Hansel and Gretel – Lost in The (Enchanted) Forest

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The holidays are coming, and soon you’ll begin to smell warm baking sweets wafting in the air.  After your delicious Thanksgiving meal, you too will want to stuff yourself with pies and cakes. But watch out – if you eat too much, you might be offered a long walk deep into the forest. Its starting to get dark early, and it’s very easy to get lost in those woods.

Such is the tale of Hansel and his sister Gretel, whose father reluctantly lured his children into the woods after being convinced by his new wife that the family could not afford to feed four mouths. Hansel, over-hearing the evil plan, cleverly decided to drop a path of breadcrumbs along the way so that the children could easily find their way back home. Poor Hansel, he didn’t account for the birds. On a night a lot like tonight, and after many days of wandering with no food, they had grown very desperate and hungry. The two children could hardly believe their eyes when they came upon a house made entirely of gingerbread, held together with icing, candies, and sweets. Just a little nibble won’t hurt anyone, right?

The Enchanted Forest in Old Forge New York opened in 1956, and at first glance,many would assume that the gingerbread house was built early in the park’s history. In the late 50s and early 60s story parks were booming and the Enchanted Forest was expanding attractions rapidly. In actuality, work on Hansel and Gretel’s house didn’t begin until 1981, and due to the complexity and size it took approximately 4 years to complete. The final cherry was put on top in time for the 1985 season, which means that next summer the house will be celebrating its 30th Anniversary! The Gingerbread house was designed by Jack Molesky who was the park artist for many years, and the level of detail and artistry are stunning to behold. The dripping rooftoops and giant candies really do look good enough to eat!

As you walk through Storybook Lane, the path winds through the ubiquitous tall trees of the Adirondacks, and when you’re deep in the woods you begin to feel as though you are lost too.  Once you reach the end of the path, the first thing you’ll encounter are the tall candy canes and lollipops among the trees, and just beyond those, you’ll catch your first views of the Gingerbread house. Plucked from a child’s dream; surreal, and out of place in nature, the house has dripping ice cream doorways, shingles built from frosted cookies, and candy cane frames. Chocolates, cookies, candy, and pretzels decorate the awnings. Its not until you look into the windows, that you realize the real treat is inside the house!

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As you approach the ice cream door, there is a tiny step for small kids to easily peek inside an open window. I can’t help thinking if this wasn’t designed deliberately to allow smaller children an opportunity to assert their independence. Surely looking in this window is a rite of passage for children eager to prove their bravery to their siblings and parents. Kids can look inside without an adult’s help. In fact, as a full grown adult I had to kneel if I wanted to look inside. I heard mom’s say “What’s in there? What’s inside?” But this wasn’t built for mom and dad. From its bright candy exterior, to the creepiness that lurks inside, the design accomplishes what the house in the story set out to do, to lure in and ultimately frighten children.

There is no sugar coating what’s behind the glass, the sweet candy house quickly turns sinister when you catch your first glimpse of an innocent Hansel held prisoner in the  back of the house, with a forkful of spaghetti and meatballs (still grasping a lollipop in his left hand). In the main room- a kitchen and across the gingham tablecloth, a scowling witch stands watch over a feast she has prepared with the intent of fattening up the lost children.

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Her green face, black pointed hat, and robe are inspired by Margaret Hamilton’s best known role in the Wizard of Oz. The archetypal pointed hat wearing witch with the green face did not exist prior to 1939, and even her angular features are reminiscent of the Wicked Witch of the West’s.

This witch appears to be deep in thought, trying to decide the best way  to cook these two little morsels that have wandered into her house. Hansel’s plans don’t always work out, and he doesn’t look smart enough to hatch a scheme to turn the tables on her in this scene either, so we’ll just have to assume that the story ends well. Maybe Gretel’s got the brains in the family.

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The exterior of house was very well maintained and it likely gets a fresh coat of paint regularly. It appears to have gone through some changes over the years, but I was unable to locate any other shots of the interior in my research. (If you’ve got any, I’d love to see more!) I was able to locate a few older images of the exterior. The first shows a very natural earth tone house with biscuits and donuts. This is a vintage postcard and I’m not convinced that this is an actual photograph. It could be a miniature artist’s rendering.  Perhaps it is a model created for concept or promotional artwork.

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Another photo shows a dazzling 1980s rainbow color scheme with bright candy store reds, yellows, and greens as opposed to the current mint green and pastel pink palette used today. This paint job is straight out of Rainbow Brite’s or Strawberry Shortcake’s colorful world.

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This house became an unexpected favorite of mine when I found it at the park, and I had to be pulled away from it, like most of the kids there. It’s a little off the beaten path, and can’t be seen immediately. I didn’t expect to fall in love with it, but there was something so wonderful about the mean spirited nature of the story baked into a sweet pink candy house, that I wanted to stay for dinner too.

I hope you’ve been paying attention. If you decide to go out walking in the forest, just remember those breadcrumbs won’t do you any good. Please, be very careful whose house you decide to nibble on, or you could get swallowed up by the woods on your way home…or something worse. And if your host keeps filling your plate this Thanksgiving, make sure you’re not the only one eating. She might still be preparing her feast.

 

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