Ellicott City's Elioak Farm captures magic of lost attraction

Preserving `Enchanted' memories

April 27, 2008|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,special to the sun

The staff and volunteers at Clark's Elioak Farm in Ellicott City have rescued princesses, beanstalks, cottages and carriages from the defunct Enchanted Forest amusement park over several years. But as of last winter, there were still a few hitches in the figures' happy endings.

Sleeping Beauty had no prince poised by her bedside for an awakening kiss; Jack had no Jill to help him fetch a pail of water; the castle facade lacked both dragon and damsel; and you really can't get by with two of the three little pigs.

So, when the petting farm opened its gates this month for another season, one of its knights in shining armor, fiberglass artist Mark Cline of Natural Bridge, Va., began arriving with 21 new pieces to help fill in the gaps.

The Enchanted Forest opened in 1955 along U.S. 40 in Ellicott City and attracted children to see storybook-themed attractions for three decades. It closed in the late 1980s, but the structures remained unprotected behind the shopping center built on the site.

With the support of the current property owner, farm owner Martha Clark and her team began hauling items out of their overgrown location in 2005, trucking them seven miles down the road to her farm.

"It's never been my intention to re-create the Enchanted Forest," Clark said. "It has always been my goal to preserve what is in there and make it available to another generation of families and children."

But, she said, if she already owned part of a scene, "we took some artistic license to complete it."

Clark said a passionate and talented group of people have sanded, scraped patched and painted dozens of pieces at the farm. But when it comes to a large-scale reconstruction or a complete fabrication, she hires Cline, who has made a career out of creating fiberglass figures for amusement parks, museums, miniature golf courses and other attractions.

"I would have been lost without him," Clark said.

Coincidentally, Cline is a lifelong fan of the Enchanted Forest. He said memories of his childhood trips there inspired his career and the name of his business: Enchanted Castle Studios.

"Once I went through the gate of that enchanted castle, it was a world for your imagination," he said. Working on the pieces now, "I'm having a lot of fun. In a lot of ways it is a labor of love."

His projects on the farm include a major reconstruction of Humpty Dumpty, which was a fraction of a shell when it arrived, and of Willie, a 10,000-pound blue whale that fell to pieces as it was pulled from its concrete base and towed to the farm.

Cline said he uses old photographs -- including some from his own childhood trips to the park -- and a video shot just before the Enchanted Forest closed to make his refurbished and re-created pieces match the originals.

That care makes a big difference, said Linda Gardner, whose family owned and ran the Enchanted Forest for more than 30 years.

"I could not believe the things he brought up [to the farm]," she said. "They were exact. ... It's just the most wonderful thing. There are no words to express what it feels like to go over there."

Gardner said it is particularly rewarding to hear other people say the pieces are just the way they remember from their childhood.

There are, in fact, a few differences. Cline uses light and resilient fiberglass in place of concrete over metal frames. And occasionally, when a clear image is not available, he improvises. Cinderella's new prince, for example, is based on actor Christopher Reeve, while Rapunzel was made with a mold of the face of Cline's 8-year-old daughter.

He said fiberglass crafting is a career that came to him by luck or, perhaps by a bit of providence.

Cline said he was a struggling student and a class clown in Waynesboro, Va., who started making props to entertain his friends at a young age. After he graduated from high school, "I became a bum," he said.

A trip to an employment agency led him to a factory where fiberglass figurines were made. The owner took Cline under his wing and helped him develop the expertise to make original figures.

Cline, who works with his wife and has two daughters, has made figures for Six Flags theme parks, Dutch Wonderland in Pennsylvania, numerous haunted hayrides and a few restaurant chains.

He also built and owns Professor Cline's Haunted Monster Museum and Escape from Dinosaur Kingdom, both in Natural Bridge, and offers tours of his studios there.

"The only reason I get up in the morning is to spread some happiness in the world," he said. "I believe all humans are here to alleviate the suffering in the world ... I do it by making funny little characters."

In the future, he plans to start a school to teach his techniques to others.

Occasionally, there are pitfalls. Last month, Cline pretty much destroyed the original green dragon that looks over the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center at the park's original location.

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