Fairy tale characters enchant kids, adults


It wasn't always clear yesterday whether Cinderella's pumpkin coach was a bigger hit with the little kids poking their heads through its windows, or with their parents - flush with their own childhood memories of Howard County's vanished Enchanted Forest amusement park.

The orange coach, now installed at Clark's Elioak Farm in Ellicott City, along with Mother Goose and three teams of gigantic white mice, triggered a flood of memories among many grown-up "children" who visited yesterday as the park's artifacts began their new life at the farm.

"I remember going with my beloved grandfather. It was a place of many happy memories," said Leanne Price, 39, of Abingdon as her daughter Gabrielle, 5, clambered through the fairy tale coach.

Seeing some of the storybook figures from the Enchanted Forest rescued, restored and accessible again "is like going back in time for us," Price said. "To be able to show my kids is really wonderful."

For Angelina Stancil, 38, of Randallstown, the coach evoked vivid memories of visits to the park with her mother, Dorothy Washington of Baltimore.

"I remember when you turned into the parking lot you saw the King," she said. "You would see him over the entrance gate, and you knew you were there."

She stood with her arm around her son Raphael, 5, who was seeing the pumpkin coach and its mice for the first time.

"He loves them," she said. "I think he would have enjoyed the park better, but we'll take what we can get."

More than 1,300 people visited Clark's Elioak Farm on Saturday, and a similar crowd was on hand yesterday, said Martha Clark. Her family, with roots in the county from 1797, has raised crops, cattle and other animals on the Elioak property since 1946. The petting farm there opened three years ago.

Clark had her own fond memories of trips to the Enchanted Forest. The 55-acre park on U.S. 40 opened in 1955 and operated until 1988. It delighted a generation of Maryland families with rides and strolls through a sort of three-dimensional storybook.

Instead of the flash, dazzle and terrifying rides at today's amusement parks, the park offered giant characters such as Mother Goose, Humpty Dumpty and Old King Cole, and landmarks such as the Old Lady's Shoe House, the Enchanted Castle and the Crooked House.

New owners closed the place in 1988 and opened a shopping center next door. There was a brief revival in 1994, but it closed again. And the decade since has taken its toll on the park in vandalism and weathering.

Efforts by volunteer groups to reopen the landmark or rescue its relics fell short until last year, when Kimco Realty Corp. of New Hyde Park, N.Y., acquired the property.

Kimco eventually agreed to sell the Pumpkin Coach to Elioak Farm, just five miles from the old park, and has since offered to donate most anything else Clark can pay to haul off.

The coach arrived on the farm last fall, and the teams of mice followed, along with Mother Goose, a black duck and gosling, a crop of giant mushrooms, lollipop trees, a gingerbread man, and other odds and ends.

Clark and a parade of volunteers have worked ever since to restore and repaint everything in time for this weekend's official reopening.

"We have every intention of moving the rest of the items," Clark said, including Jack and the Beanstalk, Willie the Whale, the Old Woman's Shoe, the Easter Egg House and more. "It's just a matter of getting the support we need to do it."

Plenty is needed: an estimated $7,000 to move the Crooked House; $20,000 for the Shoe and $43,000 for the Little Pig's (brick) House, according to estimates handed to visitors yesterday.

"My primary goal was to bring over the items we can bring over so they don't sit there and deteriorate anymore," Clark said.

But Elioak Farm - which has sold its development rights as part of both state and county agricultural preservation programs - will remain a farm.

"We are delighted to have the Enchanted Forest pieces here, but it is not our goal to become the Enchanted Forest. It is our goal to lovingly restore these things and have them available to people again," she said.

And that seemed fine with the many families who visited yesterday in sun-soaked early spring weather.

For Michelle Carras, 39, of Ellicott City, who brought daughter Stephanie and her friend, Amanda Lefkowitz, both 10, the Enchanted Forest relics released a flood of memories - of the dank, musty smell of Sleeping Beauty's Castle and especially of an old park slide called Mount Vesuvius.

In her memories from the age of 3 or 4, "it was terrifying," she said. "It was this huge mountain. My mom always gave me a piece of wax paper [to sit on], and we would fly down the mountain. It was always burning hot."

Yet looking at pictures of the old slide, part of an Enchanted Forest display in the Elioak Farm souvenir shop, she found it looked unaccountably tame.

"It just looked like a long slide. I couldn't believe when I got over here how small it actually was."

Clark's Elioak Farm is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, until Nov. 6.

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