Terre Gorham 0000-00-00 00:00:00
ENCHANTED FOREST FESTIVAL OF TREES Eyes widen, reflecting a sparkly, sugardusted fishing pond where the fish must not be biting because Grandpa Polar Bear is drowsing (and snoring). Heads turn, swiveling beneath a blanket of music cloaked in its holiday finest, and lights — tens of thousands of blinking, winking, twinkling lights — omnipresent. A toy train whistles its way through gingerbread villages while a snowman paints a snowflake on his easel. Hands point. Smiles become grins. Visitors are, in a word, enchanted. This scene of so much ageless wonderment that has touched humankind of all ages for more than half a century arrived from the imagination of George Hettinger, fresh home from his World War II tour. Hettinger was a display director for Goldsmith’s Department Store, a block-long shopping destination bounded by today’s Front, Main, Peabody Place, and Gayoso. Hettinger’s ideas were custom-built into reality and set up in various areas throughout the store each holiday season. They found their permanent home on Goldsmith’s ground floor in the 1960s. The Enchanted Forest, with its spectacular holiday displays that grew bigger and brighter year after year was so full of majesty and grandeur that the Midsouth quickly dubbed it the holiday event to see. In the ’70s, Barry Hartzog, Goldsmith’s visual merchandising director, breathed life into new characters, including storybook and movie favorites, which were built to stand 18 to 24 inches tall — just the right height for children. Crawling through the forest on his hands and knees, Hartzog looked at the forest through the eyes of a child — and the mind of a merchandiser. Goldsmith’s seamstress Olive Gamble stitched new costumes for the characters Each year to keep the wonderment bright and fresh. And every year, in what became a longtime tradition, Visual Department employees hid inside the exhibit and listened to comments the visitors made. No telling how many “oohs” and “aahs” they recorded! Meanwhile, the auxiliary group TWIGS (Together We Initiate Growth and Sharing), was going about its mission of supporting, serving, and raising funds for Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center. Founded in 1978, TWIGS first flexed its fundraising arm by participating in an event where decorated Christmas trees from different charities were auctioned off at a benefit party. That auction raised $250 for Le Bonheur. The following year, six other groups joined TWIGS, and the Christmas tree event turned into the Festival of Trees, raising 10 times the funds it did the year before. The Festival of Trees took root, and each year, it grew and grew, adding a model railroad exhibit, Festival Cafe, a large bazaar, gingerbread village, and more trees along the way — and more money for Le Bonheur. Downtown, the Enchanted Forest wasn’t faring as well. Goldsmith’s was struggling. When the once-venerable store closed, it gently uprooted its Beloved exhibit and donated it to TWIGS in 1990. Two years and much renovation work later, the event’s name changed to The Enchanted Forest Festival of Trees, and the magic — and fundraising — continued inside Agricenter International. Records were broken, attendance grew, and live reindeer pranced. Bigger is not always better, however, and the Agricenter venue was proving to be a challenging one in terms of staffing enough volunteers with the right skills to keep the magic alive for the multi-week event. So in 2002, Enchanted Forest Festival of Trees uprooted again and replanted at its current home, the Pink Palace Museum — a match made in Santaland heaven. Three years later, a new train display had been added to the Gingerbread Village, and the original characters had all been restored. Another special annual event took its place on the calendar that year: Story Time with Santa. Children, dressed in pajamas and slippers, filed into the Enchanted Forest to have cookies and milk while Santa read Christmas stories. Draped in 10,000 feet of garland, populated by 68 animated forest characters scattered among 52 decorated trees and more than 30,000 twinkling lights, the Enchanted Forest is a living fairyland collage dusted with lollipops and peppermint, Christmas stockings and toy soldiers, ruddy elves, teddy bears, candy canes, and, at the end of the trail … Santa, the most popular attraction of all. And like all enchanted forests, this one morphs and changes and is never quite the same from moment to moment. But what remains constant is this holiday attraction’s timeless ability to transform all of us into children again, complete with the wonder And delight found only through the innocent eyes of a child — including those at Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center. Enchanted Forest Festival of Trees is TWIGS’ largest fundraiser, raising — so far — more than $4.1 million for patients in the Midsouth’s leading children’s hospital. Enchanted, indeed. This year — to avoid tiring his reindeer before the big night — Santa choppered in to the Pink Palace on a helicopter. As the whirlybird touched down on the expansive front lawn, a cheer arose from the young and young at heart. More than 1,000 delighted visitors watched Santa make his way into his enchanted home, waving and inviting the excited crowd to come in and play. And who portrays Santa? Why, Santa is Santa, of course! Enchanted Forest Festival of Trees, Pink Palace Museum through Dec. 31, 525- TREE, theenchantedforest.org.
Published by Downtowner Magazine. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://bluetoad.com/article/Discovery901%3A+Enchanted+Forest+Festival+of+Trees/277446/27367/article.html.