Geraldine C. Harrison, 80, co-founder of the Enchanted Forest theme park

May 21, 2000|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Geraldine C. Harrison, co-founder of the Enchanted Forest, the Howard County storybook theme park, died Wednesday at Copper Ridge nursing home of complications of Alzheimer's disease. She was 80 and had lived on the grounds of the Howard County attraction.

In 1955, she and her husband, Howard E. Harrison Jr., who died in 1988, created a wholesome, low-tech land of Rapunzel and Snow White using concrete, stucco and paint. Although faintly reminiscent of a Walt Disney production, it had a picnic-grove sweetness to it -- at a 25-cent admission price.

"My mother took a big chance building the Forest," said her son, Howard E. Harrison III, who lives in Woodstock. "It was a grueling line of business. At any time, she would do anything that needed to be done: secretary, telephone operator and admission ticket seller."

Born Geraldine Bolger in Baltimore, she was raised near Clifton Park. She a 1936 graduate of the Institute of Notre Dame.

In 1939, she married Mr. Harrison. They owned and operated the Belgian Village, a motor court and restaurant on Route 40 East at Bradshaw. The Village, which once employed a Belgian-born chef, was constructed in a mock-European style.

In the early 1950s, the couple learned that a new road, which would become Interstate 95, was on the drawing board. They realized that the thoroughfare could reduce traffic on Route 40 and undermine their business. The Enchanted Forest was born of their decision to sell the Belgian Village and start a new business venture.

They bought 19 acres of an old Howard County dairy farm and hired Adler Display -- which also created the RCA Victor Dog, Little Nipper -- to create a plan for a fairy-tale picnic grove that would stay open during the warm months. The concept for the theme park came from her father-in-law, Howard E. Harrison Sr., who enjoyed reading Grimm's fairy tales to her children.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Mrs. Harrison supervised the park's 125 employees and oversaw admission of the 300,000 people a year who visited the Enchanted Forest, on Route 40 West, near Bethany Lane.

Despite competition, the Enchanted Forest was successful through the 1980s.

Mrs. Harrison retired from active management in 1970, but lived on the property and kept an eye on her kingdom. In 1988, the property was sold. The front portion of the property was turned into the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center.

In her youth, Mrs. Harrison played tennis and won championships in the old Baltimore Recreation League.

She was a volunteer at and donor to St. Vincent's Orphanage in Baltimore County. She was a past president of the Loyola High School Mothers' Club and had been a member of the Cathedral School Mothers' Club.

Mrs. Harrison was a former member of Resurrection Roman Catholic Church in Ellicott City.

Funeral services will be private.

In addition to her son, she is survived by a son, Bruce F. Harrison of Sykesville; two daughters, Barbara A. Veltre of Woodstock and Linda M. Gardner of Ellicott City; 11 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

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