This was my Sunday afternoon. Agatha Christie, tea, and me.
If you’re going to write a story about my cat, the least you can do is send me a signed copy of the book, or I don’t know, perhaps a brief mention in a “dedication” would be nice, or even a measly percentage of royalties maybe, but no. Nothing. Nada. No such thing as respect these days.
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.
It might be a bit of an understatement, but I love to read. It’s one of my favorite activities. On average, I read two or three books a week. Sometimes I do it to keep the brain firing but mostly it’s just flat-out fun. To me, there’s really nothing better than curling up with a book that takes me to faraway places with interesting characters, especially after a hard day at work.
One of my favorite genres is horror. I know, I know. Very relaxing, Wendy. I like the modern classics. Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft are a couple of my favorite scribes, but I’ll give just about any horror author a decent shot at winning me over. Mysteries—both hardcore authors like Alex Kava or whimsical writers like McCall Smith—can often be found on my nightstand. Agatha Christie is a true favorite. Then there’s science fiction, another favorite. Old, new, it doesn’t matter. I read it all. Even genre-bending authors like Kay Hooper who intertwines mystery-thrillers with a psychic/supernatural twist can be really fun. As hard as it might be to reconcile this next one given what you know about me, I do enjoy Jane Austen as well. And yes, I’m also a comic book nerd. I know. Big surprise there, I know.
Even though I am a legit, full-grown adult I have not escaped the blast radius of the cataclysmic Young Adult boom either. Harry Potter? Yep, I’ve read them too. Look down on them if you must, but I don’t believe that everything you read has to be on par with Dickens. I’d heard that some parents kept their kids from reading these delightful books because they thought it celebrated witchcraft and their kids would turn into Satan-lovers or something ridiculous like that. That was a minority of parents and I’m thankful for that because that book series single-handedly got an entire generation absolutely bonkers on reading again. It was great. The books couldn’t come out fast enough and the kids were thrilled to be READING! Imagine that!? READING of all things! And parents were trying to squash that. I just don’t understand some people.
At a time when the fear that iPhones and tablets and PSPs and social media were going to rot the brains of our youth, the Harry Potter collection got them reinvigorated on flipping through paper pages. They were reading. Not posting or updating or following or pinning. And I totally get why. I freakin’ loved those books. And they were not all easy reads as one might expect. J.K. Rowling did not hold back on the drama, the emotions, or the suspense. These novels were super exciting in spite of, or maybe because of, the emotional roller-coaster the author put us devoted readers on, and worthy of all the accolades they received.
A few people I know pointed out, as if I didn’t know, that—gasp—those are kids’ books. Their eyebrows would arch as they not so silently judged my reading selections. This air of pretentiousness is starting to pervade our literature choices and I just want to say, let’s not get too snobby, people.
Take book clubs for example. If you’ve ever joined a book group, you know that they usually don’t read “fun” books. No light romances or whimsical mysteries or horror novels for them. Heaven forbid they admit that they like a fun story more than some bloated philosophical 3,000 page masterpiece that takes forever to get through.
No disrespect to Tolstoy of Dostoevsky or Nobokov, but I don’t quite get why a club would choose a book where it’s hard to really understand the “point” behind them even after you’ve read them twice or even three times (but you say you do just so you don’t look stupid in book club)! Yeah, yeah, yeah, they’re classics. They deserve their place in the annals of great literature, but I’m just going to say it: No one really enjoys these books. The problem is that most people in book clubs only say they do so their peers won’t look down on them or think they’re “reading challenged.”
That last paragraph was not just all speculation. I belonged to a book club back in the day. It was mind-numbingly boring. I gave it a good college try though hoping it would broaden my horizons but I only lasted a couple of books. The material they chose was sooo stale. To my credit, or discredit – however you want to view it – I could read the material…easily…I just didn’t want to. I know, I know, that sounds like something a toddler would say, but oh well. Why read something you’re not going to enjoy? Before bowing out I did notice that no one else in the club seemed to relish the book list either. Yet no one spoke up and said, “Can we please just pick out something fun to read?”
I think it’s high time we remove the snobbishness. I say, if you’re reading, that’s great! It doesn’t matter what you’re reading just so as long as you’re enjoying it because it’s supposed to be a truly relaxing hobby. So, please, read anything. Read comic books or Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or Danielle Steele. Just have fun doing it.
Reading builds the mind and offers an escape from everyday life. While it’s good to learn and improve yourself by stretching your comfort zone, there’s no reason why it always has to be overly challenging or arduous. You should never sulk or heavy sigh when you think about the book you’re about to crack open. Read a book that’s fun sometimes instead of always choosing material that hurts your brain. And don’t let others bring you down for what you read. Ever.
Remember: Reading should be FUNdamental!
A little while ago my daughter and I found ourselves roaming through a library we had never been to before. We visit our own library weekly but sometimes we feel the need to branch out to adjacent counties to see what they have to offer. While the content of this one was surely the same, the layout and design made us feel as if we were discovering a new domain. My daughter is a teenager but as we were exploring the terrain, we gravitated towards the children’s section which began an impromptu trip down Memory Lane. We picked out some of the old favorites with glee and memories of reading these to her when she was a wee child came flooding back. The sense of nostalgia was intense as we thumbed through several of Jan Brett’s books like Hedgie’s Surprise, The Trouble with Trolls, The Hat, and Honey, Honey, Lion! just to name a few.
Running our hands up and down the pages my daughter and I thought it would be fun to recreate that feeling when I’d read to her as she drifted off to sleep. It’s silly I know, here we are in a public library, my daughter almost old enough to drive, but we (as always) felt confident in our silliness. We’re goofy that way. Making our way to the check-out counter with a stack of books in tow, we were chattering excitedly about our evening’s reading itinerary. Our giddy daze was abruptly halted when we got to the counter and were met face to face with the sobering reality of a very stern, lace collar wearing, bi-focaled librarian who looked down at my 15 year old daughter with annoyance. Maybe we had been laughing a bit loud for the environment…but I’m not sure why my daughter bore the brunt of “the look.” Thankfully, the librarian tried to put on a happy face as I handed her my brand spanking new library card.
Scanning through our stack she asked, “So are you teaching a unit on Jan Brett to your class?” Needless to say, the question threw me off. I was a little confused but using my ample reserve of cool-under-fire suaveness I said, “Whaaat?” The librarian responded, “You’re a teacher, right? Teaching a unit on Jan Brett?” That seemed like a pretty great (and normal) conclusion to come to, so rather than explain our goofiness to someone who didn’t look at all like she would understand such goofiness, I quite simply and seriously replied, “Why, yes. Yes I am.” I’m sure there is a special place in hell for those of us who lie to stern, elderly librarians. But that’s okay. I’ve already been told my place there is a given…guess this just sealed the deal.