Old School Playground

Back when I was a lad life on the playground was a little more . . . tenuous.

Everything in the playground was more dangerous. And they were different and unique, seemingly put together by the neighborhood handymen who in a burst of creative energy one Saturday morning emptied their garages of old tires, 2×4s, and chains and just nailed it all together. – Old, dangerous playground equipment

There was little adult supervision during recess. A skinned knee or elbow taught you the limits of safe. Broken bones marked the less graceful or too-brave-for-their-own-good. Kids would devise new, often alarming, uses for the playground structures. This was time before product testing and lawsuits.

Witch's Hat

Behold the Witch’s Hat. This was a device at my elementary school in Connecticut. The people that made this thing thought the children (imagine boys in sky blue shorts with suspenders and girls in red gingham dresses) would hang onto the bar in a neat circle and playfully skip around like merry little Dick and Janes.

The reality was more edgy. 6th graders would offer to give the younger kids “high rides” lining up a few unsuspecting subjects and invite them to hang on to one end while they would then jam the other right up next to the pole, lifting five or more kids up off the ground. As they began to spin you around it was a thrill for the first minute or so, wind in your hair, legs dangling out from under you as you whirled round and round. Once you realized this ride wasn’t going to stop, an icy determination to hang on for dear life took over.

Suspended a good 10 or 15 feet off the ground (which, if memory recalls, was rough asphalt), the bigger kids would spin the ring around the pole, faster and faster, while keeping you, now terrified, high up off the ground. Sweaty palms start to lose grip as your legs swing out almost horizontal from the centrifugal force.

One by one your classmates would fly off, thrown into other playground equipment or even the fence, bodies crumple to the pavement like rag dolls. Seeing the image of the rusted device above I can still hear the screams. It was the stuff of prison yards. I survived my high ride and learned lessons about grit, determination, the frailty of life and the cruelty of mankind.

Now everything on the playground has rounded corners and is covered in plastic. The ground is a sea of vulcanized rubber. It’s a kinder, gentler world of helicopter parents and the safety council. Maybe, as Bill Cosby says, the grown-ups were trying to bump us off.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

20 Replies to “Old School Playground”

  1. Are you complaining about the witches hat? That thing was so fun. Does anyone know if they still make these- I would take every scrap, scratch and bruise over again a million times–thats how fun old playground equipment -especially this one -was.

    1. YES! SO WOULD I! YES IT WAS DANGEROUS BUT THAT WQAS THE CHALLENGE…HANGING ON FOR DEAR LIFE. I HAD THE BEST RIDES EVER ON THAT THING1 I’M SO GLAD I FOUND THIS SITE AS I LOOKED AND LOOKED AND DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THEY WERE CALLED.

  2. I'm in my 50's and I remember this piece of playground equipment so well. Yes, the grown ups were trying to kill us off – or at least providing us with a near death experience. Another device of torture in my elementary school was a very thick rope suspended from our gymnasium ceiling, which at that time seemed like 300' feet high. We would be instructed to climb up the rope and touch the top. I do not remember if there was even a tumbling pad at the bottom of the rope – just in case we fell to break our fall somewhat. In order to receive a passing grade, you had to touch the top. Yeah, they were out to kill us.

    Thanks for the memories.

    1. OMYGOSH….I SO REMEMBER THAT! I WAS ALWAYS PETRIFIED MORE OF THAT ROPE THAN OF THE FUN WITCH’S HAT. THIS IS SO FUN READING EVERYONE’S EXPERIENCES AND MEMORIES AS I TOW AM IN MY 50’S AND SHARED THE SAME!

  3. Ah yes, we had that rope climb too! There was a mat but it was super thin. I think you'd still break a leg or blow a kneecap.

    I remember riding in my parent's old Saab, standing up between the front seats and talking to mom & dad while we sped down the freeway. None of us ever considered what would happen if the car made a sudden stop. Times were different then…

  4. The bestest, funnest, most dangerous piece of playground equipment EVER! There was one of these at a city park in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, back in the 1960s, and my cousins and I used to have a BALL on it! If you were REALLY foolhardy, you’d jump inside and try to avoid being smooshed between the swinging part and the central pole!

    It’s too bad cool old playground equipment like slides and swings and teeter-totters and merry-go-rounds are vanishing for fear that some kid might get a bruise or chip a tooth. Eventually playgrounds are going to be little more than big piles of pillows … which is pretty much what the kids of the future will be like also.

  5. We had one of these at Delaney Elementary in Grand Rapids Michigan. I was telling my 2 youngest boys about it. I wish they didn’t vote it to dangerous I loved this ride. I hate that evrything has gone from fast and furious and yes sometimes dangerous to totaly boring and simple. I think that the things we had as children were awesome sometimes great courage buliders we seriously had to get the guts to check it out. And when we did we couldn’t get enough of it. Totaly wish my boys could experince the. Fun and thrill of the witches hat.

  6. I’ve been mentioning this piece of playground equipment to my husband for decades, as he hadn’t ever experienced one when he was young.  How I loved it–it was just the wildest fun, and addictive.  It was so popular, too, that a solid wall of kids would be hanging on around it, and you had to wait until someone dropped off to get a chance to grab the bar.  And yes, when the big kids were making it swoop and tilt, it was terrifying and thrilling.  I remember getting huge blisters on my palms because I didn’t want to get off.  I would even hook my arm over the bar to get some more rides when my palms got too sore. I can still feel the thrill of it even to this day, almost fifty years later!

  7. Oh my gosh I loved this dangerous playground equipment! I’ve tried to explain the “Johnny’s”, as we called it in WVa who knows why, to my kids and husband and they look at me as if I were nuts. We loved when the big 6th graders would get on because the rest of us little kids would fly through the air gripping for dear life. Some of the more daring kids would hang by the back of their knees, but I was never that brave. We would swing round for what seemed like hours, jumping off when the bell would ring and seeing who could land without smashing their bodies onto the hard concrete pavement. Then we would all run to the water fountain to wash off the blisters that formed on the palms of our hands. Falling off made you more determined to run and get back on. Great memories!

      1. ….”to avoid flying off, we would grip on for dear life.” Sorry, but it was the excitement of reliving my childhood hahaha!

  8. Loved your commentary on this playground delight. It made me really laugh. So true, that along with that great fantastic thrilling feeling with this ride was the very opposite feeling too. The thrill always outweighed the horror of it. Thanks again for this! Brought back happy childhood memories!

Leave a comment