first stop beyond the castle was a children's play area exclusive to the farm--not part of the original park--where Lauryn did her Jerry Lee Lewis impression for us.

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I assumed these playing cards were from the original park's Alice in Wonderland ride (another motorized attraction added in the '60s), but the woman in the gift shop said they were just decorations made and donated by a local artist.

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...and this monkey from the Jungle Safari (a motorized ride added during the park's 1960s expansion).

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The inside of the reproduction castle also houses several individual pieces of attractions from the old Enchanted Forest that could not be salvaged, such as this soldier of Nottingham who once fought with Robin Hood at the original park's Robin Hood's Barn gift shop...

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The new Enchanted Forest continues to be a work in progress. These original gingerbread men, which stood near the entrance of the old park, were being refurbished inside the "new" castle. The woman at the admission counter also remembered me (enough to say I looked "familiar," anyway), which was pretty cool.

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By the time we got there, the rain had stopped altogether, and Lauryn finally got to walk through her castle--a fairly faithful, if scaled-down, replica of the original, complete with lute-playing dragon and Rapunzel.

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Lauryn's mood was better (but only slightly) by the time we reached the indoor carousel at the Mall at Columbia. Afterward, she and Kelly went to check out the children's section of Borders bookstore while I called the Enchanted Forest again. They said though it was still raining, they had to open for a scheduled birthday party. If we wanted to brave the mud, we were welcome to peruse the grounds. Jackpot!

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Kelly and I forwent ice cream in favor of pie--peach for her, blueberry for me.

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Lauryn was so disappointed that she couldn't enter the "castle" at the shopping center that we heard about it for the next two hours. Chocolate ice cream proved a poor substitute.

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With the exception of the digital juke box and a couple Betty Boop statues, it hasn't changed much inside over the years. I'd eaten here once before, with my grandmother in the late 1990s.

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It was past 1 p.m. by the time we finished at the strip mall, and the rain was still pouring down hard as ever. We decided to steal across the street to continue our '50s day with dessert at the original Forest Diner.

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The was the original park entrance. I'd heard it had been renovated after a lightning strike caused a fire last year. Apparently I heard wrong. For the record, a lute-playing dragon used to sit over the drawbridge, and Rapunzel stood on the balcony of the turret on the left.

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Old King Cole used to point the way into the parking lot from U.S. Route 40. Now he points visitors to Petco, where we spent some time out of the rain looking at the dogs, fish, birds and rodents.

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A call to Clark's Elioak Farm, the new home of the Enchanted Forest, confirmed they would not be opening until the morning/early afternoon rain ended, which was supposed to be around 1 p.m. We were about an hour early, so we killed some time touring what is left of the old Enchanted Forest (the park that's visible from areas open to the public, anyway).

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It may not look like much, but this may just be the best foot-long chili dog in the United States! My dad used to eat here in the 1970s; I visited often during college in the 1990s, and now I'm passing it along to a new generation. Circle of life, chili dog-style.

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Well, no pearl necklace-wearing hot dog has ever steered me wrong before....

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In celebration of the Enchanted Forest's original opening year, we decided to make this an entirely 1950s day. We started with a lunch stop at Ann's Dari-Creme, a 1953 hot dog joint once surrounded by farmland and now in the middle of a mega mall parking lot.

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  • 1 month later...

Great pictures, I went to the original park in the late 80's and really like it. I remember those mice cars and the pumpkin coach and the little toot boat. I remember the ride op said the boat stops at some mountain with slides in it but it was closed. I was very disappointed about that.

 

It's kind of strange to see all those ride vehicles and other items somewhere else 20 years later.

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