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, adding them to traditional sites such as an 18th-century farm house and a 19th-century African-American meetinghouse. 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 2 to 3 acres: four white mice that used to pull the pumpkin coach (with the help of a small tractor), 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, Enchanted Forest was a hit. The 52-acre park welcomed 300,000 visitors a 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 (which bought it for $4.5 million) 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 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.
But as a childhood fan of the park, she said she could not bear to see the coach destroyed or discarded. "There really just was no question, just 'I've got to do this,' " she said.
Burchardt said she was fortunate to get a call from a man who originally helped build the carriage, and she received help from a fiberglass expert. But mostly it was Burchardt, her husband and business partner, Doug, and volunteers from her office doing the work.
At the end, a contractor volunteered to restore the interior with a wood floor and seats.
The restored carriage was put on a flatbed truck and taken to auction at the county fairgrounds.
"I think we all had tears on our eyes," Burchardt said. "It was like sending your child off to college."
Essex business partners Scott Shephard, owner of Bay Home Inspections, and Elby Proffitt, owner of Precision Environmental Cleaning and Testing, bought the coach 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 appears to be from the 1970s. It most recently sat unused on the shopping center sidewalk.
"It received no tender loving care," he said.
But, he added, it is a complete unit and seems salvageable.
Shaw estimates 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. "I think it's great that they're going to be used for kids."
McNew-Metzger is part of an online group that discusses Enchanted Forest, and has spoken about the site at county meetings. She would like to see the park reopened at it current location, and believes others feel the same.
For that reason, she said, "it is kind of a shame," to see the coach, which was part of the original park, go to another town.
Other groups, including Preservation Howard County, suggest that all the attractions be moved to a new location where they can be put on display for the public.
McNew-Metzger said moving the items could be a good plan B if a reopening is impossible.
In either case, she said, "It would be nice if [Kimco] would work together with the community, and try to see this saved."