Campouts and Corpses in an Urban Park

Exploring an infamous wilderness in West Baltimore.


I haven't listened to Serial, Sarah Koenig's much-praised podcast exploring the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee in Baltimore. But I have been to Leakin Park, where Lee's body was found, and I enjoyed Rona Kobell's article in Slate today about the place, which has long had a reputation as a corpse-dump. (Full disclosure: Kobell is my wife, and I have a cameo in her story.) Here's an excerpt:

Bunk and Lester in Leakin Park.

When I joined [The Baltimore Sun] in 2000, most reporters had to take a turn on the night desk, usually under the tutelage of one David Michael Ettlin. A consummate rewrite man, Ettlin had an exhaustive knowledge of Baltimore ephemera. Three points became clear quickly: Most Baltimore cops pronounce it "Lincoln" even though it is L-E-A-K-I-N; you could pronounce it however you wanted but you better spell it right; and dead bodies often wound up in Leakin Park. Ettlin recently lamented to me that today's murderers don't care enough to wrap up the bodies in rugs and dump them in the park. These days, he said, they just leave them where they lay.

And, on the more positive side:

Come closer, I have something to show you.
Rona Kobell

Molly Gallant is a Baltimore native who worked on outdoor programs in Alaska, then returned to her city determined to get Baltimoreans off the couch. Before long, Gallant had a job as an outdoor recreation programmer with the city parks department, taking locals kayaking in the polluted Inner Harbor, biking around city reservoirs, and hiking parks under the moonlight. Her co-workers applauded the boundary-pushing—until three years ago, when she organized an overnight campout in Leakin Park. Then, she said, they declared she was crazy. Even the normally unflappable Gallant, who was raised to believe Leakin Park was "somewhere you did not want to be," began to wonder if she was pushing her luck.

"There were tons of jokes," Gallant recalled. "Are we going to be that news story, 10 bodies found in Leakin Park?"

When they all woke up alive, Gallant decided it was time to get the rest of Baltimore in on the fun. She worked with volunteers to shut down access roads that, in Gallant's words, "were screaming, 'dump me here.'"

I can't speak to the park's charms as a campground, but in the daytime it really is a nice place. (I especially like the Blair Witch–esque art that's been placed along some of the trails, such as the winged crocodile head pictured above.) To read the rest of the article, go here.

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  1. If she doesn’t take your name, can you really claim her as your wife?

    1. If she took his name, what would be used as an identifier for him?

    2. She works for Slate. I’m surprised Jesse didn’t take her name.

    3. Speaking of urban areas, there is a great article today by Joel Kotkin in the Daily Beast about The Progressives’ War on Suburbia.

      It’s a nice takedown of the Progressive/real-estate developers alliance to force high-density ‘smart growth’ and eliminate suburban lifestyles, and how that is a losing political strategy.

      Please remember C. Anacreon at hat-tip time, thanks!

      1. There’s an urban renewal program in East Baltimore that started in 2003 and billions of dollars has been poured into it. It’s a complete failure. You can’t live there, it’s dangerous as hell. Billions of fucking dollars. I could have taken that money and some bulldozers and raised that mofo to the damn ground and then we’d still have to build a 100 ft tall electrical fence with razor wire on top to keep it safe from the surrounding apocalypse zone. As long as democrats are in charge of these cities with their generational welfare to keep people dependent and poor on their plantation, nothing is ever going to change.

  2. But I have been to Leakin Park

    What in the name of bejeebus where you doing in a park west of Woodlawn? Do you not value your life at all?

    1. Obviously participating in a conspiracy.

    2. I won’t even drive on most of the streets in West Baltimore, let alone walk around.

      1. Go to the corner of Pennsylvania and North. Get out. Walk around. You’ll be fine.

        1. You do it and send me an investigative report on how that went.

          1. Ever go to Leon’s Pig Pen?

            1. No. I’m assuming that I don’t want to go.

              I was in Pig Town once though. That was sort of a weird neighborhood, where you had one street with boarded up row homes and across the street completely renovated row homes with people living in them. It wasn’t far from Orioles Park.

              1. My BIL had heard that Leon’s has the best ribs anywhere. So he gathered up his courage and went there. He walked in, ordered a dozen (or whatever, I have no idea how that meat stuff works), and the girl behind the counter looked him up and down, noted that he is extremely white, and said, “That will take 20 minutes and you don’t want to wait.”

                He left without the ribs, but with his body intact.

                1. I can just imagine. Not sure what he was thinking.

                  1. He was thinking, “MMMM, tasty ribs!”

                    Willie is a bit Aspergers.

                    1. I’ll just grill my own ribs out here on my deck, where it’s safe. I’ve been getting some pork ribs at the Asian market and marinating them in the Stubbs pork marinade. It can’t get much better than that.

                    2. Not safe here- you could get frostbite doing that.

                    3. Where do you live?

                      Frostbite in Balmer? Hah! I grill out all year here. I lived in the upper midwest for 15 years, this is a tropical paradise compared to there.

                    4. North of Chicago, about halfway to Milwaukee. 9 degrees out this morning.

    3. And sorry, I mixed up my directions. It’s east of Woodlawn. if it were west of Woodlawn it would be a little more ok, but most areas west of there going toward the city are definite no go zones.

      1. Gdamit! East! FUCKING NO EDIT BUTTON!

      2. That starts getting you closer to Randallstown, which is a ghetto-in-training.

        1. Yes, the hood has stretched all the way out to Milford Mill and Randallstown now. But the area off of North Avenue west of the city is a fucking nightmare.

  3. I think Leakin Park is not west of Woodlawn, but more like south (says the guy who grew up near Park Circle).

    So, Jesse, your wife writes for Slate? I would probably keep that factoid quiet.

    1. Southeast, actually.

    2. “Rona Kobell is a staff writer for the Chesapeake Bay Journal and the co-producer of Midday on the Bay on WYPR Radio.”

      She’s only got one article on Slate apparently.

    3. So, Jesse, your wife writes for Slate? I would probably keep that factoid quiet.

      Hey, I had a piece there once too.

      1. I would also keep that quiet or we’ll start calling you “Amanda.”

    4. It’s east of Woodlawn, I just corrected myself above. I know the city very well, most areas between Woodlawn and the City are very bad. Some of the worst neighborhoods in the country are in West Baltimore. Woodlawn itself is very sketchy, but get east of there and it gets bad very quickly until you get all the way to the UM campus. And then it’s still really shitty to the immediate north. North Avenue is scary as fuck at night.

      1. When I was 17 and indestructible, I used to go to North and Charles every weekend evening for a concert (The Famous Ballroom). I look back now and wonder how I survived.

        1. I always think about Charles street as being a decent area. I guess that far North I don’t really know. A ways west of there though on North is definitely scary.

          I got lost one time driving in Baltimore and wound up South of North Avenue trying to get back to 40 so I knew where I was at. It scared my wife a lot and she’s from Brazil and has been to the favelas before.

          1. Charles and North is NOT the same as Charles Village. Trust me on that.

            1. I trust you. I’ve never seen a good area on North Ave and I’m not going looking for one.

  4. my classmate’s step-mother makes $76 hourly on the laptop . She has been out of work for 5 months but last month her pay check was $21931 just working on the laptop for a few hours. visit the website….


  5. This is why we roll with the punches.

  6. Just saw this. It’s actually pronounced more like “linkin” than “Lincoln.”

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