“Druid Hill is such a beautiful park,” wrote the author Upton Sinclair, reminiscing about his childhood in Baltimore. Before he was 10, Sinclair read the entire works of Shakespeare in two weeks in Druid Hill Park, and on a walk in the park one winter night he saw a vision of Shelley “on fire with high poetry.” I take my dog to Druid Hill Park every week, and while I’ve yet to see a vision of Shelley, I’ve seen fox, deer, box turtles, and — yesterday morning — a small rat snake. Is it possible some of these reptiles are sneaking out of the zoo?
The Maryland Zoo, of course, is perhaps the park’s central attraction, though it contains many other places to visit, including the Howard Peter Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens, with its historic Palm House and Orchid Room, both built in 1888. There’s also an 18-hole disc golf course, a circular jogging track round the reservoir complete with exercise machines, a swimming pool in summer and a farmer’s market every Wednesday, from 3:30 to 7:30.
Personally, I prefer the more secluded areas of the park, where other pedestrians are few and far between, especially in the early hours of the morning. The northern end of the park, which apparently contains some of the oldest forest growth in the state of Maryland, is a natural wooded habitat. Here, undergrowth covers a crumbling man-made pond, and the roads are closed to traffic. There’s a graveyard in this area too, the burial ground for the Rogers-Buchanan family, whose graves date back to the 1700s.
Interestingly, this isn’t the only burial ground in the three square kilometers that make up this surprising inner city park. St. Paul’s Cemetery, which has recently been cleaned up by volunteers, sits on a knoll between the pedestrian Safety City and a group of seven tennis courts. In fact, the graveyard comes right up against the edge of one of the courts, which makes for a nice juxtaposition, and reminds us of that in the midst of life — even when practicing our backhand — we are in death. Finally, any fans of “The Wire” remember what happened to the body of Wintell “Little Man” Royce, who was killed by Wee-Bay at the end of the first season? That’s right — it was dumped behind the Reptile House, in Druid Hill Park.