Dungeons and Dragons Park
Sword and sorcery lives in a misty, undefined time, but the dawn of Dungeons & Dragons Park can be pinpointed: August 22, 1993. It was on that date that 19-year-old Jeremy "Boo" Rochman died in a car crash on Giant City Road, only a few hundred feet from his home.
Jeremy's dad, Barrett Rochman, president of an investment firm, bought 3.5 acres across the street from the Rochman house. He wanted to build a memorial park, and decided to give it a Dungeons & Dragons theme because Jeremy loved D&D. He hired sculptors, carvers, and painters to create Tolkien-inspired art in wood, stone, tile, metal, cement. Some of it was modeled on Jeremy's hand-painted D&D miniatures, found among his effects after his death.
(Barrett employed art students from his nearby alma mater, Southern Illinois University, where he was such a significant donor that the school named its softball field for him. We would not be surprised if he was also somehow involved in the university's new Saluki Stadium, home to the pyramid of King Tut the dog.)
Jeremy Rochman Memorial Park -- its official name -- opened to the public in 2005. Its centerpiece is a wood and stone castle that is actually an elaborate jungle gym of tunnels, stairs, and bridges. Hidden doors and passageways invite the small and flexible; most adults are content to walk the battlements. Pennants flutter, gargoyles and knights guard the ramparts. An ogre with a spiked club stands atop the portcullis, while Jeremy's extensive sword collection is bolted to the lofty inner ceiling of one of the towers.
The grounds are a showcase of trees, flowers, and hand-made sculptures of gremlins, gnomes, and other fantasy creatures. A giant, sleepy dragon is a favorite photo-op spot.
Three wizards are frozen in a spell battle. A burial mound bears the slab effigy of a fallen knight. Pegasus and a unicorn stand amid native plantings; goblins leer from the trees while human archers take aim; a three-headed dragon is perched on a picnic gazebo, while a single-headed beast sits atop a fountain of wizard heads spitting water.
In the center of the park stands an tasteful metal trellis sheltering a dedication plaque and portrait of Jeremy Rochman, as well as a donation box for the park's upkeep (It is maintained by volunteers).
The tiny parking lot of Dungeons & Dragons Park suggests that it was built expecting only local visitors, but it has proved to be popular with D&D fans worldwide.
If you visit, remember: it was designed for kids, not adult LARPers, so showing up with your home-made armor and a foam rubber sword is definitely uncool. And although children can scramble up the burial mound and over the head of the big dragon, posted rules explicitly forbid scaling the walls of the castle.
Dungeons & Dragons Park is a place where adults can relive their childhood, but -- like the original game -- the adventures have to be in your mind.