A July 25 article on the shuttered Enchanted Forest theme park near Ellicott City incorrectly said that Monica McNew Metzger started an Internet discussion group about the park. She is a participant in the group, not its founder. (Published 7/27/04)
By the time Debbie Burchardt got the pumpkin coach, its roof and floor had collapsed and its exterior was cracked and flaking. Still, she saw something in the fiberglass shell that once carried visitors to Cinderella's Castle at the Enchanted Forest, a beloved but now-defunct theme park near Ellicott City.
After weeks of painstaking restoration, the coach, bright orange and winsome, was the toast of a gala charity dinner last month -- and brought in $2,300.
Now Cinderella's coach is for sale again: Its new owners, two Baltimore businessmen, are offering it on the Internet auction site eBay, with a starting bid price of $6,000.
"Only one ever made for the Enchanted Forest," reads the promotional material for the coach, which carries a 10-day listing that expires tomorrow.
Burchardt, for one, is dismayed by what has become of her handiwork.
"This whole thing has troubled me," she said. "Looking back on it, we wouldn't have worked so hard to save this."
Burchardt isn't the only one who's upset. Enchanted Forest fans say that the coach's appearance on eBay foretells the piecemeal dismantling of the crumbling park, which they want to see reopened.
"It's a matter of time and we're going to lose a Maryland treasure," said Monica McNew Metzger of Annapolis, who has started an Internet discussion group about the Enchanted Forest.
Elby Proffitt, who owns the pumpkin coach with friend Scott Shephard, said the reaction in e-mails and phone calls to the eBay listing has been overwhelming.
"Me and Scott went to a charity event and paid money to help a charity and got a pumpkin," he said, "and now everybody wants to stake a claim to it."
If the eBay listing draws no takers, he said, they will consider offers from several businesses in Maryland.
"I never imagined how this pumpkin is bringing us attention," Proffitt said.
The Enchanted Forest theme park, off Route 40, has been closed for more than a decade, but it still exerts a powerful pull on its former patrons. When the park opened in August 1955, it was an instant success, even though its father-and-son founders, Howard E. Harrison Sr. and Howard E. Harrsion Jr., had deliberately avoided the sort of whizzing mechanical rides featured at California's new Disneyland, which also opened that year.
Instead, the walking paths through the 20-acre park led to fanciful fiberglass and sprayed concrete creations from fairy tales and nursery rhymes, which children could walk into, touch and explore. The Harrisons' artistic designer, Howard Adler of Baltimore, delighted in whimsy. The house of the Three Bears, for example, displayed a stuffed hunter in the sitting room. A tall shoe house beckoned with a slide, a bonnet-clad Big Bad Wolf lay in wait for Little Red Riding Hood, and a gingerbread house hosted children's birthday parties.
"It was just a marvelous experience when we were growing up," said Baltimore County resident Nan Sherman, who visited the park yearly and then took her nieces and nephews. "It was everything you read about in a storybook."
In its heyday, the Enchanted Forest drew more than 300,000 visitors annually from spring until fall. In 1987, the Harrison family sold the Enchanted Forest to a Towson developer, who closed it in 1989 and tore down part of it for a shopping center. JHP Development Inc. opened and then closed a scaled-down version of the Enchanted Forest in the early 1990s.
The park's white, castlelike entrance still stands in one corner of the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center, but the concrete moat is dry, the turrets are rusting and a dragon above the locked iron gate has a broken, sagging tail. The remaining six or seven acres of the Enchanted Forest are fenced off, its fading attractions among the trees behind the shopping center.
Five years ago, residents tried to reopen the park, but their fundraising fell far short. But a grass-roots effort has emerged, fueled by a recent historical photo exhibit of the park, far-flung fans meeting online and a county planning study of Route 40.
Kimco Realty Corp., which bought the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center and park last year, has been reticent about its intentions for the park.
"There are no easy solutions for the Forest," Kevin Allen, Kimco's regional director of retail and office property, wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Post. "We will continue to evaluate options as we better understand some of the issues."
Burchardt, who is a real estate agent in an office in the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center, hoped to tap the surge of park nostalgia for a charity auction and asked Allen for a park item. Allen offered the coach, which sat outside the fenced parkland.
Burchardt and her husband, Doug, at first despaired of repairing the coach. But then Burchardt talked to automotive fiberglass expert Jim France.
"I knew that pumpkin," said France, who lives in Ellicott City. "I rode in that pumpkin long ago. I knew it was repairable instantly."
At the June 3 charity auction for community and emergency assistance, Proffitt and Shephard admired the restored coach that they, too, had ridden in as children, and they had the winning bid.
"It was on a whim," Proffitt said. "We saw the opportunity. We thought it would be pretty cool to have."
They wanted to display the coach in Fourth of July parades, an idea that appealed to Burchardt because the coach would remain in the area. When that didn't materialize, the new owners decided to list it on eBay to see what people would bid. It would be a "shocker," Proffitt said, if someone paid their asking price. As of Friday, the coach had drawn no bids.
"I wish I had $6,000 now," said Metzger, who has talked to county officials about preserving the Enchanted Forest. "Who knows where it's going to go?"