Big pumpkin enchants again

Attraction: Cinderella's coach from the old Enchanted Forest theme park wows visitors at an Ellicott City petting farm.

September 05, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Clark's Elioak Farm in Ellicott City launched its fall season yesterday with hayrides, animals and an unusual new attraction: an SUV-sized, bright-orange fiberglass pumpkin outfitted with seats and wheels.

It was the first time in a decade children were able to climb inside Cinderella's pumpkin coach, which used to carry kids through the now-defunct Enchanted Forest theme park just a few miles from the farm. Back then, the coach was pulled by a small truck that was disguised by cutouts of huge white mice.

After years of neglect, the pumpkin has found a new home. It no longer travels but sits surrounded by a green picket fence and shaded by a roof jutting off the entrance building at the family-oriented petting farm.

Young visitors seemed wowed by the giant carriage, while many of their parents recalled their childhood memories of the park.

"Enchanted Forest was so much fun, oh my goodness," said Karen Newell of Baldwin. "I remember when it closed, how disappointed I was I wouldn't get to take my kids to see it."

She watched her son, Aidan, 5, and her daughter, Kieran, 3, climb inside and poke their heads out the windows, and told them that she had ridden in the coach when she was younger.

In fact, the coach had a somewhat winding journey to the farm.

The Enchanted Forest entertained families for more than three decades between its opening in 1955 and its closing in 1988. At its peak, the second-oldest theme park in the country -- a few months younger than Disneyland -- drew 300,000 visitors each year to see storybook-themed rides and attractions on 52 acres.

In the 1980s, new owners built a shopping center on most of the property along Route 40, keeping a castle with a green dragon and Old King Cole for decoration. The theme park reopened for one season in 1994, then closed for good, and the remaining attractions were fenced off behind the stores.

The pumpkin ended up outside the main fence, deteriorating behind a Petco store.

Kimco Realty Corp., of New Hyde Park, N.Y., took over the property last year and, in May, donated the pumpkin to charity efforts headed by staff from the Coldwell Banker office at the shopping center. Volunteers spent a month repairing, painting and restoring the pumpkin and then trucked it to the group's annual charity auction at the Howard County Fairgrounds.

Two Essex businessmen bought the coach for $2,300, saying they wanted to make sure it ended up where people could see it. After deliberating over the summer -- and putting the coach on the eBay online auction site for a week -- they reached an agreement with Martha Clark, who runs the petting farm. Clark declined to discuss the financial details.

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