Greatest Theme Park Ever
About a decade ago I vacationed with some friends and our children at a Rhode Island beach. One day, looking for a break from seaside activities, we researched local attractions. We found a relatively small and inexpensive theme park called The Enchanted Forest, which seemed like a good kiddie park for our children who ranged in ages from 2 to 6. To this day, I count that trip to The Enchanted Forest as one of the 10 greatest experiences of my life.
Pulling into the parking lot we were treated to a large Humpty Dumpty sign that presided over the entrance. Humpty had clearly seen better days. His weathered visage betrayed some hard living, with maniacal eyes indicating likely long-term cocaine addiction. Falling off the wall was the least of his concerns.
This dicey introduction was in no way going to dissuade our intrepid group. We paid and got our hands stamped. I looked down at my stamp and immediately noticed that it read “Enchanted Forrest” – like Forrest Gump, not like a wooded area (or the name on everything else there). The powers that be apparently felt it was not worth the effort to correct this editorial glitch.
The interior of the park was not visible until you paid and moved through the entrance – a decision of raw tactical brilliance by the owners of the place. The very first enchanted object that we saw was a mangled, rusted through US Postal truck. Was this a failed exhibit, maybe an educational piece on the dangers of tetanus? Or perhaps a poor postal employee had met his fate at the hands of the amped-up Humpty cult?
The first ride we encountered was a mini roller coaster that looked tame and was being operated by a responsible looking woman in her 60s (we’ll call her Helga). We lined up to wait our turn and noticed Helga’s running self-talk. The little we could make out from her quiet serrated voice included “Where the hell is my replacement?” followed by “I need a cigarette bad” and finally “I’m gonna kill me some kids.” When Helga looked up and caught our horrified expressions, her lips pursed and she gave a dismissive, don’t-worry-about-it wave and rasped “Not yours.”
Helga explained that a busload of kids had come earlier and had been running around the park, screaming and generally interrupting the sense of peace that this Wes Craven kiddie park was going for. “I’m sure your kids are much nicer” she relented, as she scanned the four little faces before her. I’m pretty sure I saw doubt in her eyes when she caught sight of my friend’s younger daughter (she’d have been right about that one). But, OK, as long as you just want to kill other children, not ours, we’re cool. We put out kids on the ride. Helga was replaced by a teenage girl when our kids were mid-ride and had her cigarette lit before she was three strides away from her post.
Dioramas were a calling card of the Enchanted Forest. You would walk through a tiny shack and see some hastily thrown together objects behind Plexiglas. This would lead to a fun guessing game of “What fucking nursery rhyme is this supposed to represent?” Cinderella was a pretty easy one, with a disheveled Barbie doll in a partially torn gown and one shoe looking like she had narrowly evaded date rape. My personal favorite was a broken down hovel containing three plastic bowls that I recognized as being two for a dollar at KMart half-filled with sand on a broken toy table. No character figures. No designs on the walls. We settled on Goldilocks and the Three Bears, thinking these were the bowls of porridge. Could have been almost anything.
We ambled through the small park, laid out on a circle not much larger than a running track in circumference. Every other ride had a sign that said “closed for maintenance”, but no one was working on them as far as we could tell. Dioramas gradually descended in quality to the point where we would walk in to see completely empty display cases.
The coup de grace was the final ride in the loop. As we spied it in the distance, we saw that it was clearly an inflatable slide, but could not make out the theme Kids were clearly having fun on it, and how could anything be more innocuous than a slide? As we approached, there was muttering among the adults in our crew, “What is that?” and “Can’t tell what that nursery rhyme is” and “looks like a boat.” That’s when one of us glimpsed the title: “The Titanic.” This slide apparently represented the Titanic splitting apart, allowing young children to gleefully slide to their icy death in the North Atlantic.
The park sadly shuttered its doors just weeks after our visit (who could have seen that coming?). I’ve been to Disney and several Six Flags parks since, but The Enchanted Forest remains my favorite amusement park ever.