Mutton-chopped Ole King Cole still stands over the Enchanted Forest, beckoning passersby to stop. Those who accept his invitation, though, will find it a false gesture, the turreted castle locked tight, the fantasy land behind shrouded by tangled overgrowth. Today this piece of ground that brought joy to countless children languishes in the shadow of time and progress.
The Enchanted Forest was a novel and popular idea when it opened in 1955, a storybook-themed amusement park with paths that dipped and wove through life-sized renderings of age-old nursery rhymes, fairy tales and fables: the Dish and the Spoon, the Old Woman’s Shoe, the Tortoise and the Hare. Howard Harrison, Jr. and his father, Howard Harrison, Sr., creators of the park, eschewed large, mechanical thrill rides. Instead, moving attractions were modest affairs; kids could hop into teacups, raft to Treasure Island or ride a simple Mother Goose train.
Today thousands of commuters zip by the old park without a second thought. Back in the 1950s, however, the outskirts of Ellicott City in Howard County, Maryland was way out in the country. The Harrisons took a big risk, situating the amusement park so far in the middle of nowhere and hatching such a low-tech plan. Some called them crazy. But the thousands of families that visited the attraction proved their vision was no pipe dream. Attendance eventually hit 400,000 for the six-month span from May to October. Young and old never tired of the park’s simplicity, of the dream-come-true theme that is essence of childhood imaginings.
But times changed, and over a long span the notion of a storybook amusement park became quaint and antiquated. In 1988, with development knocking on the property’s door, the owners sold the lucrative parcel and much of the property became shopping center, boxy and angular, quite a contrast to the soft curves that made up this dreamland for better than three decades.
Although the owners of the shopping center promised to reopen the Enchanted Forest, they could only muster one season of a scaled-down version. So all those meandering footpaths, all those real-life renderings of imaginary places were left at the mercy of nature. And the Enchanted Forest became, of all things, a forest.
You can see into the old Enchanted Forest today but entering is strictly off limits. Nevertheless, looking over the security fence is sufficient to get a sense for the dense thickets and tight canopy that has reclaimed this play land. The whimsical path that looped through the park is barely discernible. Where sunlight hits the ground weeds grow tall. A satellite image from Google Maps shows a lake now choked with algae.
For some of the people who made fond memories at the Enchanted Forest, seeing this decay was too much, a slight on their own childhood, a disservice to kids everywhere. They decided to salvage whatever relics they could. The landowner permitted volunteers to remove what they could from the former amusement park. To give a sense how thoroughly nature had taken the Enchanted Forest back, volunteers discovered some of the parks structures only after clearing away overgrowth–full-scale amusements that had been completely shrouded by life.
Thanks to the work of those committed salvors, many of the life-sized, fiberglass-and-concrete playthings now reside four miles away at Clark’s Elioak Farm. So even though the theme park is a distant memory, it’s still possible to get a taste of the tangible fairy tales that enchanted children’s lives for so long.
Below is a great set of photos of the Enchanted Forest taken by Geoff Lawrence. You can check out more of his work at GLawrence Photography’s Facebook page.