I really love this park near where I work. Though rather unassuming (if not looking for it, you might miss it) Wyman Park Dell is a picturesque public green space in the heart of Baltimore. Nestled between the Charles Village neighborhood to the east and Remington to the west, and just south of the Johns Hopkins campus, the somewhat paisley-shaped Dell is a small but pleasant break from the urban grid. On a map, it looks like a small raindrop disturbing the otherwise regimented street layout of the surrounding area. I've been eating my lunch in Wyman Park Dell for the past year now. It’s a great way to experience the turning of the seasons.
My favorite bench is oddly situated off a dirt path a few steps down from Art Museum Drive, across from the Baltimore Museum of Art, and a stone’s throw away from the now bare pedestal that until very recently supported a Confederate monument depicting the first meeting of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, a so-called double equestrian statue, which apparently is very rare. A few weeks after the monument was removed after a woman was killed during a protest in Charlottesville, an NPR journalist interviewed me while I ate my lunch by the vandalized plinth. In her article, the reporter included but one of my points, which really had nothing to do with my views regarding the controversial statue. Not that any of that matters anymore. I don't miss the monument and its absence does nothing to diminish my love of Wyman Park Dell. Now the park is less menacing to people who were negatively affected by the unfortunate memorial, which should never have been there in the first place. A sign, which stood nearby, explained that the statue was erected in the mid-twentieth century as part of an historical revisionist campaign that sought to whitewash the Civil War. The Union Soldiers and Sailors Monument still stands on the other side of Wyman Park, at the corner of West 29th Street and North Charles.
Last year, two teenagers robbed and stabbed an elderly man in Wyman Park Dell. According to The Baltimore Sun, they made a video of their crime and posted it to Facebook, which is how they were caught. But I never saw anything so heinous in the Dell. Some winos walk through now and then, but they are mostly harmless. Occasionally, one is occupying my favorite bench, so I move on and sit elsewhere. Jim, a schizophrenic homeless man who frequents Wyman Park, can often be heard yelling at the wind or muttering to himself as he circles the Dell. He always seems to remember who I am, and will stop to chat with me from time to time. Though he can be very calm and lucid, Jim will invariably betray his condition. One day, he began soberly discoursing on the history of the computer and ended up rambling on about an “intergalactic conspiracy to control our minds.”
I tend to eat my lunch at the same bench, which sits low in a sort of dip, behind a stand of ferns. A nearby plaque explains that the park was designed by the Olmsted brothers, sons of the famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. The plaque further explains that several of the stones and trees in the Dell were placed there as an art installation inspired by Joseph Beuys, who planted 7,000 oak trees over several years in Kassel, Germany, each with an accompanying basalt stone. Now, Frederick Law Olmsted and Joseph Beuys: that's an odd coupling to be sure. One, the U.S. park designer and early activist of the conservation movement who designed Central Park in Manhattan and the Emerald Necklace in Boston; the other, a German sculptor and performance artist artist who flew for the Nazis during World War II and was supposedly shot down over Crimea and saved by Tartars who rescued him by swaddling him in fat and felt, materials which would later become mainstays in his postwar art practice. And while this origin story has been debunked as pure fabrication by the modern art historian Benjamin Buchloh, it strikes me as interesting in the context of Wyman Park Dell, where until a few months ago stood the double-equestrian Confederate monument, itself the embodiment of grandiose myth-making.
These thoughts circle round my head while eating my lunch. I ponder the various media and myths that inhabit such a liminal space. And yet, even if these historical traces were removed, I would still love Wyman Park Dell. There's just something about it that goes beyond facts and fabrications. There's a larger truth in the Dell that transcends the minutiae of the material world. As mentioned before, my favorite bench sits alone, set off from the others, along a dirt path, behind a stand of ferns. To get to this bench, you have to descend a small stairway and down a slight decline or dip. The bench faces out towards a busy road, which, due to the dip, cannot be seen. Traffic may be heard but remains concealed. This gives you the feeling of being somehow both in and outside the park and enables you to see but not be seen. There’s something rather enchanting about this, making you feel as though you’re in some other realm. At the end of the day, this is why I love Wyman Park Dell.