CARBONDALE, Ill.--It has been many years since I have worn armor, grabbed a battle axe, stormed a castle, and watched my hit points drain away. My childhood came rushing back as I stood just inside the gates of the Jeremy "Boo" Rochman Memorial Park in Carbondale, Ill. I strapped on my breast plate, loosed my broadsword from its hilt, and let out a mighty battle cry... in my mind.
I'm on a detour from the Geek's Guide to Route 66. I veered off the path somewhere around St. Louis and wandered into the welcome arms of Carbondale, where weathered farmers surreptitiously check their iPhones at the local bar. That's my kind of town.
This park on the outskirts along Giant City Road is one of those places you hear called a best-kept secret. It wasn't secret to the dozen kids climbing over the head of a dragon and romping through the castle walls. Wizards battle on green grass, Pegasus rears up from the brush, and gargoyles guard the ramparts. This is Dungeons & Dragons come to life.
There is a sad story behind the magical kingdom, though. Local investment mogul Barrett Rochman built the park as a memorial to his teenage son. Jeremy "Boo" Rochman, an avid Dungeons & Dragons fan, died more than a decade ago in a car accident nearby. According to an article in the Southern Illinoisan, some of the statues in the park are based on painted figures found among Boo's possessions.
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Your average Society for Creative Anachronisms member would look right at home in Boo's park. So would Xena, warrior princess. I feel pretty well at home, too. It's eerily similar to how Dungeons & Dragons looked in my mind's eye all those years ago. The perfect storm would be for a hard-core D&D devotee with young kids to stop by. Fun for the whole family!
Now, you'll have to excuse me. The Dungeon Master is calling. There's a good sorcerer trapped on the second level of the castle at Boo Rochman Park. It's going to be a long, hard-fought campaign, but I'm ready to fight the good fight one more time.