The recent disappearance of Cinderella's pumpkin carriage and a battered carousel from the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center in Ellicott City has raised preservationists' hopes - and fears - about the remnants of the adjacent amusement park that once drew hundreds of thousands of families over three decades.
Preservation Howard County put the park's remaining attractions - which are deteriorating in a tree-lined valley behind the center - on its list this year of 10 most endangered historic places. The old park site has also been the topic of discussion for the county's task force on revitalizing U.S 40.
But little appeared to be happening until this spring, when volunteers from a local real estate office refurbished the pumpkin, which sat decaying for a decade. Real estate broker Debbie Burchardt and her colleagues spent most of last month finding the right materials, sanding, scraping, applying coats of fiberglass, painting and rebuilding the coach so they could auction it for charity.
The previous month, a Severn company removed the carousel with plans to restore it and place it at the Baltimore Zoo.
But the owner of the park property, Kimco Realty Corp. of Hyde Park, N.Y., says those are individual cases where the items were accessible to the public. "We're looking for what we all feel is a win-win relative to items that are outside the main fence," Kevin Allen, Kimco's director of retail and office properties
The rest will have to wait.
"We are only seven or eight months into owning the property," Allen said. "We just don't quite have our arms around a long-term solution. ... It's not something we're going to figure out overnight."
Left behind on the last undeveloped two to three acres: four white mice that used to pull the pumpkin coach, a towering gray castle, a big purple shoe, the Three Bears' house, a smiling blue whale and scattered other attractions from the nation's second-oldest theme park after Disneyland.
Opened in the mid-1950s, the 52-acre park welcomed 300,000 visitors per year at its peak, according to an Enchanted Forest Web site (www.nanalee.com) maintained by a fan.
The park closed in the late 1980s and the property's owner, JHP Development, built a shopping center on most of the land. JHP retained a castle with its green dragon and a statue of Old King Cole as part of the center's entrance.
The park reopened briefly in the 1990s and then the entire parcel was sold to Mid-Atlantic Realty Trust in 1997. Kimco bought Mid-Atlantic last year.
Allen said his company needed to move the pumpkin coach when he received a request from Burchardt for a Kimco donation to her office's annual charity auction.
She said she had no idea that "the pumpkin" Allen suggested was a car-sized carriage with peeling paint, gaping holes, a collapsed roof and four flat tires.
"I don't think anybody could ever possibly even conceive how much work it was" to restore it, Burchardt said.
The restored carriage was auctioned at the county fairgrounds, where Essex business partners Scott Shephard and Elby Proffitt bought it and a sign from the park for $2,300.
Shephard said they bought the pumpkin to ensure it would remain protected and available in some way to the public. "We didn't want to see it going in someone's back yard," he said.
While they have found it difficult to display the coach - two local Fourth of July parades rejected it - they would like to sell it to someone who will protect it from the weather and give the community a chance to see it.
The carousel was also the beneficiary of good timing. The Baltimore Zoo, which was looking for a new carousel but lacked money to buy a new one, reached an agreement with Kimco in April. The zoo asked for the assistance of Ted Shaw, owner of Crown Foods in Severn, which provides concessions and rides at zoos and amusement parks around the country.
Shaw dismantled the structure and took it home for refurbishing. He said he hopes to handle about $100,000 in repairs himself, install it at the zoo and receive a share of the profits.
"It's in really bad shape," Shaw said of the ride, which apmost recently sat unused on the shopping center sidewalk. "It received no tender loving care."
But, he said, it could be at the zoo by 2005 at the earliest.
"I think its good to see [the pieces] have a second life," said Monica McNew-Metzger of Annapolis, who is part of an online group that discusses Enchanted Forest and has spoken about the site at county meetings.