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Old dangerous playground equipment.
July 21, 2008 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Slides used to be dangerous..... After climbing up those sandy, metal crosstrax steps you got to the top and stared down at that steep ride below. The slide was burning hot to the touch, a stovetop set to high all day under the summer sun, just waiting to greet the underside of your legs with first-degree burns as you enjoyed the ride
posted by bluesky43 (170 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
I haven't seen any of those old wooden plank see-saws in awhile either. Those things were like some medieval face whacking device.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:13 PM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Everything old is new again!
posted by Bromius at 1:16 PM on July 21, 2008


We had "monkey bars" made of steel pipes. If you fell you landed on hard-packed dirt with a thin layer of gravel. Breaking an arm or leg was part of the cost of doing business when I was a kid.
posted by marxchivist at 1:17 PM on July 21, 2008


Yes. I burnt my feet very badly on a slide when I was a boy. Leapt off it in agony and was rushed to the hospital, where they smeared my feet with salve and put little booties on them. It's a dim memory to me now, but it explains why I can stick needles into the soles of my feet and not feel a thing.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:18 PM on July 21, 2008


1000 22 arguably Awesome Things.

I wouldn't put blowing snot rockets in the shower under in the Aweome! category.
posted by clearly at 1:20 PM on July 21, 2008


In related news --

Fun-in-Sun Peril to City Kids
“The hot summer in the city means even hotter temps at area playgrounds - where scorching heat left play mats under jungle gyms hitting 167 degrees last week in Manhattan - parents and park-advocacy groups warned yesterday.

Geoffrey Croft, head of NYC Park Advocates, said the city has to do more to warn people about the heat hazards lurking in playgrounds.

His group tested temps around town over the weekend and found dangerously high readings all over.

The black, tiled mats used under the jungle gyms across the city clocked in as high as 166.9 degrees Friday.

That same mat yesterday in partial shade reached 136 degrees.

Swing seats reached 138 degrees.

‘The city refused to take responsibility when they're installing a product that has repeatedly proved to hurt the park's most vulnerable users - young children,’ Croft said at a press conference at Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side.

‘Playgrounds are supposed to be oases, not creators of emergency-room visits.’

He claimed that dozens of kids end up in burn units every summer after getting injured in hot playgrounds - like 18-month-old William Lodge.

The toddler suffered second-degree burns last year when he ran out of the sandbox barefoot to the jungle gyms, said his parents.

‘It was so bad, they [the hospital staffers] thought he'd been electrocuted,’ said his father, James Lodge, 39, of the Upper East Side.

Lodge and a group of local parents want the city to stop using the black mats in Carl Schurz Park. They also want better signs warning people of the heat dangers, and shading put around certain areas.

Reyhan Mehran's son spent three days in the hospital after suffering second-degree burns in 2004 while playing in Van Voorhees Playground in Brooklyn.

‘He was a child that never cried, but he cried so much he lost his voice and kept crying without sound,’ Mehran said of her son Kian, who was just 14 months old at the time of the injury.

‘And that stuck with me, the amount of pain he was in.’

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe admitted that the black mats do get very hot but said they're in use all over the country because they help reduce head injuries and broken bones when kids fall.

‘All of the playgrounds have signs that say to wear shoes,’ he told The Post.

‘All of our playgrounds, particularly those that have been rebuilt, meet the latest safety standards.

‘There's probably as many kids who get burned on pool decks and on the beach sand [as at the playgrounds].

‘It's common sense. Children should not go outdoors in New York City without wearing shoes.’

Even switching the mats to a lighter color wouldn't make them noticeably cooler, Benepe said.”
CBS News: NYC Failing To Remedy Playground Burns [video | 01:35]
posted by ericb at 1:21 PM on July 21, 2008


Or, what Bromius said!
posted by ericb at 1:21 PM on July 21, 2008


There used to be this park down the street from my house when I was a lot younger and living in CT that was full of this "dangerous" old playground stuff. But by far the best part of the park was the HUGE twin metal slides we had. There was only one ladder to climb but two different slides going in different directions once you reached the top. They probably seemed a lot bigger to my 8 year old self than they really were, but even my Dad remembers them as being pretty huge. When we got bored with going down the slides normally, we'd slide down one of the support poles instead. Or have races to see who could climb the poles faster. We fell off the thing, a lot, but some time after I moved away from there someone must have gotten really hurt because when I drove past the park a week or so ago the slides were gone.
posted by Venadium at 1:22 PM on July 21, 2008


I grew up behind my elementary school. Through the gate, over the creek and there I was, just over the border into the playground. This meant that the playground was available to me most anytime.

And we had one of those slides.

In my memory, the thing had to be fifteen or twenty feet tall, though I'm sure that it was barely half as high, if that. But it did have the crosstrax steps and the shining steel slide. And at the top was an upside-down U-shape of stout metal tubing, a "roll-bar" that you could grip as you shifted from standing climber to seated slider. But what me and my friends would do was much better, if maybe a little stupid. You could crouch in the U like a skier in a gate and pull yourself forward with both arms in a lunge. If you did it right, you caught air for a minute before landing square on your butt for what seemed to be a much faster trip down the slide. (Physics be damned, we knew what we were doing.) To make the effort even better, we'd take sawdust from the area over near the industrial-sized tires (remember those?) and sling it down the slide just as we launched out. Naturally, the sawdust was meant to speed up the descent, kind of like graphite on the axles makes a Pinewood Derby Racer into a winner.

And luckily enough, not a single one of us suffered a broken bone from our stunt-man-ery. Yes, some of us over shot or arced too much to the left or right, resulting in a quick drop to the playground floor, but those were the kinds of injuries that busted only your Toughskins and/or pride.
posted by grabbingsand at 1:25 PM on July 21, 2008


Playground equipment generally sucks, even most of the old dangerous stuff.

This is why we had rope swings attached to giant trees. Usually on hill or cliffsides. Not always above water. Sometimes above a freeway or a road.

These new plasti-dipped safety playgrounds are pretty anemic, though, and they indeed lose play value very quickly. However, kids today have all kinds of features I never had. Weird geodesic dome structures built with cables, cool tire swings with industrial bearings and swivels. But still not as dangerous/thrilling.

I'd imagine attempting to skateboard down the slides would restore a lot of the missing thrills, but I'll assume any kid that could skateboard a slide would rather hit up a ditch or a skatepark anyway.

Remember: If you die without any scars you haven't lived.
posted by loquacious at 1:29 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wait, I said "There used to be this park...", but the park itself is still there. Just not any of the cool stuff that used to be in it.
posted by Venadium at 1:30 PM on July 21, 2008


The playground caterpillar (as seen today) is also a standard; the one we had at the Rose Playground on 75th and Lansdowne in West Philly when I was a kid was more like a bunch of 55 gallon steel drums welded together and painted different colors. When you got to the middle of it there was bound to be an empty bottle of Wild Irish Rose in a brown bag left behind by the hobo who lived in there on off hours and after you got done playing your mom always had to pick the rust chips out of your scalp.

I fucking loved that thing.
posted by The Straightener at 1:32 PM on July 21, 2008


I particularly hated the knotted hemp ropes suspended from the gym rafters our PhysEd teachers encouraged us to climb in gym class. Time and again, 8th and 9th graders would start up those things, get arm or leg cramps 20 feet off the floor, try to come down, get a rope burn on their inner calf or thigh, then hit a big climbing knot too hard, and lose any kind of grip they had, only to plunge the remaining 10 or 15 feet to land very hard on the 2 inch thick tumbling mat thrown down temporarily over a wooden basketball floor. Broken arms, concussions, and even in our small school, a broken scapula, and a fractured breastbone all resulted in one fall semester.

What the hell were those sadists thinking when they came up with those things? Marines at Paris Island might need to use such a device to clamber down from ships onto assault landing craft, but requiring 8th and 9th graders to use the damned things should have been criminal.
posted by paulsc at 1:33 PM on July 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


Ah, those old metal slides. The big ones were great, especially if they had turns in them. The plastic ones that most of the playgrounds went to, not so great. Of course, there was nothing better than using them as a static electricity charging station to zap people with.

True story about metal slides: my little brother got attacked by the stairs leading up to the slide one day. He tripped on a metal edge coming up and landed on his chin. Somehow he had managed to stick his teeth out at the same time, and his front teeth took most of the impact. Cue our Grandma freaking out due to the crying coming from the slide and the rush to the dentist. End result was the death of his two front teeth and permanent damage/discoloration to his adult teeth. But you know what? He was accident prone anyways. He would have probably tripped on a plastic slide too. Then we would have had to call the fire department to extract a portion of the slide and drag him to the emergency room to remove the remaining plastic.

Breaking an arm or leg was part of the cost of doing business when I was a kid.

Exactly right.
posted by rand at 1:33 PM on July 21, 2008


I hear you can't even make a playground out of wood anymore in case someone gets a splinter.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 1:34 PM on July 21, 2008


In first grade I broke my nose on the playground in an unfortunate swing accident. Got pushed into the trajectory of someone who was doing some serious swinging. We were facing away from eachother. She slammed into my back. I became one with the blacktop. Massive scabs covered my face for months. I can still feel where the cartilage is messed up on my nose.

Alas... I wish I would've known to sue them all. But oh well. Maybe next time.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:35 PM on July 21, 2008


I too am old and angry at new things!
posted by LoopyG at 1:37 PM on July 21, 2008 [38 favorites]


Even switching the mats to a lighter color wouldn't make them noticeably cooler, Benepe said.”

As his argument lurched into an area he obviously knows nothing about.


What I remember about the Giant Slide of Death is the deep pit in the dirt at the bottom of it. Sometimes it took days for somebody to find you down in there.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:38 PM on July 21, 2008


When I was a kid I thought that swings were okay if you just used them the way they were intended to be used. But they were awesome if you and a pal rocked them side-to-side and got them moving around in an increasingly fast circle. Eventually you'd smack into each other so hard that at least one of you would fall off. Swinging as high as you could and jumping off at the highest point was fun, too.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:38 PM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


I never broke an arm or leg.

However, I did bust open my chin after riding my bike standing on the crossbar and attempting to surf my bike down a neighbor's driveway.

And yes, I still have the scar. Oh, yeah.
posted by grabbingsand at 1:42 PM on July 21, 2008


jumping off at the highest point was fun, too.

Which was called 'bailing out,' of course.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:43 PM on July 21, 2008


My friends and I invented a game in elementary school recess called "Swing Crappers." I don't remember the scoring details, but the gist was that you had to swing sideways on the swingset and try to inflict pain/knock each other off.

Also, one time I tried to set the woodchips on fire with a magnifying glass I won in a spelling bee.
posted by danb at 1:43 PM on July 21, 2008


A lot of kids lost arms, legs, everything!
posted by cashman at 1:44 PM on July 21, 2008


In my city, Portland, almost all public playgrounds have piles of relatively soft woodchips around the slides, swings and play structures ... they don't get nearly as hot as those black rubberized mats. Granted, kids might get a splinter or two, but the woodchips are pretty good at cushioning falls. My three-year-old has fallen on them occasionally without a scratch.

Last summer we visited San Francisco, where most of the playgrounds had white sand around the structures -- yikes! That got hot, and it got all inside everybody's shoes and clothes.

That said, I've kept my kid off of a few sunny slides (both metal & plastic) when they get too hot ... that's just common sense. The best playgrounds have ample shade over the play structures (of course that requires arborists to regularly check out the trees to make sure no branches are ready to fall ... sigh).
posted by lisa g at 1:45 PM on July 21, 2008


I particularly hated the knotted hemp ropes suspended from the gym rafters our PhysEd teachers encouraged us to climb in gym class.

I've wondered whether they still did that. Seems ridiculously dangerous, having climbed just once (with the cute girl standing nearby for motivation) to the metal support beams at the top of the gym. That's a hell of a long way up.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:45 PM on July 21, 2008


Seriously though. Stationary steering wheels. What's up with those?
posted by Dr-Baa at 1:45 PM on July 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


my elementary had all those awesome nasty things, include no less than 8 massive, raw chain suspended swings. That we flipped over and over to raise the seat up for super awesome tricks.

And my favorite metal slides: the ones that were just sheet metal nailed down ontop of a large piece of plywood, so 3-4 kids could go down at once.

And the bent steal monkey bar dome that you could climb up on the outside, or swing from the beams from above.

Never broken a bone or got a bruise.

Did manage to break my middle finger playing capture the flag with *socks* (instead of tackling), by somehow getting my finger in the other kids belt loop and twisting thinking that I had the sock in hand.
posted by mrzarquon at 1:47 PM on July 21, 2008


I feel so old now that I have my very first back-in-my-day-things-were-so-much-better thing. I guess I have to try to reconcile myself to the idea that it's the first in a long line of resigned reminisces. Yup, from now on, the rest of my life will be endless lingering over everything I lost with my youth. God damn playgrounds.
posted by stavrogin at 1:50 PM on July 21, 2008


We used to wax the slide at my local playground using the insides of the waxed paper cups they sold soda in at the refreshment stand. We used to just fly off the end of the thing! Of course, this being the 60s, there was just dirt at the end of it. Good times.
posted by tommasz at 1:51 PM on July 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


Stationary steering wheels. What's up with those?

I remember these from the "newer" equipment they put in when I was in sixth grade. That would've been ... 1982? 1983? It was made out of darker, thicker wood. All built like a fortress with swings, a fireman pole, some monkey bars and a lesser slide than the aforementioned.

And it had a kind of "crow's nest" at the top with a steering wheel. You could look over the playground from it. I guess you could play like you're Captain Wood Fort.

Of course, the newer ones put the steering wheel level with the ground. Not nearly as pretend-pirate awesome.
posted by grabbingsand at 1:51 PM on July 21, 2008


Last summer we visited San Francisco, where most of the playgrounds had white sand around the structures

The ones where I grew up were surrounded with sand. Bailing out into deep, soft sand is awesome.

Yes, the old playground equipment did get really hot in summertime. But come on - that's why playgrounds were deserted between 11 and 3:00 in summer. That's when you were supposed to be throwing large logs into the brackish pond or wading in the polluted stream! Prime playground time was before 10 and in the evening, just before or after dinner. You didn't have to be very old to know to test the slide for heat before sliding.

Aside from excessive heat, the thing I didn't like about slides was when they weren't "slidey." Sometimes it seemed the condensation made them just damp enough to cause friction, but not damp enough to be slick. Other times the problem seemed to be that years of sliders had worn away the surface finish. Some slides were never slidey, while some were slidey only some of the time.

The swings used to be much taller. Not because I was smaller - but because they were verifiably larger, as you can determine by looking at playgrounds that have survived. Today it seems rare to find swings with top bars of more than 10' or so.
posted by Miko at 1:52 PM on July 21, 2008


Has anyone else noticed that as giant metal slides and the like have disappeared health costs have risen, almost as a direct relationship.

My theory is that the relative frequency of slide-induced broken arms has decreased. In the past broken arm payments subsidized more expensive procedures. With the decrease in broken arm funds, hospitals had to increase their fees across the board.
posted by drezdn at 1:53 PM on July 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


My childhood park had a freakin' train. We found out how to crawl all up inside it, hanging out in the (pee-smelling) firebox, crawling up to the (working, swinging) bell, falling off the back of the coal tender. There was a real tank (!) and a jet plane there, too, but I never could figure out how to get inside those.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:56 PM on July 21, 2008


Aside from excessive heat, the thing I didn't like about slides was when they weren't "slidey."

That's what I was about to say - maybe it was just my skin, but I would only get half way down. My green and off-pukey-green shorts that came mid thigh would get pushed back and I'd get a simul-wedgie ass burn, then walk down and get off the slide.

The monkey bars were the shit though. Pure iron. Your own little briar patch. I would "hide" in there when playing tag sometimes. Cause why wriggle in through a mass of twisted metal after the guy who was so cool he had velcro straps instead of shoelaces, when you could chase after some ninny hiding behind an oak tree.
posted by cashman at 1:57 PM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


We used to have a couple "Witch's Hats". I don't see those on that page. It's a tall metal pole with a metal cup just sitting on top, with four chains down to a couple of concentric rings suspended at the bottom. You'd get some kids together, grab the ring (above your head), and run - and it'd get going and spin around with you hanging off.

I'm pretty sure they took them out because the metal ring-and-chain contraption wasn't connected to the pole and would sometimes come off.
posted by Nabubrush at 1:58 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


tommasz, we did the same thing -- only we used actual wax paper. You'd fly down that motherfucker like it was a birth canal and The Flash was your dad.

Until the one day when some little shit decided to wax the corrugated metal steps leading up to the slide as well, and my foot slipped near the top. I hit the ground pretty hard.
posted by hifiparasol at 1:58 PM on July 21, 2008 [11 favorites]


The playground near my house was noteworthy for its giant fort built of tires. The tires reeked of urine and teensex but we played on them anyways because it was all we had.
posted by drezdn at 1:58 PM on July 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


I have to say, having grown up with the old-skool, dangerous playground, that when the "new," timber treehouse-style ones with tube slides came out just as I turned 12 or so, we thought they were pretty awesome and were jealous that we grew up playing on a bunch of pipes and splintering wood. Only in nostalgic retrospect can I see the character-building value of the old playgrounds.

Oh, another thing this guy forgot: the boot-camp-style hand-over-hand bars that resembled a horizontal ladder, 8-10' off the ground, and made of the ubiquitous plumber's pipe. Something like this, only grittier. You climbed up one end balancing on slick, round pipe ladder steps, then placed one sweaty hand firmly around the farthest-out horizontal grip you could reach. Steeling your gut, you then swung out monkey-style, disregarding the painful pectoral strain that immediately tore at your underarm, before desperately scrabbling to swing yourself up to the next handhold and do it all over again, across a sandy chasm yawning deep below you. God help you if your friends were below you trying to grab at or tickle your bare feet. Once successfully dismounted, your lasting badge of honor was the raw flesh on the pads of your hand, torn, blistered, and grayed with whatever stuff came off that steel.
posted by Miko at 1:59 PM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Someone really needs to call serious bullshit on the 'color won't make it any cooler' quote. Has this guy ever stood outside? Switching from black to white mats would probably solve the problem. It would also almost certainly lower the temperature in the playground in general.

My two seconds of google yields: "On a 90 degrees F / 32.2 C clear sunny, day in Austin Texas, a white roof had a temperature of 110 degrees F / 43.3 C, an aluminum coated roof, 140 degrees F / 60 C, while a black, single ply roof, a temperature of almost 190 degrees F / 87.8 C (yes, one hundred and ninety degrees Fahrenheit, eighty seven plus degrees Celsius)." http://www.colormatters.com/energymatters.html

I bet those 160 degree mats would get down to about 100 degrees.

I'm actually an advocate for a more dangerous childhood, but inflicting burns with rubber playground mats isn't what I have in mind.
posted by meinvt at 2:01 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ditto on tommasz's sixties waxing trick (we used waxed paper, which we'd sit on as we'd slide down; after a few kids the hot metal slide was polished to a wickedly dangerous sheen).

I have a vivid memory of one afternoon in the playground behind my elementary school, Duc D'Anville in Halifax, which was covered in gravel. Very chunky, sharp gravel. A kid was thrown down playing british bulldog or whatever and absolutely ripped the front of his knee open, with a huge skin gash hanging open and blood pouring down the leg of his jeans. There followed a huge outcry by the parents NOT.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 2:02 PM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


This. Durr.

Whoever wants to congratulate me on my smooth move, Ex-Lax, go right ahead. I deserved it.
posted by Miko at 2:02 PM on July 21, 2008


I remember well the year they replaced the old metal slides and gravel fields with plastic toys and padded mats. That was the year we began throwing rocks at one another for fun.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:03 PM on July 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


That was the year we began throwing rocks at one another for fun.

We just turned to sophisticated psychological torture.
posted by Miko at 2:04 PM on July 21, 2008


‘Playgrounds are supposed to be oases, not creators of emergency-room visits.’

This seems to me to be the fundamental incorrect assumption a lot of people are making about what a playground is and what has led us to our current state of boring-ultra-safe-plastic play stuff.
posted by kingbenny at 2:08 PM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


The ones where I grew up were surrounded with sand. Bailing out into deep, soft sand is awesome.

My elementary school playground was paved (asphalt). We learned to not fall off the jungle gym (too much), or go headfirst down the slide. I'd've thought sand was a good idea, too...but they had to sift the little kids' sandbox everyday to make sure nobody got stung by a scorpion.
posted by rtha at 2:12 PM on July 21, 2008


We also had the hand-over-hand deal. I saw a guy 'ghost-ride' his bike under it, flip his lower body up in the air, and lose his grip causing him to come crashing down . . . onto the pavement that all our playground equipment was built over.

Wood chips? Rubber mats? Feh.
posted by Nabubrush at 2:14 PM on July 21, 2008


Beaten to the punch by rtha.
posted by Nabubrush at 2:14 PM on July 21, 2008


The thing for me about twisty slides is that the metal floor of the slide was made of plates, since it couldn't be one contiguous piece of metal. Occasionally, plates would come loose and not lay flat raising up just enough to sit there like a knife threatening our descent. Never once stopped us from using a slide. We knew enough to know that different slides had different strategies and optimum angles.
posted by Any Moose In a Storm at 2:15 PM on July 21, 2008


We used to have a couple "Witch's Hats". I don't see those on that page. It's a tall metal pole with a metal cup just sitting on top, with four chains down to a couple of concentric rings suspended at the bottom. You'd get some kids together, grab the ring (above your head), and run - and it'd get going and spin around with you hanging off.
I found one of those just a few years ago, at an old summer camp I was visiting. Tore the crap out of my knee on that, I did. I guess they weren't built for 40 years olds.

There are still some awesomely-dangerous playgrounds out there. In Arlington, VA, there's a giant structure with a 30-foot tubular slide and all sorts of ways to get hurt. I found a video of some kids giving their impressions of the place:

"I love this because it's so tall it feels like it's dangerous!"
"I love a playground that's made out of wood because you can get SPLINTERS!"
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:15 PM on July 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


When I was young I delighted in all things dangerous and sinister. I was also very, very small. How small? In 4th grade (as a boy) I weighed 44lbs. I think I might have almost weighed 50 by the start of 5th grade.

Anyway, we had a fantastic, huge playground with great splintery 8x8's and whole tire tireswings and a merry go round and 15' tall swings. No, for real. They were HUGE. To this day I can make any human barf his/her guts out on a for-real tire swing. At the youth center where I used to work, there was always a line of kids willing to try to endure a Melee-style tire swinging.

Anyway--when I was in the 3rd grade, the teeter-totter was taller than me. By a lot. It's gone now, but I'd put its max height at something insane like 5 feet. It was two, 2.5 or 3 inch iron bars with a chunk of 2x10 on the end, no cut outs for your legs, no tires or mulch under the bump. Just a huge chunk of metal.

Cherry bumps were par for the course, but watermelons were fairly taboo. If you don't know either of these two things, I feel an inner sadness for you.

Anyway, in 3rd grade a new kid came to school. Nathaniel. He was crazy and desperate to make friends. About his second or third week there I got on the teeter totter with him---it usually took about 2-3 extra folks to get us wee-ones on the damn thing. Anyway, we're teetering away and learning physics at an early age. (Scoot forward, I fall slower. Scoot back, I fall faster. Pushing hard makes him come down faster...if I'm heavier and I scoot in and he's smaller and he scoots out, we can balance in the middle...etc.) Anyway, Nathaniel leaps off as I'm in the air. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee splat.

I wasn't really sure what happened, but it hurt. My ankle. My right one. A lot. I had these wicked cool Kangaroo boots (not kangaroo skin, but Kangaroo---the brand name, they had a pocket in the tongue. Believe me, that pocket was NEVER empty.) and my foot HURT. I sort of crawled over to the balance beam and sat down. I looked at my ankle. It was sort of cut and bleeding a little. Nathaniel was GONE. Someone else went to get the teacher.

She didn't believe me. Said I was making it up. Told me to go inside and wash it off, I'd be fine. So, I did.

The rest of the day it hurt, but---you know, whatever. At the end of the day I got up to walk to my bus (I had about an hour, hour and 15 minute ride) and I could barely walk. Wonder of wonders, my mom was in town that day and decided to pick me up. She saw me limping. I told her the story, she had me pull up my pants leg. My leg was swollen over the top of the boot. Off to the ER....

At the ER (after they cut off my precious Kangas), we learned that my walking on it had relocated it, which is, I guess, ok. I had a hairline fracture Aaaaaaaaaand a sizeable tear of my achilles tendon. I also had no insurance, so they gave me an ace wrap and some crutches and sent me on my way. That woulda been about 1987/1988.

In todays world my parents would have sued the school, and the teacher, and my friends family, and the manufacturer of the totter, and probably the school board and principal just for good measure. I'm glad I got to be a kid in a less litigious time.
posted by TomMelee at 2:17 PM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


The new playgrounds are indeed safer, but kids will always run a risk of getting hurt. If there is a bit of metal, some kid will hit it.

I miss the merry-go-round. Whenever we find one in an old playground, my family and I have to play on it!
posted by cherie72 at 2:19 PM on July 21, 2008


Spent part of my childhood in SF--I remember the old playgrounds with tanbark (if you were lucky, otherwise just dirt) The tanbark was great because you could bury a cherry bomb from Chinatown in it and blow the wood chips to here and gone in a wonderful explosion (we did this during "supervised" YMCA outings--I think the teenage chaperone provided the cherry bombs). That was the "Summer of Love" and I also remember taking the bus through the Haight and seeing the masses of people wandering on the sidewalks, in the street, etc.
Then we moved to Marin with the whole outdoors to play in. The best was sliding down the grassy hills on random pieces of cardboard, the rope swing over the creek...etc. during the summer Mom would kick us out in the morning and not let us back in until dinner--we got sandwiches and lemonade on the front steps for lunch. There were playgrounds near our house, too, but with all the other stuff to do, they couldn't hold our interest for long. I had stubbed toes, skinned knees, sprained wrists, ankles, etc. but they didn't stop me much.
Nice memories, thanks.
posted by agatha_magatha at 2:22 PM on July 21, 2008


There is no doubt that these lameass, sterile modern playgrounds divert kids from playgrounds. I used to love playing on the huge tall slides, big dangerous swings, and splintery wooden "castles". That's right, administrators even decided that SWINGS are too dangerous for public playgrounds and elementary schools. Clearly, litigation has increased the costs of insuring these kinds of things and the administrators understand this to an extent, but come on, if I were making these decisions I wouldn't even waste the money on these crappy padded playgrounds in the first place.

At the elementary school I used to go to, all of the old equipment is gone. Kids are not allowed to even play touch tag, football, soccer, or kickball during recess anymore. School administrators try to prevent kids from bringing small electronic devices which are now the alternative to prohibited sports and whatever the hell else kids might have done before.

The problem is that its easier to sneak in an iPod, PSP, Nintendo DS, or Cell phone/PDA than it is to organize a game of touch football, so kids play video games, listen to music, dick around on the internet, or watch movies instead of playing at recess. I'm not opposed to those things, but doesn't this go against one of the most important reasons that kids go to public schools and have recess, not to mention the physical activity aspect of it?

Every time I go by modern playgrounds, I never see kids playing on the equipment unless they're playing a game where two kids hang on the bars and kick at each other until one falls off, thus becoming the loser. Kids are creating their own danger and competition when the overprotective adults aren't looking. This could be a sign that kids crave risk and excitement in a more childish way a successful, competitive adult might.
posted by hellslinger at 2:26 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


‘It was so bad, they [the hospital staffers] thought he'd been electrocuted,’

More likely, they thought he recieved electric shock. I imagine the kid was screaming or crying in pain, and the last thing they would mistake him for was dead.

I know it's a stupid semantic quibble, but fuck does it bug me.
posted by owtytrof at 2:28 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


if we cushion the whole world nobody will ever get hurt AMIRITE?
posted by killy willy at 2:29 PM on July 21, 2008


MY kindergarten in the 70s had a zipline like thing and an old beached boat. I loved them both.

Apocryphal dot com story: I had a friend at a large dotcom who had a tall slide put in inside. Day one someone broke their ankle, day 2 of slide someone broken their leg, day three till end of the company, slide covered in caution tape and no one allowed on it.

This is why we can't have nice things.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 2:29 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


We had our own swingset in our sandy backyard. We would leap from the canvas seats at the highest point and go flying while Grandma Molly watched from the screen portch muttering "Jesus Mary and Joseph!"
posted by longsleeves at 2:30 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


All I know is that whenever I see playgrounds nowadays, they seem to have gotten rid of the merry-go-rounds and I think this is a terrible mistake. Not only were these things invaluable in our childhood training to be able to withstand the G forces necessary to be an astronaut, but they were also a handy when needing a quick and effective method of playground interrogation.

That they were spinning metal blenders with blunted edges only made them more attractive to us kids.
posted by quin at 2:32 PM on July 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


The one somewhat major injury I've suffered in my almost 35 years was busting my head open while on a tire swing (my head smashed into the wood column holding up the swing). I still can't grow hair on the area of my head where I got the stitches.
posted by The Gooch at 2:33 PM on July 21, 2008


I drove my bf past my old elementary school in TN when we were visiting in June. All of the old equipment was gone (except for the swings), and replaced with that plastic crap. Back in the day, we had the slide too... but the best thing was the merry-go-round of death. This was not one of those metal platters with the curved t-bars to brace yourself as people pushed from the outside. This was an giant wheel made of metal bars covered in chipped metal paint. There were wooden benches on the outside, where you would sit facing in with your feet dangling down, grasping the bar in front of you for dear life. Then, there were pie shaped slots where kids could climb in and push. The whole thing rotated around a center post.

So... there were many roles to fulfill. Someone sat in the very middle and acted as an overseer. Then there were the "mushers", the kids who would power the merry-go-round from the inside by running around pushing spoke-like internal bars, and then there were the kids who were not simply along for the ride on the benches, but were an integral part of the breaking mechanism.

Once the thing got moving, there were further complexities. As the thing picked up speed, and the mushers would tire, they had to be able to jump up onto the spoke bars and not lose their balance. The overseer would be on the lookout for emergencies, like if a musher went down by either losing balance or tripping while pushing. Then he or she would yell "Musher Down", which triggered two activities. The remaining mushers would jump up on the spokes so as not to trample their brethren, and the riders would drag their feet stop the merry-go-round.

And just to add one more element of danger, the center post cast in a ragged concrete base about 3 feet wide, which had been covered in dirt, but had been slowly excavated by years of little feet creating a packed dirt mush trail. So it was highly probable that if you did go down, you could smack into the edge of the concrete, even if you didn't get trampled.

If someone got hurt enough to go to the nurse, we would be banned from using the merry-go-round for some unknown amount of time. So it was a collaborative effort to avoid major accidents, in which rules and roles were developed and maintained in a democratic manner. And this, my friends, is what education is all about. and consequently demonstrates whats wrong with today's coddled youth.
posted by kimdog at 2:33 PM on July 21, 2008 [25 favorites]


The new playgrounds are indeed safer, but kids will always run a risk of getting hurt.

One funny and unintended effect of our more cushioned world is that kids get hurt in much dumber ways these days.

I occasionally work with kids, a few times a year, and I have been progressively stunned over the last decade or so at how incredibly klutzy and uncoordinated and awkward many kids have become. Even though I've done the same outdoor activities with kids for nigh on twenty years now, the overall level of kid skill at managing the outdoors has dropped significantly. They trip and bump into things at an alarming rate. When they are encouraged to take a physical risk, they're awkward and stiff and stilted -- they don't really know how to land from a jump or pick their way along a rocky path very well. There may be fewer broken arms, but I think there are more minor injuries, and certainly a more frightened and shocked emotional reaction when those injuries occur.

I honestly think that, because they spend so little time at physically active play, they may actually be more likely to get injured because they have so little practice at movement and agility, and virtually no knowledge of how to protect themselves.
posted by Miko at 2:35 PM on July 21, 2008 [13 favorites]


"When I was a child, the grown-ups were trying to murder us, bump us off. No, I have proof!"
--Bill Cosby, The Playground, 1966
posted by not_on_display at 2:37 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


The unattended trampolines, without that new fangled edge padding. You missed your jump, your leg went into the springs, you tumbled over... snap. Cost of doing business.

The neighborhood dogs would run in packs, without leashes, and come back home at the end of the day.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:37 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I can't find them on Ikea's website, so it's entirely possible that they've stopped selling them (probably because of a lawsuit), but I always thought those beds for kids with a slide attached looked pretty awesome/dangerous.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:41 PM on July 21, 2008


I'm sure you won't be shocked to know there is a flickr pool on old playground equipment.

I was shocked how many of the contraptions in those pictures triggered childhood memories. The most vivid of those memories were of gathering courage to tackle any given piece of equipment followed by the recollections of burning, scraping, or otherwise injuring myself while playing on the thing. Since fun is a distant third for memories, maybe it isn't such a terrible thing that some of these are gone.

What seems to be missing from some modern playgrounds is the creativity. They're too monotone and have weird things like wheels just stuck on bars. For the most part a climby-thing is a climby-thing and a slide is a slide, but some of the new equipment is missing the creative fun of being shaped like a bug or a rocket ship. That would seem to be relatively easy to fix.

Overall, I don't buy the argument that the new equipment is generally worse than the crap-tastic stuff we had. That's just nostalgia and it sucks to compromise the present with false memories. I mean, it is hard to argue with the cool factor of some of the newer playgrounds.
posted by Muddler at 2:42 PM on July 21, 2008


All I know is that whenever I see playgrounds nowadays, they seem to have gotten rid of the merry-go-rounds

Yeah, it wasn't every playground that had a proper monkey bar dome, but no merry-go-round? Sacrilege. I don't think I've seen one in years.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:47 PM on July 21, 2008


What kind of scars you have on your body tell the world a lot about you - whether it's good or bad I'm not sure - I suppose it depends on the circumstance.
posted by any major dude at 2:47 PM on July 21, 2008


You kids get off my lawn 167 degree black padded play mat!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:48 PM on July 21, 2008


I feel like taking my (future) children to the playgrounds they have nowadays will only cement their futures in being Complete Wusses.
posted by gracious floor at 2:50 PM on July 21, 2008


I bore of all this safety hating. Nobody's stopping you from doing crazy unsafe things RIGHT THIS MINUTE. You're an adult. Go nuts.

But, oh, wait, instead you'd rather post to Metafilter from the safety of your 9 to 5 job.

Jus' sayin'.
posted by Skwirl at 2:51 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ahh... I oftentimes just generally hate the new parents of today. Not any of you guys, just... some of them... some of which are in my immediate family.

Still, at least my brother remembers the fun of "not using the playground as intended." A couple years ago I was visiting him, and we took his daughter (2 or 3 at the time) out to the playground, which of course was one of these ridiculous plastic monstrosities which should be thrown back into the fires of mount doom.

The slide was plastic, and of course slow as molasses, and my niece therefor wasn't all that interested. So we immediately showed her how she had to toss sand all over it to speed it up - a lesson she quickly taught to all the other kids there, to the consternation of their horrible overprotective parents. Still, at least my niece knows how to have fun.

My own favorite swing game as a kid, aside from bailing out, was the game where one person swings as high as they can, and the other person runs underneath them as they reach their apexes. Leave it to kids to take something as harmless as swings and turn it into a game where you get nothing if you succeed, and get kicked in the back of the head with two feet if you fail.

Good times.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:53 PM on July 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


I bore of all this safety hating. Nobody's stopping you from doing crazy unsafe things RIGHT THIS MINUTE. You're an adult. Go nuts.

But, oh, wait, instead you'd rather post to Metafilter from the safety of your 9 to 5 job.

Jus' sayin'.


I just licked my naked USB port, Skwirl. What have you done, lately?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:56 PM on July 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


instead you'd rather post to Metafilter from the safety of your 9 to 5 job.

...until we bike home in traffic. Or until the weekend: rock climbing, surfing, skiing. Or until the 10K race on Sunday or the marathon or the criterion. Or until downhill skiing next winter. Or until pickup beach volleyball or Ultimate on Tuesday night. Or until...

Some people are still pretty active and playful and that might be why they value activity and play at an early age. Just sayin'.
posted by Miko at 3:00 PM on July 21, 2008


Rough estimate of witch's hat.
posted by Nabubrush at 3:08 PM on July 21, 2008


My favorite has to be the strangely-named merry-go-round, which in fact should be called almost-pass-out-go-round and the absolutely insane underneath of it. As far as I can tell, it was actually a series of giant long razor ribs designed to maul children.
posted by odinsdream at 3:09 PM on July 21, 2008


Aha... this is very similar to my school's old merry go round (RIP).
posted by kimdog at 3:12 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Which was called 'bailing out,' of course.

Bailing out was fun, but the favorite thing my friends and I used to do was have distance contests, ie: Get swinging as fast as you can and jump at the point where you'd be flung forward the hardest. We could keep track of where you first touched ground because we, like so many others, had the "thin gravel layer" type of playground.

Fun stuff... Even that time a friend of mine went flying into someone running across our flight path during a game of tag.
posted by sparkletone at 3:15 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


The unattended trampolines, without that new fangled edge padding. You missed your jump, your leg went into the springs, you tumbled over... snap. Cost of doing business.

Funny you should mention this today. This past Tuesday my 14 year old stepson and some friends of his put our old trampoline back together. By Saturday he was in the emergency room getting 12 stitches in his legs after a backflip gone wrong (we never did invest in the safety enclosure)
posted by The Gooch at 3:16 PM on July 21, 2008


We climbed up a metal tube that was meant to be a fire escape on an old school building. It was unbelievably hot and miserable, but a kid-type triumph.
posted by Cranberry at 3:16 PM on July 21, 2008


My elementary schools also had big, tall slides (and not just by kid standards) with the overlapping-metal on them.

Infinitely superior to the plastic ones. The plastic ones were less likely to be actually slippery, and even if you could get some good speed going on them, at the bottom, you'd be one big static charge...

Assuming you weren't shocked a dozen times during the actual slide...
posted by sparkletone at 3:24 PM on July 21, 2008


We were forced to do the monkey bars as a part of the Presidential Fitness Challenge in junior high. Unfortunately the bars were constructed of unfinished stainless steel and temperatures frequently got up to 110° in the late spring, so if you had afternoon P.E. you were out of luck. Your options were to fail the presidential fitness challenge and effect your grade or get palm-sized blisters on your hands. Damn you Schwarzenegger!
posted by arruns at 3:27 PM on July 21, 2008


Back when I was playground-aged in school, the parents used to get really annoyed and confused at how a bunch of us would get picked up from school with mysterious, oily, orange stains on the seats of our pants. I can't remember what fantasy story we told them to keep our secret; eventually we got busted and had to stop. But it was because of the damned slide - it being forged out of that slippery-looking steel that was anything but. Unless you had on long pants, you were doomed to get your thighs rubbed raw in a painful lesson in friction, and the choppy ride was anything but exhilarating. Until someone had a brilliant idea and thereafter we were able to enjoy a super-slick slide that you could rocket down at ankle-twisting speed; truly, what the slide experience was meant to be.

The secret? It was in our lunchboxes. While we could get away with it, after every lunch it became someone's job to painstakingly descend the slide backwards, their feet braced against the sidewalls, rubbing puffed Chee-tos over the surface of the slide. Always puffed, never crunchy.
posted by krippledkonscious at 3:32 PM on July 21, 2008 [8 favorites]


All of you folks who are nostalgic for the perceived dangers of your childhood should be pleased to know that there are no shortage of broken bones and concussions from playground activities. I should know; I have had many a weekend ruined coming in to put a plate on some kid's broken arm or leg. And for every child that hasn't been burned by a metal slide, there is probably one that has been injured or even killed on an ATV or other motorized contraption. And don't even get me started on the idiots who don't restrain their kids properly in cars (had a broken neck on a toddler just last week from that behavior) or let them ride on lawnmowers or farm equipment. If you think this world is too safe for kids, just talk to someone who works in an ER. And thanks to modern food production, the dangers of playground equipment have been replaced by merely eating, whether it be produce laced with salmonella, e. coli laden hamburger, or any one of a number of others.
posted by TedW at 3:40 PM on July 21, 2008 [6 favorites]


Teardrop Park in lower Manhattan, opened in 2004, has a pretty great slide.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 3:41 PM on July 21, 2008


The merry-go-round was ok, we would use it sometimes. But what made the merry-go-round really, really, really awesome was when one or two fathers or uncles came wandering along and could be persuaded to power the merry-go-round with full adult male spinning force.

Three or four little kids, working together, can get one spinning ok. But two large men with big construction-guy muscles could make that fucker spin until your feet floated up off the floor and your body would go horizontal.

Of course some wuss would end up getting sick and ruin it (and usually it was the son or nephew of one of the guys spinning the thing, so he'd get dragged off by the ear getting called "you little pussy" while blubbering), until a few weeks later when we'd talk some other dads into doing the spinning and the fun started all over again.

I'm not surprised that teeter totters have disappeared, though -- I saw a lot of injuries on those, even for a more relaxed era. And when they got old and wobbly, they'd go side to side as well as up/down, and it was really easy to get a foot caught or to nail an onlooker.

I can also remember one playground that had this square platform with springs under each corner and some grab bars; it's sole purpose seemed to be to get three or four people on it and then you try and shake each other off. Sort of DDR crossed with the Thunderdome in that Mad Max movie. That was one nasty piece of equipment.
posted by Forktine at 3:46 PM on July 21, 2008


instead you'd rather post to Metafilter from the safety of your 9 to 5 job.

Screw you. I weed my garden with a flamethrower, raised a flock of ducks in my freakin' living room, and have a forge in my backyard that can fucking melt steel. *and* I eat ice cream for breakfast on a regular basis.

Fuck childhood, I can do whatever I want whenever I want and, more or less whenever I want, I get to see a grown woman naked.
posted by stet at 3:50 PM on July 21, 2008 [10 favorites]


MrMoonPie writes "My childhood park had a freakin' train. We found out how to crawl all up inside it, hanging out in the (pee-smelling) firebox, crawling up to the (working, swinging) bell, falling off the back of the coal tender."

Mine too, well engine and oil tender. My siblings and I spent hundreds of hours climbing over 2141, including on the roof a good 16 feet up, pretending to be engineers and firemen. They've since completely rebuilt and restored it and are using it for steam excursions.
posted by Mitheral at 3:51 PM on July 21, 2008


Damn those slides! I fell off one, went unconscious. From what my older sister told me, a group of people started to gather around me (I was in first grade, she was in fifth) so she went to see what was going on. So much for the playground aides! Next thing I remember I woke up with a headache at a friend of my parents house--my mom wasn't home.
posted by 6:1 at 3:52 PM on July 21, 2008


Now this is a slide. That's a 7-year-old at the top, for scale.
posted by bizwank at 3:53 PM on July 21, 2008


TedW, I hear ya, and agree. Food needs to be safer and healthier, and ATVs, Farm Equipment, and Lawnmowers are honest-to-god safety concerns that any parent should realize don't fall under the same umbrella as letting your kids scrape their knees and, yes, occasionally break a bone so that they can learn to get over it, and learn about risks, rewards, triumphs, and all the other aspects of testing one's limits. I'm not saying that kids don't still get hurt (I think we can rest assured that kids will always find a way to get hurt) but all the paranoia over the small stuff and the overcompensation against minute chances of any of the big stuff happening.

Kids today now have to set up "play-dates" in order to hang out with their friends, because apparently we were all horribly damaged by just going over to our neighbors' houses and ringing the doorbell.

Kids today play in sports leagues where nobody keeps score, because of the worry that it might hurt the self-esteem of the loser, apparently forgetting the boost of pride and accomplishment the working harder to be the winner can bring.

Kids today can no longer just wander their neighborhoods freely
, picking up stuff on their own. As I understand it, this is largely because of a fear of sexual predators, the statistics of which haven't really risen at all since our day, and where they have, it's due to online stuff, so it's not like keeping your kids inside will do all that much to help them.

I understand the parental instinct behind these decisions, and it is, of course, well intentioned, but I can't agree with it either. For one thing, it stunts the child's development by not being able to, you know, just live and act like a kid and actually discover things for him or herself, t makes the injuries that do come along inevitably that much worse for the kid because these things just aren't supposed to happen, and it leads them to not know what they are supposed to do for themselves when they do. The only recourse is to go to Mommy and Daddy.

But I think it's bad for Mommy and Daddy as well, because they're not learning the important lessons on the difference between the small stuff and the big stuff, when to jump in and when to stand back, and on and on either. You child will have problems, of some sort or another, into their adult life, and will often come to you for guidance. You need to learn how to deal with their broken bones before you can help them deal with their broken hearts, broken cars, broken credit, etc.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:00 PM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


In addition to the slide, we also had something vaguely like this but more like a bigger "witch's hat". You sat on the outside and faced in and the thing would revolve at the same time it tilted back and forth. The "big kids" would spin us around as fast as they could get it to go and we would rock it so that it crash into the center pole. Surrounding that center pole was a ring of wood that absorbed some of the shock of hitting the pole. Of course, it eventually got cut to pieces (never to be replaced) and the impact of hitting the pole would knock some of the smaller or less attentive kids right off. They learned quickly to roll away from the ride. I think riding something like that today would be considered an "extreme sport".
posted by tommasz at 4:15 PM on July 21, 2008


I can't believe no one has posted this merry-go-round video yet.
posted by Tube at 4:15 PM on July 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


I have a faded scar (as do my brethren) from every major piece of playground equipment available to us in the late 70's, early 80's. Cracked my knee on the metal stairs of the slide on my haste to get up and over as fast as I could. I still bear the scar. Cracked my forehead trying with all my might to beat my friend Maria's record of "monkey swirls" (the budding gymnasts in us wanted so badly to believe the monkey bars were really the uneven bars at the Olympics) on the bars, when I lost my grip and my forehead broke my fall. Coccyx severely bruised any number of times my jackass friends would jump off the teeter totter when I was in the air (that used to piss me off). The merry go round rang my damn bell when I accidentally stuck my head between the moving bars in an attempt to leap aboard. We also would spin around to make ourselves puke. How messed up is that? And finally, the swings caused me to separate the webbing between my big toe and pointer toe when I was playing the bailing out game barefoot one summer. That was some fun shit. Especially the monkey bars. I would TOTALLY play on monkey bars if they were built for my size.
posted by msali at 4:17 PM on July 21, 2008


Laurelhurst Park in Portland had all these dangerous playground structures when I was a kid (and this wasn't that long ago - we're talking the early 90s here). Even as recently as a few years ago, they still had at least some of that same equipment (the enormous splintering heavy seesaws that can easily knock out an unwary kid, for instance, but not the towering, searing-hot metal slide). Man, those things were fun. I do remember one kid at school jumping out of a swing, landing wrong, and breaking her arm in a few places, but that was the exception rather than the rule. Of course, our favorite game was "pinecone fight" anyway, and the teachers supervising recess had enough sense (or enough courage in the face of potential litigation) to let it go as long as nobody actually got hurt or lost an eye and only people who actually wanted to play got pelted with welt-raising high-speed pinecones. If kids these days can't take the sting of a pinecone to the face, well... that's pretty lame.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 4:19 PM on July 21, 2008


I had a friend at a large dotcom who had a tall slide put in inside.

When I was at MS, on their RedWest campus, I got to witness a bunch of dudes throwing another dude into the "creek" while a friend and I were sitting there eating lunch. Snap, broken leg. Oops.

The biggest danger with the old playground equipment, in my opinion, was what happens when you mix teenage malcontents with the little kids playing there. I guess that's probably true of new equipment, too.

The following clip stars a playground merry-go-round powered by a motor scooter. Not for the squeamish (I saw it once a couple of years ago, and only watched the first few seconds this time, I don't need to see it again), though I hope no one was permanently injured. The two "dudes" on the scooter need a good hiding, in any case. I imagine TedW probably has seen their work in his clinic.

Motor-Merry-Go-Round of Doom

I can remember all sorts of similar incidents from my youth, where older kids would "dare" younger kids to do something, which, thinking back, was horribly reckless. Hell, there were "clubs" you couldn't join if you wouldn't jump from the 15th rung of a tree-house ladder or hold a "lady finger" fire cracker when it exploded, and all sorts of stuff like that.

It's really a miracle anyone, especially boys, make it to adulthood.
posted by maxwelton at 4:23 PM on July 21, 2008


Jesus, Tube, you and I--well, don't tell my wife.
posted by maxwelton at 4:23 PM on July 21, 2008


This guy here was a pretty common sight at the playgrounds I grew up with. I still see them around occasionally and they bring back fond memories of sitting on those ladder leg things with other kids, plotting our next dangerous stunt.

Where I live, there are a bunch of parks that still have good old fashioned metal slides. The park around the corner from us has one, and also a merry-go-round, really high swings, and one of those old metal geodesic dome looking climbing structures. Unfortunately, someone set the teeter totter on fire a few years ago and I guess they can't replace it.

We also have a newfangled plastic playground a little down the road and guess which one my kid prefers? The one where you come home with rust chips embedded in your palms. I was honestly as surprised by that as anyone else because the other playground looks super cool. But it's not as exciting to her somehow.

Ever since my daughter was born, I find myself increasingly more angry and sad at the attempt to sanitize everything and make it safe. You know, for kids. Looking at that Flickr pool of old playgrounds damn near made me cry.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 4:26 PM on July 21, 2008


Has anybody noticed that kids don't just "go play" anymore? The furthest my nephews ever get is out in the front yard, and even then their parents are checking on them every five minutes. I hate to admit that I find it really annoying to hang around people with young kids for this reason. I remember often being specifically told to buzz off and "go play" as a kid when my parents had company over. These days my nephews are allowed to walk into the room and interrupt the conversation whenever their little six and eight year old stream of consciousness urges them to, which is about every five minutes. I love the little guys and am usually the first one to give them attention every time, but I wonder what it's doing to their sense of proportion.
posted by autodidact at 4:34 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Goddamned stupid timezones! Late again.

I remember the park near my house where I grew up had an amazing assortment of these contraptions when I was really little, but they were all slowly phased out as I got older. That playground, as it was, constitutes some of my fondest early childhood memories. Huge swings (with a flat seat, none of this harness crap), big circular steel spider web style merry go round (which I think was the first thing to get pulled, to this day I'm positive it had injury bragging rights over all the other equipment), a huge slide on a hill, and best of all were these awesome green and yellow spherical fibreglass pods which sat and spun on a central pole - miniature manual gravitrons. You climbed inside one of the three doors, sat in one of the three seats, and the pole came up through the floor. On its top sat a flat disc which controlled the spin of the pod.

Thus with three of you working together, you started outside the pod running around it while holding onto the doorway to get maximum spinnage going, once the thing was really moving you flung yourself inside, found a seat, and continued spinning the pod to maximum centrifuge via the disc. What ensued was nothing short of a NASA shuttle simulation at full throttle: complete and total centrifugal annihilation of your whole being. If you could somehow manage to glimpse a view of the outside world through the doorways, you could see nothing but a surreal blur. I once saw the face of god out there.

I haven't seen one of these contraptions for a long time. While I feel sorry for the kids who have had this type of thing taken away from them in this day and age, I always remember it is the adult "kids" of my generation or slightly older that have today gentrified the playgrounds of yesterday in the first place. We only have ourselves to blame for this safety culture we now see in the parks.
posted by nudar at 4:37 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I am here to second the huge problem with these new, plastic slides: you get static-shocked all to hell and back. Fuck that.
posted by everichon at 4:39 PM on July 21, 2008


Oh, another thing this guy forgot: the boot-camp-style hand-over-hand bars that resembled a horizontal ladder, 8-10' off the ground, and made of the ubiquitous plumber's pipe.

Ooh, we had one of those in the little-kids' section of my elementary playground! I somehow ripped off the palm of my right hand while dropping off that fucker when I was maybe 8.

Elsewhere (in the big kids' section, near the great big metal slide) we had a log bridge thing hung on chains. Not sure what the point of it was supposed to be, but we'd stand on it and get it rocking pretty wildly. One of my friends was thrown off and broke her arm there.

There was another weird area that sometimes got used for recess. There we had grass, some pavement, and a random set of big metal parallel bars (over grass). When we had to have recess over there, my friends and I often chose to just randomly run into each other as hard as we could.
posted by dilettante at 4:47 PM on July 21, 2008


I too was a veteran of the tall metal slide and it was great with the waxed paper zipping you to your ass-over-teakettle landing in rock-hard Montana dirt. I loved it and couldn't get enough. There wasn't anything scary or stupid I wouldn't try as a thrill-seeking kid but our favorite, which still gets me tingling just thinking about it, was - (deep breath) climbing up the back of the outdoor drive-in theater near us. There was a metal cage-like tube with a really long ladder and the view was breathtaking at the top, but we had to be careful not to be seen by folks living nearby and it was a nerve-wracking, slow climb.

Hi Mom, no, I wasn't hanging around the drive-in again, I swear.
posted by Lynsey at 4:54 PM on July 21, 2008


...to this day I'm positive it had injury bragging rights over all the other equipment...

Which reminds me, injury bragging rights are also something a lot of kids are missing out on these days.

When I taught my daughter to ride a bike without training wheels and she skinned her knees the first time on the pavement, you would have thought she earned a Purple Heart. She really was so proud of those skinned knees.

I remember showing off my injuries to other kids when I was younger and being fascinated with others' particularly gory war wounds as well.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 5:02 PM on July 21, 2008


When I was 5, I broke my left femur running down a hill. Spent six weeks in traction, another eight months in a cast, and two years in remedial gym. (Really.) But do we hear the Mothers Against Childhood Injury and/or Fun rallying against hills? No, of course not! What are they thinking?! Why doesn't somebody think of the CHILDRUN?!!

When I was 12, my favorite playgrounds were the storage lot of a furniture company, which was full full of 20-foot-tall towers of unfinished planks, and the nearby rail bridge, which went 50 feet over the local 3-foot-deep river. I used to drag foot-wide, inch-thick pieces of shale from the riverside up to the bridge and drop them over the side with a light horizontal spin. They'd hit the water with a truly satisfying THWACK!! and, if we were really lucky, shatter. Also, bottle rockets sound really funny if you shoot them into the water.
posted by erniepan at 5:11 PM on July 21, 2008


A penny drop was our death-defying playground activity of choice in my neck of the woods. And no cushy gym mats and horizontal bars to hold on to. Steel pipe, dirtpack and lots and lots of tears.

Also, the best thing about a high fast slide was going down the day after a hard rain. You hit that giant puddle just right and yeah, maybe you're going to get in trouble and you're definitely going to ruin your clothes but you're taking the whole front row out with you.
posted by lysistrata at 5:13 PM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Does anyone know what in the hell kind of fun these things were supposed to be? You inch up the side and then slide down? Is that it? Seems like a lot of hard work for a very short ride, and as far as the heat thing goes, that's basically a kid baking sheet.

If I were still able to, I'd go to Sea World just to go to Captain Kid's World--that was the most awesome playground ever, but I think they've nuked about half of it, and it's restricted to being under a certain height limit anyways. It had three towers connected by suspension bridges, one accessible via ladder or stairs, one with a giant spiral slide, and one with a rope climb up to a trap door. Lots of giant cargo nets to climb up, two different types of zip lines, roller slides, and a lot more stuff. Now it has something to do with Sesame Street.

A playground in Balboa Park used to have one of these, but it's gone now. There was a playground in Mission Bay that used to have a metal bar dome that must have been 10' tall--I remember being scared while on top of it. But there were a lot of great little playgrounds around Mission Bay.
posted by LionIndex at 5:15 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I remember the merry-go-round type thing we had at my local Boy's Club. Before and after baseball or soccer games, we boys would climb up a steep, wooded hill to the main building. Right at the top was an old, decrepit looking merry-go-round that was composed of a central pole, some 2x4s laid out around the edge. Thin cables held the thing together, just barely. Nobody sat down, you stood up on this thing, holding onto the thin cables. This was in the 70s, and even then the thing must've been 20 or 30 years old.

The amazing thing was, it was perched right on edge of this wooded hilltop, and over the years, the ground below it had washed away in a natural gully or culvert. So as you swung over the hill, for a second or so (depending on your speed), you were hovering over a good ten-foot drop, and even if you were unhurt from that if you fell, you'd likely keep tumbling down the steep, wooded, rocky hill. Two of the support cables were broken off, making the ride a lot less stable, and giving rise to why this was so: the story went that a kid was leaning back holding onto the cables when they snapped, just as he was over The Drop, and he landed on his head and died. This was likely just an urban legend, but it certainly could've been true.

Much later, in the early 90s, they completely denuded that hill and took out that merry-go-round. Too bad.
posted by zardoz at 5:18 PM on July 21, 2008


LionIndex writes "Does anyone know what in the hell kind of fun these things were supposed to be? You inch up the side and then slide down? Is that it? Seems like a lot of hard work for a very short ride, and as far as the heat thing goes, that's basically a kid baking sheet."

I think the thrill is in climbing up. Kids seem to relish the climb up the slide as much as sliding down.

And I love those long slides. I've planned a slide in our yard off the 1st story deck, it's going to be awesome.
posted by Mitheral at 5:35 PM on July 21, 2008


There's no way around it: the most joy you will ever experience, without question, is that one fleeting moment as a child when you and your friend were getting so hysterical doing something mind-numbingly stupid on a swing or slide or spinning wheel that you could barely breathe from the laughing and the physical effort involved.

Also true: immediately after this moment, the impact between your heads, or your head and the ground, or your head and the swing or slide or spinning wheel, or between an errant metal bar and your teeth, drove the feeling of joy out of your head, and you will never be able to remember it.

Never.
posted by davejay at 5:39 PM on July 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


Does anyone know what in the hell kind of fun these things were supposed to be? You inch up the side and then slide down? Is that it? Seems like a lot of hard work for a very short ride, and as far as the heat thing goes, that's basically a kid baking sheet.

I think the point was to see how far you could get, and the further you got, the higher the speed when you finally lost your grip and slid down into the pool.
posted by davejay at 5:41 PM on July 21, 2008


I think the thrill is in climbing up. Kids seem to relish the climb up the slide as much as sliding down.

I think the point was to see how far you could get, and the further you got, the higher the speed when you finally lost your grip and slid down into the pool.

That's kind of what I figured, but it was never fun for me--but I didn't discover those until I was older (maybe 10 or 11), so it might have been too easy for me by the time I did.
posted by LionIndex at 5:55 PM on July 21, 2008


Anyone linked to this retrojunk page yet?

This is the Big Slide I grew up with. Yes, those are grooves in the upper part of the slide to get you moving faster. It kinda looks not as big now....

My elementary school (Arkansas, mid 80's) had a pair of what we called "conveyor belts" - one on the primary playground and one on the intermediate playground. Both were covered in about 4 inches of gravel. The conveyor belts were 3-4 foot wide rubber belts, stretched between wooden platforms about 50 feet apart. Their own weight made them drop a couple of feet in the middle. I *think* you were supposed to start on one platform and bounce yourself over to the other, trampoline like. No one in their right mind ever actually did this. Instead, we explored the various solutions to the wave equation in meatspace.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 6:20 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


The best part of riding those big metal slides was hitting the dirt at the bottom and slide-surfing through the fine gravel... sometimes we'd go six feet or more and the soles of our sneakers would be blistering hot from the friction. That was fun.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 6:23 PM on July 21, 2008


A penny drop was our death-defying playground activity of choice in my neck of the woods.


Oh yes oh yes oh yes. I still succumb to the desire to skin the cat when faced with an appropriate horizontal bar.

Something funny just occurred to me. As we wax nostalgic for the more dangerous playgrounds of our youth, and lament the safer but less exciting playgrounds of today, I realize that the playgrounds of yore were, in fact, that generations' iteration of what was thought to be safer play. After all, what came before iron monkey bars and insanely dangerous merry-go-rounds? Unsupervised outdoor play in factory yards, barns, and abandoned mills; streets and alleyways,

The first formal public playgrounds, as opposed to the scrubby schoolyard with a rope swing or whatever, were part of the progressive movement and intended to bring kids into a structured and safer situation than the free-range play experiences they were having in an industrial landscape. Here's a nifty audio slideshow of the evolution of NYC playgrounds; the host, a NY Parks official, calls NY the "home of the invention of playgrounds." He talks about the "guiding principles" being to get kinds off the dangerous streets (where there was a high mortality rate due to the relatively unregulated automobiles and trolleys), and also to design for easy maintenance - few shrubs or grasses or other plantings, simple gravel surfaces.

And here's the abstract of a paper on the gradual development of playground safety standards beginning in 1929.

So the playgrounds of the 60s -80s represent the dream of "safer playscapes" of people in the 20s and 30s. No doubt, in the corner bars and house parties which were the equivalent of MeFi pre-internet, adults in middle age waxed nostalgic about the dangerous play of their youth, before those namby-pamby, unimaginative, fenced-in playgrounds were built...
posted by Miko at 6:54 PM on July 21, 2008 [12 favorites]


We had something like this ROBOT SLIDE (Chicago, 1970's). Much fun at that park. Railroad ties to run on and keep your balance.
posted by zerobyproxy at 6:57 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Card Cheat: my daughter had that bed! We bought it for her when she was 5 (in 2004) and kept it until just this spring, when we moved from an apt to a house and the bed proved to be too much of a pain in the ass to deconstruct, transport, and reconstruct elsewhere. (We gave it away to someone else with little kids.) Both my kids had a blast with that slide.

There are a lot of slick new playgrounds around these days, but my kids' favorite slide is this 100+ year old wooden slide at Smith Memorial Playground in Philadelphia.
posted by mothershock at 7:01 PM on July 21, 2008


I still succumb to the desire to skin the cat when faced with an appropriate horizontal bar.

Yes! Skinning the cat is just plain fun. Relatively safe but gives you that lovely loopy feeling in the stomach. Of course these days I'd probably land on my face and dislocate my shoulder but man, do I want to go skin the cat now.
posted by lysistrata at 7:06 PM on July 21, 2008


We had "monkey bars" made of steel pipes. If you fell you landed on hard-packed dirt with a thin layer of gravel. Breaking an arm or leg was part of the cost of doing business when I was a kid.

Or bursting a kidney in my dad's case...
posted by katillathehun at 7:10 PM on July 21, 2008


I've got to say that the sanitized plastic playgrounds do have one advantage:

There's one less thing for me, as a nanny, to freak out about in terms of the baby killing herself. I can let her loose on one of those things for hours and she's just dandy. Falls on her butt a few times, but onto plastic! No harm, no foul! For my own kids, I would demand the playgrounds of my childhood - including barns, which were not *sanctioned* playgrounds per se, but where I spent a great deal of time including that one afternoon when we were "helping" with the haying and I lost all the skin from the palm of my right hand. But for someone else's kid? BRING ON THE SANITATION.

It's enough stress in my day to make sure I return her in one piece. I can only imagine all of the gaskets of my head exploding at once to see a metal slide.

I'm sure a lot of elementary school teachers feel the same way.

It's not fear of lawsuit so much as just the general protective instinct gone haywire because if you think it cranks up to 10 on YOUR kid? Taking care of someone ELSE'S kid sends it up to 15 because not only will you have a hurt kid if something goes wrong, but you have someone you have to ANSWER to for it. And they're gonna be pissed. The fear of losing your job when FishyBob loses his leg on the tire swing is a pretty reasonable one. (Also, the first thing kids cry for when falling down is "Mommy" and when you are NOT "Mommy" - ohboy. It's ugly.)

Sorry we're all so lame and protective. When you get your kids back, feel free to let them enjoy the sweet, sweet taste of road burn.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:11 PM on July 21, 2008


The playground near my house was noteworthy for its giant fort built of tires. The tires reeked of urine and teensex but we played on them anyways because it was all we had.

What was the deal with the tires? Why did that seem like a good idea to build a playground out of?

Problems:

1) They are black rubber sitting in the sun. They get as hot as a metal slide.
2) They catch water in the rims even though there are holes drilled through. Viva el mosquito!
3) They make it really easy to clock someone with a truck tire hanging from a chain (or is that a benefit?)
4) They're old tires!!!
posted by smackfu at 7:22 PM on July 21, 2008


My favorite bit of dangerous playground equipment used to exist at my elementary school back in Burnt Hills. I'd never seen such a contraption, and I've never seen one since. It consisted of two thick, vertical wooden supports, handholds on either side, with joined between them a rough, metal cylinder which spun freely. The theory was that children would hold onto the handholds and run in place. The practice was that we all cried and shielded our frightened eyes the first time a child started running, slipped, and then cleanly, bloodily abraded the entire area from their shins to above their knees. It was like being eaten by a player piano. We had metal slides, arm-snapping jungle gyms, wooden plank see-saws, and all the rest, and of course we loved those things, but the cylinder machine seemed absurdly dangerous even to us as a group of 7-year-olds. It only remained there for perhaps two years, and I like to imagine that it was never destroyed, but simply sent to another elementary school, as part of some ongoing Masonic plot to collect the delicious shinskin of children.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:29 PM on July 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


Why did that seem like a good idea to build a playground out of?

It was the seventies! Recycling, man! Swords into ploughshares! or something!
posted by Miko at 7:29 PM on July 21, 2008


Once the thing got moving, there were further complexities. As the thing picked up speed, and the mushers would tire, they had to be able to jump up onto the spoke bars and not lose their balance. The overseer would be on the lookout for emergencies, like if a musher went down by either losing balance or tripping while pushing. Then he or she would yell "Musher Down", which triggered two activities. The remaining mushers would jump up on the spokes so as not to trample their brethren, and the riders would drag their feet stop the merry-go-round.

Yeah, I had sort of forgotten about that, how the social aspects all work. But we had one, too (or a few, really), and that's pretty much how it went.

We had a really dangerous playground, and it was huge, sprawling. Several acres. Nothing but hard packed dirt everywhere, under the steel swings and monkey bars, packed nearly as hard as concrete and nearly as perilous. We had tire forts and various old-school steel equipment all over the place with a basketball court on one end, and a foursquare court on the other, separated by a couple acres with a large sloping hill to get down to the basketball court. It was a long run from one end to the other. It was excellent. There was also a little area with a smaller set of monkey bars and a merry go round in the front of the school through a courtyard. We used to play cat and mouse in that area (that was a game generally reserved to the 'older' kids in 3rd-5th grade). Near the courtyard, towards the main area of the playground, there were two huge brick buildings facing each other with almost no windows on either one, making it the ideal dodgeball area, and they were far enough apart, but not too far. The tires did get nasty crap in them from local teens, but it was about two blocks away from my house, and I was allowed to roam around the neighborhood and play there. We held our little league practices there. Now, a lot of portable buildings have taken up a good third of the playground, and of course a lot of the stuff got replaced with safer and more boring equipment. But it's still sort of a big, sprawling thing, and I bet it still takes a long time to run from one fence to the other.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:42 PM on July 21, 2008


Tires, man, tires. There was only an empty lot of dirt that we called "the hills" near my house, and the irrigation canal at the end of the street. But at schooll there was this line of half-buried tires, graduating in size from a motorcycle to tractor and back down again. You could walk over them, climb them, go through them, whatever. The really fun thing to try was to get on the smaller tires and not sink down because of your weight. The first through third graders could do it easily on one foot. After that you had to kind of straddle.

We've got a city park about a block and a half away. The kids aren't as old as I was when we were told to "just go to the hills!" but I'm not sure what I'll do when they get to that age. Someone mentioned malcontented teens; that and cars and dogs are my biggest fears.
posted by lysdexic at 7:47 PM on July 21, 2008


Those horizontal ladders are what we called monkey bars. In '91 a girl at my primary school fell off and broke her leg - she was a known whinger so it took aaaages for anyone to go and check on her when she kept crying. The next day we had a lesson on 'crying appropriately'.

The senior kids playground at that school got removed when a kid knocked himself out on the slide somehow, so we (the sixth graders) started playing girls-on-boys British bulldog in the newly emptied space. It took about a week for everyone to be okay with grabbing kids of the opposite sex properly, but once we got over that it became one of the few games where the girls and boys really played together - I think it could have gone in really interesting directions. Unfortunately that got banned pretty quickly, even though I don't remember any real injuries - but given that you weren't out unless immobilised, usually in a flying tackle, I guess from the teachers point of view the injuries were waiting to happen.

I used to love monkey bars - it got boring just swinging yourself across, so the obvious next step was to climb up and run across them. Doing this in bare feet across a rusty metal one at the beach one day, a chunk of rust came off in my foot. Totally screwed up the next few weeks of my summer holidays, where I had to spend about an hour each day soaking my foot in boiling salted(?) water to try and draw out the remaining metal and rust.
posted by jacalata at 7:51 PM on July 21, 2008


heh, on non-preview, smakfu - can't say we cared much. Everything can kill you when you're a kid. I recall that our tires were painted, and on the grounds of a Catholic church/school, so they weren't molested by the local bums. But there were the deadly monkey bars, the slidepoles, the asphalt basketball court next to the concrete steps.

As for being safer today, both of my boys have fallen from the plastic and krylonned steel at the playground and scared me half to death. Yeah, I know kids bounce but goddamn.
posted by lysdexic at 7:53 PM on July 21, 2008


These slides are awesome.
posted by Nabubrush at 8:07 PM on July 21, 2008


We had a thing like that witch's hat, but instead of a inverted cone to hang onto, it only had metal handles on loose chains attached to the rotating piece at the top. I was a really small kid and got thrown off that thing so many times. I was short, so the first one to get lifted so high that my feet couldn't touch the ground, I had about zero upper body strength. It was also pretty easy to get beaned by the unused handles flying through the air. Kept trying, though. My dad taught at the school and would take me in with him on weekends sometimes and I'd play on the thing by myself for practice.

We also had one of these, and, in our various games, it was everything from a space ship to the jail for playing cops and robbers. No built in steering wheel necessary.
posted by lilywing13 at 8:23 PM on July 21, 2008


re mrmoonpie's Arlington video: I grew up 1/4 mile from Tuckahoe park, and am a proud graduate of Tuckahoe elementary (class of '87). If you think the playground in the video is dangerous, you should have seen the previous incarnation: LOG CITY. Log City featured two long metal slides, the taller of which started a good 20 feet up in the air. This was not a freestanding slide, but was reach from the highest level of the 'fortress' that was Log City. Other features included a ladder of pipes to reach part of the fortress; the top of the ladder was maybe 10 feet up in the air. At least one classmate of mine broke an arm falling off that ladder. At the other end of Log City was a great mass of smooth rocks embedded in concrete. In retrospect, that seems like a great design for twisting ankles and cracking skulls. A concrete tunnel (maybe 4 feet in diameter) ran through the rock pile. If you bolted while the teachers weren't looking, there were a few acres of woods adjacent that were good for running around in. Oh, and the substrate? Good ol' sand. That was a terrific place to play. It was a sad day when they tore Log City down. I will always believe the new structure is a poor replacement, no matter how excited kids get about the possibility of splinters.
posted by Joe Invisible at 8:29 PM on July 21, 2008


Well, since we're comparing battle stories, I did manage to push stupidity a little too far when I attempted to use a park's zip line which had had the proper equipment removed (somebody thought it was safter that way). You think your umbrella is sturdy, well, maybe not sturdy enough. Think metal shafts splintering with tremendous force in every direction, and a big drop. I'm lucky I didn't get seriously injured.

The scars have now healed. This was, *cough*, last year.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:43 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite deadlies was in the local public park. Imagine a maypole built heavy chains in place of streamers with 10lb forged steel handles at the end of the chains. It was basically a child maiming flail.
posted by nathan_teske at 9:00 PM on July 21, 2008


nathan_teske, that's exactly the thing I was talking about! We even called it the maypole, now that I'm remembering. It lived in the 1st and 2nd grade playground of a little private Catholic school. Definitely a character-building torture device.
posted by lilywing13 at 9:11 PM on July 21, 2008


Can't believe anyone ever thought that Witch's Hat was a good idea. I mean...
posted by Miko at 9:15 PM on July 21, 2008


I've been sitting here, right now, thinking what a great idea it would have been for me to have access to a Witch's Hat as a child. That thing sounds fun as hell, and I'm all about liberty over security which one may expand to more than the political arena Ben Franklin originally discussed.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:21 PM on July 21, 2008


In the early 90s, a school in a neighboring town had a large hill behind it, with one flat, open play area at the top and another at the bottom. There was a slide between the two, down the slope of the hill. Though I'm sure I'm misremembering the scale because I was in grade school at the time, that slide had to be at least 30' long. I only got to slide on it a couple of times, when we parked in their parking lot to watch the town's fireworks. I'm sure it's long gone, but damn was that cool.

Another neighboring town had these bright yellow swings. I don't know how to efficiently describe them -- you sat in a sort of cage -- it had a plastic seat bottom and back mounted on metal tube. The tube continued over your head, and forward, where an additional bit of Y-shaped tube dropped down and attached to the seat, between your legs. It looked like the attachment point at one time could open and close (so you could raise and lower the Y bit, like a roller-coaster harness), but by the time I played on it that had been welded shut, so you had to kind of wriggle your way into it. There were also two handles extending down, one on either side. The cage was on a pivot, while the handles were fixed to the rods that extended up to the crosspiece -- by pulling on the rods you could shift your weight and, in effect, swing yourself the same way you swing on a rope or chain swing. I always thought they were terribly cool, but they're long gone now. Anyone else remember them? (This was Baker Park in Frederick, MD, for the record)
posted by Alterscape at 9:26 PM on July 21, 2008


Nathan - Yes! That was standard equipment at Catholic grade schools (or at least we had one in Livingston MT - St. Mary's grade school). It was a tall metal pole with what could be a giant metal wagonwheel from which dangled about 12 >heavy< chains with steel handles; some had just one handle (looks sort of like a steel stirrup), some had 2 handles, and for the little kids who couldn't reach high enough (or stand tall enough to be hit), 3 handles. It behaved sort of like a merry-go-round; you grabbed one of the handles and ran around the central pole - once the thing was in motion, it was up to you to grab a free-swinging handle and --- fly through the air unless you missed then the next steel handle would send you flying. There were only 3 pieces of equipment on the asphalt playground; the above described child-killer, an actual merry-go-round and one of those tubular fire escapes that were so slick that you had to wear sneakers, wet them with your spit and sort of monkey-crawl up and slide back down (hopefully before the priest heard you having fun and came out to whack you with a switch (this was during the summer - during the school year no one could escape the nuns' watchful eyes long enough to it)).
posted by GrimJack at 9:41 PM on July 21, 2008


My friend Kristy and I tried out these side-by-side slides when she was out this way for a conference a couple of months ago. Maybe we were wearing extra-friction jeans or something, because regrettably we didn't slide down properly at all. We had to scoot ourselves along with our hands.

It seems worth mentioning that Kristy was six months pregnant at the time.
posted by tangerine at 9:42 PM on July 21, 2008


I have fond memories of a Georgia playground that consisted of nothing but giant wooden cable spools stacked into a fort. The pyramid-like structure was several stories high and from the top-most spool you could peer into the top floor windows of the surrounding apartment buildings. Most of the spools had little round doorways cut into the middle so that there were dozens of little rooms to hide in. Each kid claimed one for their own and only the oldest, biggest kids got the ones near the top. We would scratch our names into the outside using white rocks from a nearby field. Our hieroglyphics washed off with each rain, readying the spools for the next turf battle.

These little rooms were especially handy when running away from an angry adult; no self-respecting grown-up would come up and get you. Mostly they stood at the bottom and yelled, and the whooping would be postponed until hunger, thirst, or the need to pee finally outweighed the fear of punishment.

The playground must have cost almost nothing to build, but it served its audience well in an area where living in an apartment equaled being poor. It's sad to think that such a creative solution wouldn't be possible today.
posted by Alison at 9:44 PM on July 21, 2008


Wimp World USA
posted by caddis at 10:17 PM on July 21, 2008


Like MrMoonPie, and also from Northern Virginia, my childhood playground had a real live decommissioned jet plane as playground equipment. I wrote a post about it (with pictures) on my blog (many of the outside links now borked or defunct, but the story intact) here (and found others who were lucky enough to share this kind of playground equipment in my first AskMe here.
posted by extrabox at 10:40 PM on July 21, 2008


Am I the only one who thought the plastic slides were MORE dangerous? I mean, sure, metal gets hot, but any idiot knows that's easy to check for and avoid. Plastic, on the other hand, would SHOCK you. That is, when it wasn't busy skinning your knees or gouging your skin off from rough edges or something. I don't know if the plastics have gotten a lot better now or something, but those things seemed designed to double as kiddie torture chambers.
posted by chrominance at 11:09 PM on July 21, 2008


There's a maypole thingy at an elementary school in town (it's the pole dead centre below the three groups of plastic/steel playground equipment). Instead of actual handles of some sort the chains just have a vertical length of pipe. I guess it makes it pretty hard to get a finger or sleeve caught. Same playground has a pair of parallel bars. There is quite a bit of this old school equipment scattered about around here now that I think about it, guess it's time for a photo safari.
posted by Mitheral at 11:15 PM on July 21, 2008


The best "playground" that I've ever been to is the City Museum in St. Louis. It's actually an old shoe factory, which is now filled with caves and treehouses and all manner of weird crap. And that's just on the inside... there's also the outside (you can't tell from the pictures, but that's hanging over the parking lot). Lots of fun, even though some of the tunnels are kind of a tight squeeze for us grown-ups...

(more pics)
posted by The Pusher Robot at 11:59 PM on July 21, 2008


I went to elementary school at the same building where my mom taught fourth grade. When it was nice outside, my sister and I would roam the vast unfenced playground, occasionally with another teacher's kid. Sometimes mom reminded us to stay where she could see us out the second-story window, but we were mostly unsupervised.

I particularly remember one experience on the giant metal slide. At the time, I was experimenting with going down headfirst, on my back. I would keep my hands along the sides to slow myself down until I was confident that I could gauge when I would make it to the bottom and be able to sit up without completely falling to the ground.

One afternoon, I stood on the top step of the slide, turned around, and lost my footing. I skidded back down the ladder, teeth chattering as my feet hit every single step on the way down. When I reached the bottom, I twisted my ankle and fell to the ground. There was nobody else around, but this slide was at the edge of the playground closest to the doors, so I hobbled inside, got a drink of water, and went back out. I stuck to the swings and merry-go-round the rest of the afternoon.

I suppose according to today's standards of safety, I'm lucky to be alive and unmolested.
posted by kyleg at 12:04 AM on July 22, 2008


The tall, dangerous metal playground equipment at my elementary school was "Big Blue". The edges of the slide were maybe 4 inches high, but I can only remember one broken arm during my years of recess there. The best part of the playground, though, were the spinners. They were miniature merry-go-rounds room with standing room for only 3 people. With a few like-minded friends, you could almost fly. We used to push them hard and fast, then tuck in to get maximum speed. If you were feeling brave, you could even jump and let your feet fly out behind you. I miss that dizzy, sick exhilaration.
posted by amarie at 12:04 AM on July 22, 2008


There’s just one redeeming aspect of the new generation of public play technology, and that’s those plastic ball pits. Those are fun. Cool experiments for you to try:

1) Can these things be thrown hard enough to raise welts?

2) Is there treasure down there?

(Hint: Yes, and, Yes!)


mental note: must return to thread when not desperately in need of sleep to explain the holiness that was "Rocketslide Park" in Des Moines, IA. Seriously, this was one of the ancient wonders of the kingdom of childhood. Dylan Thomas would have put it in Fern Hill if he was Iowan instead of Welsh. Briefly: Gigantic spiral slide. Accessed by climbing interior of gigantic rocket. Scary and dangerous. Ample hiding places throughout rocket superstructure. A reminiscence, photo, and satellite view. I wish I was there right now.
posted by flotson at 1:03 AM on July 22, 2008


2) Is there treasure down there?

I'm not sure how you define treasure, but I have a vivid memory of taking a friend's young daughter to eat at a McDonald's near my house about 7 or 8 years ago. She ran off to the play area and a few minutes later she and all the other kids came running out of the ball pit screaming "Gross! Doo-doo!" followed closely by a cloud of the most foul toddler poop aroma imaginable. The father of the guilty party quietly scooped her up and slinked out the side door while the rest of us grabbed any food we hadn't finished and headed for our cars. To this day I avoid that particular location. So be careful on your treasure hunts.
posted by TedW at 2:51 AM on July 22, 2008


THe Merry-go-round from hell heaven: It was pumped by 2-4 people sitting opposite, while everyone else got to relax for the ride. It was probably quite safe. But my, oh my, could that thing spin! No running, no slipping. But pity the poor little one that got on when some bigger kids got to the pumping! Weeee!

Steel slide? How about ancient steel slide after/during a summer rain? The ground well-worn, the structure stood as an island. Don't forget a bucket, to dump water down the slide! How big a splash can you make? Who cares that the town pool has a much better slide? This was "ours"!

Small, dead-end street with 10 houses (2 of which don't count, none or grown kids). One side of the street backed up to the elementary play ground. Of course we felt we owned it. Half the mothers could see it from their kitchens, the other half could yell to it from their front porch.

Swings! Not wooden, but the flexible cloth straps. Normal swinging was fabulous of itself. But for more excitement, 2 kids face eac hother in adjacent swings, as far as they can go with feet on the ground. Now run, in opposite directions. The chains collide somewhere overhead, making both go spinning like crazy, as the chains entwine. Just be careful your fingers don't get pinched!

Variation on a swing, #2: Sit and make half-twist to face eachother. Your legs go in beside your opposite number. Others must push. As soon as some height is attained, push only on one side! Nothing worse than pinched fingers and dizzy fun.

Looking at that Flickr stream, I'm dismayed how much of that stuff is actually the newer stuff, from my point-of-view.

I will admit to serious envy over the new jungle gyms of today, with their cables soaring high over head. They look fun. The jungle gyms we had were rather boaring.
posted by Goofyy at 4:03 AM on July 22, 2008


Everything can kill you when you're a kid.

That may be objectively true, but when you're a kid, you don't think anything will kill you.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:26 AM on July 22, 2008


MrMoonPie and Joe Invisible: oh man, Tuckahoe Park was totally awesome. When I was growing up in Falls Church (probably about a mile from the park, maybe more), that was the place my parents would take us as a treat on the weekend. It had totally awesome slides -- crazy, rickety things that must have been at least like 30 feet tall and on top of ridiculous structures.

Aside from that, though, I grew up down the street from my elementary school and about half a block away from another park. The school had a really awesome playground. There was a thing we called "Wood City" -- sort of the little sibling of Log City at Tuckahoe -- that we spent an incredible amount of time on. We even invented several formalized games that needed to be played on that particular part of the playground. Once when I was climbing around the outside of it, my foot slipped and my chin smashed into a metal bar several feet below... that was a trip to the emergency room.

Then there was my favorite thing, the "Rainbow". It was this ridiculous, at least 15-20 ft high arch made of steel and wood that had a swinging bridge underneath it, suspended by chains. There were monkey bars above the bridge. So many people fell off of that thing onto the gravel, but it was still so much fun. Even people that were injured on it would come back to play on it.

Unfortunately, hornets and bees started building nests in the equipment, wood started to rot, and metal started to rust. It was all eventually torn down in the name of safety. The amazing wood and iron structures of my youth were replaced with plastic and metal contraptions that were just as dangerous (same number of reports of injuries!).
posted by malthas at 5:58 AM on July 22, 2008


flotson, that rocket slide is the exact same model as the one I had at Burns Park in North Little Rock, Arkansas.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 6:07 AM on July 22, 2008


Am I the only one who thought the plastic slides were MORE dangerous? I mean, sure, metal gets hot, but any idiot knows that's easy to check for and avoid. Plastic, on the other hand, would SHOCK you. That is, when it wasn't busy skinning your knees or gouging your skin off from rough edges or something. I don't know if the plastics have gotten a lot better now or something, but those things seemed designed to double as kiddie torture chambers.

No, no, that was half the fun--my playground had one of those big sinister metal slides that superheated to 150 degrees in the summer, and one big plastic slide that looked like a half-pipe twisted into a screw: two full 360 rotations between the top and the bottom, about a 15 foot total drop. When it got hot out, you'd come shooting off the end of that thing with your hair standing on end from the static charge you'd built up during the descent; the next thing you touched would get shocked to hell and back. If that thing was the monkey bars, well, then you just got your hand zapped. Thus: you had to chase your friends around, cackling madly and trying to take them down with you.

That big plastic slide had been replaced by one of those stationary steering wheels, the last time I drove past it. Traitorous school board.
posted by Mayor West at 6:23 AM on July 22, 2008


I particularly hated the knotted hemp ropes suspended from the gym rafters our PhysEd teachers encouraged us to climb in gym class.
They had those in my grade school but only one rope was knotted. As an incentive to climb to the beams (some 20+ ft off the ground), you could bring up a pen and sign your name on the girder. I was scared stiff of the fall, but by 6th grade made it up to the top.

The school also had a fairly awesome merry go round that was packed to full capacity with small bodies, each trying to push that sucker to get it to go faster. The end result was that about one kid every other day got his/her foot lodged under the merry go round and twisted an ankle.

First they came for the merry go round, and I did not speak out because I valued my ankles.

Then they came for the see saw, and I did not speak out because I had barked my chin and gotten splinters in my ass.

Then they came for the towering metal slide, and I did not speak out because I had burned my things on the searing metal.

Then they came for the swing sets, and I did not speak up because I had pinched my fingers in the chain links.

Then they came for the hop scotch, and by that time there were no toys left to speak up about.
posted by plinth at 7:19 AM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Merry-go-round from hell heaven

I loved this thing. You could get it going much faster than the runner powered variety. Pumpers got it up to speed and then riders bailed out, rolling as they hit the ground. Nothing ever got broken as I remember.

As an adult, I look at this thing and see all the ways a kid could get caught in the central mechanism and end up drawn-and-quartered or, at least, decapitated. But it sure was fun.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 7:20 AM on July 22, 2008


There’s just one redeeming aspect of the new generation of public play technology, and that’s those plastic ball pits.

Yes, they are efficient vectors for disease transmission.
posted by caddis at 7:23 AM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


There was a rocket slide and those cage-swing things at my childhood park, too. And a big, stinky lake and polluted creek. Man, those were the days. The new playground equipment there is nice, but not as fun as the good, old stuff. The train is still there, but behind a fence--I wonder if anyone ever scales it?
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:24 AM on July 22, 2008


Very late to the party here, but what about those fantastic jungle gyms, 10 feet high, that we used to climb to the top of in order to hang upside down by our knees, head first over the blacktop they were built on. I don't remember more than 3 or 4 traumatic brain injuries in my entire childhood.
My romantic memory is of spending all summer with skinned knees and elbows, stubbed toes and bruised cheeks from all the falling on the hot blacktop. Now, at the summer sports camp that I work at, we have to fill out an "incident report" and call the parents immediately for every little stubbed toe. Ridiculous. And we put in all this safety stuff in playgrounds, but then have to let parents send the kids to a sports camp in flip flops or crocs. (I have had parents yell at me for daring to suggest that the kid should wear running shoes to run in.)
posted by nax at 7:50 AM on July 22, 2008


mbd1mbd1 writes "This is the Big Slide I grew up with. Yes, those are grooves in the upper part of the slide to get you moving faster. It kinda looks not as big now...."

That is bloody awesome. I wonder if there are any still in commission.
posted by Mitheral at 8:20 AM on July 22, 2008


Enron: As an adult, I look at this thing and see all the ways a kid could get caught in the central mechanism and end up drawn-and-quartered or, at least, decapitated. But it sure was fun.
I actually knew of a kid that got his leg caught in the merry-go-round mechanism at the playground of my small Catholic elementary school. It was pretty awful - I was not there but apparently his leg got really fucked up. They took the merry-go-round out soon after.
posted by misskaz at 8:21 AM on July 22, 2008


flotson and mbd1mbd1, I was thinking fondly of this one in Clear Lake (home of the Johnson Space Center). Not my picture.

They've actually repaired/updated that one a little since my childhood -- for the longest time it was just rusty and rickety and it would lean and shake if you were up in the top. SCARY. The graffiti up there (and occasional beer cans) was puzzling and alluring as a kid.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:00 AM on July 22, 2008


i1) They are black rubber sitting in the sun. They get as hot as a metal slide.
2) They catch water in the rims even though there are holes drilled through. Viva el mosquito!
3) They make it really easy to clock someone with a truck tire hanging from a chain (or is that a benefit?)
4) They're old tires!!!


Those aren't bugs. They're features.
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:35 AM on July 22, 2008


Thanks for the spin on the nostalgia wheel! :) I loved the maypole and merry-go-round at the daycamp I went to every summer, and there were surely many tests of wussitude to be endured on those things. The next best parts of the playground were the treehouses -- actually built by dads from 2x4s and spare bits, a good 10' or more off the ground. The better one had vines hanging from the tree next to it, for a masterful Tarzan-style exit (unless you were Timmy Goode, in which case the compound fracture of your right forearm cost you major style points, some regained for the fact that he didn't shed a tear). My kids haven't gotten to enjoy one playground nearly as fun as the ones I had at school, local parks, and daycamp.
posted by notashroom at 9:54 AM on July 22, 2008


Nostalgic for old playground equipment?


Hell, I'm nostalgic for parents who would take responsibility for the consequences of ALLOWING THEIR TODDLERS PLAY BAREFOOT ON ASPHALT, IN NYC, IN JULY, instead of contacting their local news with 3'x4' posters of the ensuing burns.

Smack to forehead, get off my lawn, back when I was a kid, etc.
posted by availablelight at 1:19 PM on July 22, 2008


Don't worry, people. There's still plenty of danger for kids these days. My daughter's favorite place in the world is Children's Fairyland in Oakland, CA. I don't know what it was like in its prime, but these days it's held together with duct tape, bailing wire and the silent prayers of parents. Half of the attractions don't work, the other half are lawsuits just waiting to happen. If someone tried to build a similar park today, I'm sure the planning department would point, laugh, and give the applicant a swift kick out the door.

But you know what?

The children fucking love it.

More power to 'em, I say.
posted by lekvar at 1:57 PM on July 22, 2008


Slides as art installations
(yes you could ride them, for free IIRC - but you had to book in advance)
posted by nudar at 5:17 PM on July 22, 2008


I called the city to ask what they do with all the old playground equipment (I really wanted one of the old dome climbing things for the backyard) and they told me what was deemed too dangerous was sent to mexico to be used there. I guess it's not too dangerous there.

I loved the flying saucer. I could never get enough of that shit. The rocket ship slide was a close second. This one park had a giant climbing net. It was ALWAYS loaded with kids. I guess that was deemed too dangerous sometime at the end of the 90s and removed. There's still just a huge sand pit where the net was.

Weirdest thing to me is the people who now demand these safe parks were probably kids when the old awesome metal parks ruled. So what does that say? Does nobody else long for a good slide burn anymore? Or to spin until you puke and then do it all over again?
posted by wherever, whatever at 5:22 PM on July 22, 2008


I saw this modern slide in Burlington, Ontario that looked strangely fun for a kid, but with a hint of danger to it. It didn't seem to have sides to it, and was kind of like a giant tongue.
posted by phirleh at 5:42 PM on July 22, 2008


Playground equipment?

When I were a lad, this were all fields....
posted by pompomtom at 9:50 PM on July 22, 2008


I miss the days where playground equipment could kill a kid.
posted by PowerCat at 11:55 PM on July 22, 2008


I miss the kids who got killed by playground equipment.
posted by jacalata at 1:14 AM on July 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


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