FROM THE RCA DOG TO THE ENCHANTED FOREST
Iconic Maryland Creations: The Man Behind Enchanted Forest, Frontier Town, and the Giant RCA Dog
BY DANA COHEN, Preservation Maryland
Once upon a time, in 1955 to be exact, the Enchanted Forest, a nursey rhyme-themed amusement park, opened in Ellicott City, Maryland. The park was owned by the Harrison family, but the magical pieces – like Willie the Whale, the Old Woman’s Shoe, and Cinderella’s Pumpkin Coach – were fabricated by Howard Adler and his team at Adler Display in Baltimore.
Today we’re talking with Howard’s son Ron Adler – who currently serves as president of the local family business – about his father’s legacy and his other iconic creations that live on across the state of Maryland.
Howard graduated from what is now known as the Maryland Institute, College of Art (MICA) and started his career hand lettering signs for drugstores in Baltimore. An “amazing calligrapher,” Howard was an artist and a businessman and began creating window displays for department stores and banks.
Meanwhile, the Harrison family was dreaming up the idea for Enchanted Forest, selling their motel the Belgian Village in eastern Baltimore County to fund the project. Howard, who had become recognized for his artwork and elaborate sculptures like Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin in a bank storefront, was contracted by the Harrison family to bring the vision to life.
In the months leading up to the park’s opening in August 1955, Howard and his 10-person team fabricated the pieces in their shop on Penn Street in Baltimore City. Howard would illustrate the pieces prior to the build, but “he’d create the designs in his head long before he even started,” Ron said.
The characters were constructed in chicken wire, paper mâché, and silastic, a material used prior to fiberglass. Bigger structures and characters were fabricated in the shop and assembled on-site in Ellicott City.
A PRESERVATION VICTORY
Although the park closed in the early 1990s, passionate community members formed the Friends of the Enchanted Forest and in 2004, a preservation victory was achieved when many of the pieces were moved to Clark’s Elioak Farm in Howard County, where they can still be enjoyed today. Ron tells us that Enchanted Forest was the project of which his father was most proud, and he particularly loved the Alice in Wonderland creations.
OTHER ICONIC CREATIONS
If you’re a Maryland local you may have a nostalgic heart for Enchanted Forest (and if you’re a preservationist, you also cheered along as many of the pieces were preserved and restored), but Enchanted Forest wasn’t the only well-known creation from Howard and Adler Display in the 50s and 60s.
Howard, who died in 1988, also built Frontier Town, a western-themed park outside of Ocean City, Md., parts of Hershey Park in Hershey, Pa, as well as the highly recognizable RCA dog, Nipper, who stood at a towering 16 feet and can still be seen in today’s Baltimore skyline atop the Maryland Center for History and Culture.
Adler Display’s original office was located on Penn Street in Baltimore, then moved to 25th Street and, in 2000, moved to its current location in Baltimore County. When a fire broke out at the shop in the 1970s, Howard sadly lost many pieces retained by the company, but Ron was able to share some exclusive photos with us, including one of him and his own son with Willie the Whale in 1985, and again in 2013.
ENCHANTED FOREST PHOTO GALLERY
“AND IF YOU’RE NOT YOUNG AT HEART, GO BACK TO BED”
Ron also provided a black and white recording from the Today Show in 1955 from Enchanted Forest’s opening day, when the park was featured nationally and his father was interviewed.
Today Adler Display largely works with hospitals, schools, and museums, creating timelines and other installations, and with businesses creating elaborate trade show exhibits.
Ron will also be featured on an upcoming episode of PreserveCast, so stay tuned for more about the history of Adler Display