H.L. Mencken's father bought the Italianate-style brick row house on Hollins St. in Union Square when Mencken was two. Mencken only lived away from this address during the five years he was married to Goucher College English professor Sara Haardt. When she died of tuberculosis, Mencken, then 55, moved back to his familiar birth home, where he lived the rest of his life with his brother August.
An avid reader, Mencken had a library card before he was nine. By the time he reached high school, he claimed to be "one of the most assiduous customers that the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore has had in its whole history." Mencken gave much of his libraryand other household ephemerato the Pratt and in his later years stopped by the library regularly to make sure that they were cataloguing it to his liking, sometimes even taking over the job.
Often referred to as "The Voltaire of his time," Mencken spoke of Baltimore as "a perfect lady." According to many, it was one of the few nice things he said about anything. He coined the term "booboisie" to describe the American public. He wrote a popular, though caustic, column about local issues in The Baltimore Sun and published numerous books of in-depth studies and commentaries on various aspects of American lifestyle, including religion, democracy, women, and prejudices. His wit and humor earned him frequent comparison with Mark Twain. His diatribes against American culture prompted Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II to send him an autographed photo. Journalist Walter Lippmann declared him "the most powerful personal influence" in America.
Seeking truth and fighting censorship, Mencken used his influence to promote new writersSinclair Lewis, Joseph Conrad, Theodore Dreiser, James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, and Upton Sinclair among them. He also recommended the works of African-American writers to his publisher, Alfred Knopf. Mencken's influence was so great that he is said to have convinced Clarence Darrow to defend John Scopes in the famous "Scopes Monkey Trial" that debated the teaching of evolution.
He loved his home and garden. Saturday nights usually found Mencken at home, hosting a group of friends who played music for their own entertainment and engaged in philosophical debates. When he was a boy, Mencken and his brother kept their pony, Frank, in a stable in the back yard. Years later, he reminisced about Frank putting his head through the dining room window to eat a bowl of homemade ice cream. As an adult, Mencken converted the yard to a garden containing a pergola and a sundial, surrounded by a brick wall in which he embedded a death mask of Ludwig van Beethoven.
Places of Interest:
- Mencken's home: 1524 Hollins Street, across from Union Square Park
- Mencken's residence during his marriage to Sara Haardt: 704 Cathedral St.
- Parkville High School, which Mencken attended: 2600 Putty Hill Ave.
- Enoch Pratt Free Library (which includes the H.L. Mencken Room andin the Maryland Rooma collection of his ephemera): 400 Cathedral St.
- Mencken's graveLoudon Park Cemetery3620 Wilkens Ave.