THE ZONE OF UNEASE, Sept 30 - Me and the missus broke into the remains of the Enchanted Forest theme park last month. This is in Ellicott City, Maryland, on the north side of Route 40, just east of Centennial Lane.
The Enchanted Forest was a lovingly crafted nursery-themed theme park, opened just one month after Disneyland in 1955. The park closed in 1988, reopened briefly in 1994, and was finally sold to the first in a succession of realty companies. In the spirit of all the countless American housing developments whose thoroughfares recall what they've replaced - Shady Creek Drive, Apple Orchard Place, Dying Wildlife Lane - this is now the site of the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center. From the highway, the statue of Old King Cole points to a Petco. Not far away, one sad vestigial castle stands with its drawbridge firmly drawn, warning pedestrians that there is NO TRESPASSING. Everything else is closed.
Actually, it isn't correct to say we broke in. We strolled in. All you have to do is walk around the Petco and the Eastern Savings Bank, turn left and keep walking towards the large fence. At one point on the right, just before the next large block of strip mall buildings, you'll see a gap in the fence wide enough to admit a human body. It's not much more difficult than walking into any of the shops.
From photos on my wife's blog, I'd assumed this was going to be a nice little walk through a perfectly tended but blissfully vacant theme park. Instead, it's an ominous hike through an overgrown wasteland. Anyone - or any thing - could have been hiding there.
Inside the mildewy ruins of the Ice Cream house, a giant rat had been spray painted on the wall. Perhaps it was warning of real rats, or perhaps someone wanted to commemorate or threaten someone accused of snitching. I took a picture from just through the open door, thinking about The Blair Witch Project. No force on Earth could have compelled me to step across the threshold.
Anything small enough to be moved is gone: the giant candy, the Crooked House, The Easter Bunny's House, the Little Red Schoolhouse. My aunt-in-law told us she'd passed one of the giant teacups on the back of a truck on the highway. Many of these items wound up at a farm 4 miles away. All that remains are the structures too big or decrepit to move.
We walked down towards the old pond where the Little Toot tugboat once tootled. It was now covered in a thick green scum that looked plastic. If I hadn't been acutely freaked out by this point, I would've tried skipping rocks to see if it really was solid.
Marauding teens had left ample graffiti. But there were no discarded beer cans, or cigarette butts, or campfire remains. It was as if someone - or some thing, perhaps living in the half-submerged Alice In Wonderland tunnel - made periodic sweeps to keep their new home clean. I kept looking for the missing debris, until I realized that I was scared I might find a pile of shoes, or a human femur. It was time to leave.