When most people think of amusement parks, they think of Disney World (Florida) and Disneyland (California). They think of rides – roller coasters, merry-go-rounds, bumper cars – and maybe even water parks.
As a matter of fact, I think today it’s pretty difficult to find any amusement park that doesn’t have high-speed rides or virtual reality booths as an integral part of its attractions. What they offer to kids is speed and high-tech fun…an adrenaline rush…and that’s it. I don’t think many of them actually stimulate a kid’s creative thought processes…not like The Enchanted Forest did.
What is The Enchanted Forest, you ask? (If you need to ask, you clearly haven’t seen the John Waters film Cry-Baby, starring Johnny Depp!)
The Enchanted Forest was a nursery-themed amusement park located in Howard County, Maryland. A blast from my past. It opened in 1955 – a month after Disneyland opened – and delighted children and adults for 34 years, until it closed in 1989. It was reopened briefly in 1994, in another location, but closed again for good in 1995. It’s finally got a new life now on a farm, in 2015…well…kind of.
The Gingerbread Man who refused to be dessert, a somewhat fierce dragon, Snow White and her dwarf buddies, Old Mother Hubbard, Alice in Wonderland along with the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse, The Crooked Man with his equally crooked house, and just about all of the other various icons of the park have been moved and restored once again, this time just for nostalgia’s sake I believe. Only a few structures were lost to age and vandalism, worn beyond repair, among them were Cinderella’s Castle and the Gingerbread House of Hansel and Gretel fame. Not too bad I suppose, all things considered.
What was great about The Enchanted Forest – what was unique about it – was that it was just a low-key park, based around characters from books and fairy tales. Yeah, that’s right. Books. *Gasp!* Oh no!
Oh, there were a few rides – but they weren’t truly mechanical rides, not like what you’d see at Six Flags or Wild World or even Dutch Wonderland. There was a tea-cup ride along with a tugboat and swan ride in a pond – those were pretty much the exciting draws as far as rides were concerned – and believe it or not, they were. “Exciting draws,” I mean. People loved the place. Kids and adults alike. People came from miles around to visit.
I certainly loved it, even though I have to admit the start of my fear of water came from The Enchanted Forest. There was a “wild safari” jeep-pulled trolley ride that was supposed to simulate the jungle with elephants, gorillas, a hippo (all fake of course)…well, it also had an alligator lurking just below the surface of a deep marshy water area, and that alligator used to scare me to death. It certainly wasn’t high-end on the animatronics scale or anything like that – but, still…whew! Captain Hook’s tick-tocking crocodile had nothing on this one! However, to give credit where credit is due, it was really my seeing the movie Jaws at an impressionable age that really sealed the deal on that little phobia.
I tell you what though, before I posted this entry, I found a video on YouTube that someone had posted of their home movies of The Enchanted Forest from a trip in 1975 and it even had a clip from the “safari” ride – I showed that video to my daughter and she agreed with me, that alligator is freakin’ scary! Of course, she may have just been eagerly going along me ’cause she’s sweet like that, but I’m serious. That thing is scary. It is.
But I digress.
Here, let me share with you a few paragraphs from a site dedicated to the history on The Enchanted Forest.
Howard Adler, a local designer … [built] imaginative creations of papier-mache, cement and fiberglass [that] would give the Enchanted Forest its whimsical, enduring appeal.
The sturdy brick house of the Three Little Pigs, for example, was decorated with a wolf skin rug on the floor… The house of the Three Bears not only had three bowls of porridge and three beds, it also had three chimneys a pipe-shaped chimney for Papa Bear, a purse-shaped chimney for Mama and a bottle-shaped chimney for Baby Bear.
The eight-acre Enchanted Forest, with figures and storybook settings nestled among woods, a stream and a small pond, was deliberately low-key compared with Disneyland in California….
“There are no mechanical rides in the park,” [owner] Howard E. Harrison Jr. told the Baltimore News-Post in an article that ran on the Enchanted Forest’s opening day, Aug. 15, 1955. “Instead, we hope that the children will enjoy the make-believe figures that are before their eyes. I say children, but actually, we think that many grown-ups will enjoy seeing the famous old figures that they knew when they were children.”
Do kids these days even read the old fairy tales? I think they get started with their smart phones and tablets at an extremely young age, not to mention watching TV, and all they ever see are the glossy characters of Disney, or shows like Spongebob Squarepants and things of that ilk. Stories are spoon-fed to them these days through high-tech graphics and cartoons and on-screen games rather than through the pages of a book, and when they go anywhere, they expect their entertainment to be spoon-fed to them as well. It’s a fast paced world, especially for kids, with no time for imagination.
Whereas, with The Enchanted Forest, all they had going for them was their knowledge from nursery rhymes and fairy tales and their imaginations. Lots and lots of imagination.
I remember The Enchanted Forest with so much fondness, not the least of which because my mother used to take my brother and I there and we’d spend the day – so those are good times I remember with my mother, as well as all the things we would see and do. For anyone who wants to see pictures (not mine), there is a gallery here.
My favorite parts were these little houses you could go into – they were like life-sized dioramas – showing scenes from various nursery rhymes and fairy tales like Snow White, the Gingerbread Man, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel. My mom’s personal favorite was the teacup ride.
The Enchanted Forest was great because everything was truly interactive – and by that I mean you walked, ran, played, climbed…there was no waiting in line for an hour for a two-minute ride or sitting in a chair oblivious to the world around you while playing with a virtual reality system. Kid’s today are “inter” – while we were truly “active”!
I lament the “lost art” of low-tech entertainment. We simply don’t have these kinds of places any more – places where kids have to use their own imaginations to conjure up fun instead of having it, as I said before, basically spoon fed to them.
Yeah, it’s great that we’ve progressed the way we have with technology. Don’t get me wrong – I think a lot of good has come from technology. It has encouraged tremendous vision and has given us so much (speaking on strictly an entertainment level: 3-D movies, virtual reality games, amazing interactive rides, 3-D printers, etc.), but our children have lost so much in return – the ability to play or enjoy things just by using their own imaginations and creativity.
Not to mention the wholesomeness of nursery-rhyme stories (okay, well, once you clean up the original Grimm stories) and books like Alice in Wonderland, instead of the glitzy, overly grown-up, in-your-face, kids’ characters that are pushed on young children today. I know, I know, it’s not surprising that I go back to books. But come on, anything that’s oriented around books cannot be a bad thing.
Books and imagination. It’s a combo we need to nurture more in kids today.