Herlong the Carved Dragon – Takoma Park, Maryland - Atlas Obscura

Herlong the Carved Dragon

A benevolent, 16-foot-tall river dragon lives on a suburban lawn. 


The origin story of this impressive wooden creature involves an oak tree hit by lightning, a young girl’s imagination, and a fateful Google search.

Lew Morris, who owns the house on Holly Avenue, was not eager to see the long-suffering, lightning-damaged oak tree in his backyard become a pile of woodchips. An online search for woodcarvers led him to Chesapeake-based artist Jim Calder, Jr, who was up for a challenge. Calder was no stranger to big projects. His great-uncle, the sculptor Alexander Calder, is known worldwide for both his large stationary sculptures and dynamic mobiles, including a 76-foot installation in the East Building of the National Gallery of Art, not too far up the road in Washington, D.C..

After some deliberation as to what would make a suitably striking lawn ornament, Morris and Calder settled on a Chinese-style dragon - a nod to the heritage of Morris’ wife and children. His eldest daughter helped to conceive of the design and gave the dragon his name, “Herlong,” which translates to “river dragon.” Dragons in Chinese culture are fearsome, but considerably less selfish and gold-hoarding than their Western counterparts. This particular lizard is modeled after a benevolent rain-bringing water god, and holds the Earth quite gingerly in his claws.

Herlong stands at 16 feet tall. He was treated with a coat of stain for shine, as well as linseed oil and boric acid to ward off intrigued woodpeckers and termites. The two scars cutting across his chest hark back to the lightning strike. By all accounts, he’s been embraced by his neighbors. (And the backyard denizen isn’t alone - there’s a pair of giant wooden koi fish snaking down a hefty wooden post in the front.)

Know Before You Go

The dragon carving is in the back yard of this house; go to the intersection of Holly Ave and Tulip Avenue in Takoma Park, walk about fifty yards down Tulip (there is only one way to go), and it will be behind a fence on private property on the east side of the road. This is within a short walking distance of the Takoma Metro station. There are other amazing sculptures in the yard as well, including one from "Where the Wild Things Are."

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