Toot-Toot Tootie Goodbye: Monkey Business in the Enchanted Forest

Posted: August 28, 2019 in Uncategorized

“You want a piece of me?” asks the Gingerbread man

Once upon a time in suburban Maryland an amusement park was born and an amusement park died.

The Enchanted Forest swung open its doors for the first time on August 15th, 1955, an oasis of whimsy just outside Ellicot City.
Specializing in low-voltage thrills, the park’s theme can best be described as a torrid ménage à trois between Mother Goose and (both) Brothers Grimm;
attractions included a castle, Cinderella’s pumpkin coach and a replica of Hansel and Gretel’s candy-bedecked cottage.
The Enchanted Forest was wholesome family entertainment writ large,
a monument to the earnest ethos of Middle America during the Eisenhower era.

Circa 1955

A good time was had by all, or by most, anyway; as the Enchanted Forest’s existence neared the three-decade mark the novelty began to erode and a savvier generation of tots proved less susceptible to the park’s resolutely vanilla offerings.
Vandalism was an ongoing issue, with acid-tripping teens breaking in after-hours and setting nuisance fires,
stealing anything and everything they could manage to drag or carry away.
As the crowds thinned and aggravations mounted the Harrison family, sole proprietors of the park since its inception, resolved to shutter the gates forever;
although the site was briefly available for private functions the Enchanted Forest ceased regular operations at the close of the 1987 summer season.

Years passed and the park became dilapidated, foliage creeping up and encasing the attractions in a leaf-strewn embrace. The Enchanted Forest became a famed location for urban explorers,
intrepid souls who gained entry by hook or by crook and then posted evidence of their exploits on a new invention: the worldwide web.
Eventually townsfolk began to say the site was haunted, although the creepy phenomena cited—strange noises and inexplicable lights—were always relayed second- or third-hand.

circa 2000

As infamous as the park became, there is one fact which is always overlooked; the Enchanted Forest was linked to a double homicide, a crime which remains unsolved to this day.
But even before the double murder the park was the scene of a suspicious death;
if the Enchanted Forest was haunted—skeptical of supernatural manifestations though I may be—I know exactly whose spirit gamboled through the ruins as the cloak of darkness fell.

Enter the dragon—the Komodo dragon, that is. In the closing years of the 1970s an exhibit dubbed the Maryland Reptile Institute opened on Enchanted Forest grounds;
operated by herpetologist ‘Safari’ Sam Seashole, the attraction featured an array of exotic animals with an emphasis on—as the name suggests—snakes and other reptiles.
The union, unfortunately, was doomed; area residents deplored the presence of venomous creatures in their midst, terrified a homicidal serpent might break out and embark on a killing spree.
(In modern parlance: “I have had it with these motherfucking snakes at this motherfucking theme park.”)
The Harrison family and park management were reportedly dissatisfied as well;
Reptile Institute access required an additional fee and failed to earn as much profit as anticipated.
All parties agreed the arrangement wasn’t working and in 1980 Sam Seashole began the process of removing his menagerie from the premises.

As is appropriate at a fairy tale park, what happened next was an homage to the poisoned apple in Snow White.
On September 23rd, 1980 Sam Seashole arrived at the Institute mid-move and found one of his charges, a forty-five-pound baboon, writhing in his cage in mortal agony;
despite medical intervention Tootie could not be saved.
A hamadryas ape, Tootie was seven and a half years old—baboons in captivity can live well into their thirties—and had been raised by Seashole since birth, more pet than zoological specimen.
Dr. Stuart Myers, a local veterinarian who treated Tootie, told a UPI reporter the baboon’s convulsions were a “classical symptom of strychnine poisoning.”
The Howard County Police Department subsequently opened an animal cruelty investigation;
only a single clue could be located—an empty banana peel near Tootie’s open-air enclosure.

According to the Baltimore Sun, the errant banana husk gave credence to Dr. Myers’ assertion of foul play.
Primates, as Institute staff would know, consume bananas in their entirety, peel included—the empty skin nearby indicated the perpetrator had needlessly peeled the fruit,
ostensibly to dip it in poison, before placing it in the baboon’s cage.
And it just so happens that Tootie, as unlikely as this may seem, had a mortal enemy: Enchanted Forest manager Joseph Selby, commonly known to park denizens as “Uncle Joe.”
As Sam Seashole told the Baltimore Sun, Selby had expressed “considerable animosity” toward the Reptile Institute in general and towards poor Tootie in particular.

A perfect attraction for children too young to understand the meaning of the term “Freudian”

Five days later, on October 3rd, 1980 Joseph Selby, age fifty-five, was charged with cruelty to animals, a crime punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000 or imprisonment not to exceed ninety days or both.
Motive aside, the case against Uncle Joe was far from airtight;
although he’d been present at the park when Tootie fell ill so were several other employees.
Selby had worked at the park for nearly twenty-six years, a model employee who failed to take so much as a single sick day; he had never before been arrested.
And there was also a near-insurmountable impediment to conviction: despite Tootie’s strychnine-specific symptoms there was no forensic evidence the ape had actually been poisoned.

According to the Baltimore Sun Sam Seashole had initially balked at subjecting his beloved pet to an autopsy;
Tootie’s remains were then put in deep freeze at Dr. Myers’ veterinary office, and it was unclear how long poison would linger postmortem in primates in subzero temperatures.
The following month, on November 4th, the Howard County prosecutor announced the charges against Selby had been dropped;
the Harrison family evicted the last of the serpents from their personal Garden of Eden and peace—for a while, at least—again reigned o’er the land.

Six months later, on March 6th, 1981 a female motorist driving past 12102 Frederick Road in Ellicott City spotted a house ablaze. As this was the pre-cellphone era she alerted a nearby neighbor—who happened to be the chief of the West Friendship Fire Department—-who summoned help at approximately 9:40pm.
The fire brigade arrived too late;
inside the home first responders found the bodies of Enchanted Forest manager Joseph Selby and his fifty-one-year-old wife Betty. The couple had succumbed to to smoke inhalation.

The Selbys

Investigators soon determined the fire had been deliberately set. According to a spokesperson for the Howard County Police Department,
the inferno was “incendiary” in nature and had started in a front room of the single-story residence while the Selbys slept in the back.
Investigators have never revealed the means by which the arsonist gained entry to the Selby home, although door-locking was far from de rigueur in 1980s suburbia.
The most singular aspect of the crime scene, the arsonist’s cheeky calling card, was located on the Selbys’ porch;
a child-sized fire engine had been parked just outside the front door.
The Selbys’ children were adults at the time;
investigators have never publicly identified the mini-fire engine’s owner and its presence at the scene—prominently displayed, nearly blocking the entryway—remains a mystery.

Despite the best efforts of the Howard County Police Department the motive for the Selby slayings has never been established;
Ellicot City was experiencing a spate of random arsons at the time,
and it’s possible the residence was chosen by chance, perhaps due to its proximity to the local Fire Chief.
The female motorist who first spotted the blaze departed the scene and has never been identified;
it’s unknown if she noticed anyone or anything amiss in the area aside from the fire.
Although a $20,000 reward was offered—quite a substantial sum in the 1980s—nearly four decades later the murders of Joseph and Betty Selby remain unsolved.

All good things must end: the Enchanted Forest, a crumbling monument to lost innocence, no longer exists.
In 2004 conservationists began rehabbing the attractions and reinstalling them at nearby Elioak Farm,
where they are again accessible—sans ghosts—to fairy tale enthusiasts of all ages.
Aside from a brief mention on the Howard County cold case website it seems the Selby murders have receded into memory; in the definitive account of the park’s glory days—-The Enchanted Forest: Memories of Maryland’s Storybook Park—the Selbys’ fate, which is ascribed not to homicide but to a “house fire,” rates only a single mention.

The Enchanted Forest may be gone but nearly forty years later the central questions of the three park-linked deaths remain: did Joseph Selby kill Tootie, despite the state’s failure to prosecute?
And if this is the case was Tootie’s death related in any way to the Selby slayings six months later?

Like fairy tales, some mysteries are eternal; but in the matter of the Enchanted Forest deaths I happen to have a theory.
Maybe the strange sounds emanating from the Enchanted Forest were the howls of Tootie’s ghost, driven mad with fury at the injustice of his untimely death.
And maybe—stay with me here—six months after his murder Tootie-from-beyond-the-grave hopped in a teeny fire engine, a Molotov cocktail riding shotgun, and pedaled to the Selby residence intent on revenge.
Is this theory demented? Absolutely;
but there’s one fact which is inviolate, and older than all the fairy tales in existence—nobody who hurts an animal deserves to live happily ever after. The end.

The last thing you see before you die

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