Because her birthday was in December, when the Enchanted Forest was closed, Martha Clark never got to have a party like those she saw each summer as a young girl visiting the theme park four miles from her home.
Now, in a roundabout way, she's finally fulfilling that childhood wish.
The 60th Enchanted Forest Birthday Party —celebrating the park's debut on Aug. 15, 1955 — is set to take place Saturday and Sunday at Clark's Elioak Farm, where over 100 of the storybook characters and structures from the former Ellicott City attraction have found a new home.
At least 4,000 visitors are expected to turn out for the two-day event that includes a ribbon-cutting at noon Saturday for the recently acquired and rebuilt storybook castle. Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman and former state senator James Robey will officiate.
The multi-ton concrete structure was moved in three pieces June 9 by former owner Kimco Realty from the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center on U.S. 40 to Elioak Farm's petting zoo on a corner of the 540-acre property off Route 108.
Clark had a new foundation built to support the structurally sound parts of the donated castle and commissioned a replica of Old King Cole on a castle balcony. The original rotund king remains at the shopping center.
Clark, a Howard County native and daughter of the late state Sen. James Clark Jr., hoped everyone who remembers or appreciates what the Enchanted Forest stood for would join in the weekend fun.
"The reason the blending of the Enchanted Forest structures into the farm works is because we operate on the same philosophy of a simpler, gentler time," she said of the park, which closed in 1989. "Kids were more innocent then, and didn't need the exhilaration of today's amusement park rides."
To mark what would have been the park's 60th birthday, Clark and a planning committee came up with a wide-ranging schedule of events. Scenes from "Into the Woods," a Stephen Sondheim musical built on classic fairy tales, will be performed by the Drama Learning Center. Local artists will exhibit and sell their paintings of Enchanted Forest attractions.
Old Enchanted Forest photos submitted by guests will be displayed and awards given to winners of the Memory Lane Photo Contest. There will be freshly baked gingerbread men, wandering princesses, face painting and a signing of the book by Clark and Janet Kusterer, "The Enchanted Forest: Memories of Maryland's Storybook Park."
The Enchanted Forest was the brainchild of Howard Harrison Jr., a visionary who some compare to Walt Disney — on a much smaller scale.
Disneyland, with its similar focus on wholesome attractions that appeal to children and their parents, opened July 17, 1955, in Anaheim, Calif., just one month before the debut of the Ellicott City storybook wonderland.
"Some people think the Enchanted Forest copied Disneyland, but the timing proves that wasn't the case since it was already nearly completed when Disneyland opened," said Norman Cavey, 63, a former Enchanted Forest employee who is traveling from Orlando, Fla., to attend the event and share behind-the-scenes memories.
"People still care about the Enchanted Forest because it was so different and so unique," said Cavey, whose mother, uncles, wife and daughter also worked at the park at various times.
"There really was nothing in the immediate area like it," he said, noting that his favorite attraction was the 65-foot, stainless steel Mount Vesuvius slide in Jungle Land.
Clark's efforts to reclaim and restore more than 100 pieces from the park have been underway since 2004 and have cost her about $500,000, she said.
"I absolutely think it's been money well spent," said Clark, who says she made up her mind quickly when the opportunity to move the structures presented itself more than a decade ago. "I don't mull over things for too long or I miss opportunities."
Twenty percent of the proceeds from the art sale will be dedicated to maintaining the structures, a never-ending and costly process because of their age, composition and year-round weather exposure.
Many have been repaired by Mark Cline, a Virginia resident who has been involved in Clark's restoration effort since it began. He re-created other pieces, including the entrance castle, because Clark never expected to obtain the original. Now she has two.
Cline built a new pumpkin for Peter to keep his wife in, made Jack a new Jill and created a new dish to run away with the spoon, among other projects.
Nursery rhymes, which served as the main inspiration for the Enchanted Forest, are not familiar to children today and that's a shame, said Keith Kridenoff, who maintains a Facebook page titled "Enchanted Forest behind the Scenes."
"Nowadays, you have to teach kids the nursery rhymes first before visiting Clark's Farm since they don't learn them anymore," he said.
Kridenoff noticed in February that people frequently were posting old photos online, but there was no place for former employees to share their stories. He started one and quickly attracted more than 1,800 members. He also created a 16-page handout for Clark to distribute at the event.
Kridenoff, who lived in Overlea in Baltimore County, visited the Enchanted Forest a few times each summer for 15 years, starting at age 2.
"I remember when we'd spot Old King Cole and we'd get excited beyond belief," he said.
Like Cavey, he loved Mount Vesuvius and recalls rubbing the slide with the wax paper his brown-bag sandwich had been wrapped in to make the stainless-steel surface slicker than it already was.
"Anyone who didn't get to enjoy the Enchanted Forest missed out on a more innocent, magical time," Kridenoff said.
Clark said that while the Enchanted Forest structures have enhanced her property, she began moving them as a preservation effort.
"It's nostalgic for people who thought they'd never see them again," she said, adding that she counts herself among that group.
"But mainly I look at this as a forward-thinking project, not a backward-thinking one. I want them to be seen for the first time by new generations and to become part of their nostalgia someday. That way the magic of the Enchanted Forest lives on."
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