Illinois's Dragons

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If you want to learn about someplace, you can always pick up a textbook. But if you want to get to know a place, you're going to have to dig a little deeper. And what you find there might be a little strange. The Freaky Fifty series will take you on a virtual tour of America to uncover the unusual people, places, things, and events that make this country such a unique place to call home.

This week we’re headed to the Land of Lincoln: Illinois.

There Be Dragons ... in Carbondale?

Carbondale, Illinois is the home of the Salukis of Southern Illinois University. But it’s also home to a couple of ogres, a handful of wizards, numerous knights in shining armor, and a sharp-toothed dragon. If you visit, though, you won’t need a sword and shield. Just bring your imagination to the Jeremy “Boo” Rochman Memorial Park, also known as Boo Park, the Castle Park, the Dragon Park, or the Dungeons & Dragons park.

Jeremy Rochman was only a teenager in 1993 when he was killed in a car accident just a few hundred feet from his family’s home on Giant City Lodge Road. Jeremy’s father, Barrett Rochman, bought a nearby property and built a park inspired by his son’s love of D&D.

The centerpiece of Boo’s park is a labyrinthine wood and stone castle, complete with secret passages, lofty turrets, and ugly gargoyles, populated by statues of knights who watch over the center courtyard. On the surrounding grounds are picnic areas that double as dragons’ lairs, wizards casting Magic Missiles, a life-sized unicorn and Pegasus, and a giant, slumbering dragon that kids can climb on. All of the statues were made by hand by students at the university or other local artists, and many are based on the pewter figurines that Jeremy used playing his favorite fantasy role-playing game.

While parents and kids alike are welcome to enjoy the park, the Rochman family asks that you please leave your catapult at home.

Have the scoop on an unusual person, place or event in your state? Tell me about it on Twitter (@spacemonkeyx) and maybe I’ll include it in a future edition of Strange States!

See all entries in the Strange States series here.