Things to Do

The Three-Day FantasyWood Festival Transforms a Maryland Farm Into a Magical Forest

Kids can travel through time and space and ride a 30-foot dragon. But look out for zombies!

A crowd of onlookers watching a sword fight at FantasyWood in 2019. Photo courtesy of ManneqArt.

A coven of witches boiling small children in a giant cauldron. Zombies skulking around, looking for spare body parts. Colorful mermaids splashing in a tank. These are just a few of the fantastical scenes you can see at a 400-acre farm in the middle of Howard County during Memorial Day weekend. For those three days only, the Living Farm Heritage Museum (12985 Frederick Road, West Friendship, Maryland), which usually hosts educational nature walks and antique car shows, will transform into a magical forest for the FantasyWood Festival.

Costume designer Lee Andersen, who runs Columbia, Maryland–based arts and education nonprofit ManneqArt, created the festival to inspire creativity in the local community.”We’re just looking for people to take a deep breath of fresh air and just be about in a world that’s completely away from real life,” she says.

Together with the Inner Arbor Trust, which manages Merriweather Park, and the Circus Siren Pod mermaid performance group, Andersen held the first FantasyWood Festival at the arts and culture park  in 2019. It was a hit, with about 5,000 people showing up. Andersen wanted to make the festival an annual event, but Covid happened, resulting in its cancellation in both 2020 and 2021.

Instead of letting all of the materials from the festival sit around without anyone to enjoy them, she moved all of them into an old supermarket and turned it into a 15,000-square-foot art installation called DoodleHatch. Like FantasyWood, kids can enter a world of fairy tales and ancient myths. They can learn about space at the Intergalactic Space Station, jump on a giant’s bed, or take art classes in creature sculpting or script writing. People can even donate and create their own art to submit to the gallery.

While DoodleHatch was a solution to a seemingly temporary problem, it’s not going anywhere. But the art inside the gallery will be used for this year’s FantasyWood, along with a bunch of new installations. There will be a Time Fluxator that kids can use to travel through time and space, a 30-foot dragon named Hendrik the Drake that kids can ride (with the risk of being eaten), and a giant pirate ship sent from kids television channel Nick Jr.

To some people, this may seem a bit childish, but FantasyWood isn’t just for kids. Andersen says there will be handsome vampires and ogres serving Bloody Marys and Mudslides for adults looking for a little buzz. Patrons can also grab quick bites from the Swamp Snack Shack that sells ginger cookies made with “fire ants” and “moldy” popcorn. (Relax: Other vendors will offer more identifiable fare like tacos and hamburgers.)

Festivalgoers regardless of age are encouraged to wear costumes of any fantastical being of their choice, whether it’s a thrown-together pirate costume or a full steampunk outfit. The only caveats are that weapons (real or fake) aren’t allowed and that costumes must be appropriate for children. If you don’t have the energy to make your own costume, there will be vendors at FantasyWood selling floral bouquets, tiaras, and other accessories.

A ticket to this magical getaway costs $20, and three-day passes are $60. Children three years and under can enter free of charge, and free parking is available.

The 2022 FantasyWood Festival will take place the Living Farm Heritage Museum (12985 Frederick Road, West Friendship, Maryland) from Saturday, May 28, through Monday, May 30. 

Damare Baker
Research Editor

Before becoming Research Editor, Damare Baker was an Editorial Fellow and Assistant Editor for Washingtonian. She has previously written for Voice of America and The Hill. She is a graduate of Georgetown University, where she studied international relations, Korean, and journalism.