Celebrating the disturber of the peace H.L. Mencken Day: New uses should be studied for the writer's Union Square rowhouse.

September 21, 1996

MOST OF THE favorite haunts of H.L. Mencken are long gone. But the curmudgeon newspaperman's writings live on 40 years after his death, rekindling old controversies and triggering new ones. Anyone who doubts that should stop by the Pratt Central Library from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and listen to the debates of the annual Mencken Day.

H.L. Mencken was an amazing man. He seemed to know personally everyone who counted in America in his day and corresponded with an impressive number of movers and shakers. He stayed in his native Baltimore by choice -- writing for The Evening Sun -- even though many of his wide-ranging other editing activities would have been easier to conduct from New York. His interests were incredibly broad, ranging from the American language to a ceaseless fascination with women and all forms of religion, including quackery.

Those who visit Mencken's Union Square rowhouse at 1546 Hollins Street will see that the writer was more than a wordsmith. He and his brother, August, built a brick wall around their backyard garden that today is quite as sound and solid as it was more than half a century ago.

As Mencken fans gather at the Pratt today, they ought to start mulling over the future mission of the Mencken House, which is operated by the Baltimore City Life Museums. Shouldn't the Mencken residence be more than a sterile museum? Shouldn't it be like the Columbus (Ohio) home of James Thurber, which is a museum but also has writers in residence, carrying on the humorist's work?

Turning the Mencken House into a headquarters for an active writers' program would probably require a partnership with one of the area academic institutions. But it is an idea that has compelling arguments on its side. A Mencken writers' program would be the proper way to pay homage to a Baltimorean who was read all over the world and made the city famous far beyond its borders.

Pub Date: 9/21/96

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