Fractured fairy tale

July 26, 2004

ONCE UPON a time, boys and girls, there was wonderful place all the way out Route 40 in rural Howard County. It was called Enchanted Forest, and children from all over begged their parents to make the long drive there to frolic amid the three bears' house, the old woman's shoe and other such fairy tales in fiberglass. Hundreds of thousands of fun-seekers a year flocked there, and people in these parts considered it their Disneyland.

But that was 50 years ago, and over the decades the forest grew a lot less enchanting for boys and girls who seemed to want more and more bells and whistles. The forest finally closed its gates two decades ago, and all but a couple of acres was sold off for a shopping center -- the sadness of all that now symbolized by the park's statue of Old King Cole plopped atop the center's road sign.

But even as the disused forest deteriorates, it has lived on in the minds of a startling number of baby boomers. They have grown excited when the park briefly reopened and sad as efforts to revive it stalled. They have formed groups to exchange memories and rumors about what might befall the forest now.

Then along came a nice lady named Debbie Burchardt, whose real estate office backs to the forest. She got the park's owner to give her a piece of it -- a van-sized pumpkin, Cinderella's carriage, of course. For a month, she and colleagues scraped, patched and painted the broken-down fantasy so they could auction it off for charity.

And that is where this fairy tale took a big and surprising turn. Elby Proffitt, a heating and air-conditioning contractor from Essex, outbid everyone, paying $2,300 for it. The pumpkin now sits in his shop awaiting the result of an eBay auction that ends tonight and in which he's asking at least $6,000. Thus there's much woe over the possibility that the carriage will be taken far, far away from its Howard County roots.

Mr. Proffitt, who journeyed to the forest as a child, says he means well, would like to see the pumpkin stay in the area, and doesn't understand those who have sent him "some bad e-mails" about putting it up for bid on eBay. Ms. Burchardt says she just tried to do a good thing and wishes now she had just bought the carriage to keep it nearby. "Let's keep our fingers crossed," she says. All of which suggests that it's time for this fractured fairy tale to end with the entry of a fairy godmother.

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