“New playgrounds are all the same,” we noted while working on this story. Locally, that’s hard to dispute. Today, a number of safety concerns limit what can be built for kids to climb on and swing from (when’s the last time you saw a new playground merry-go-round?), and we accept that our kids are less likely to get hurt on the playground than we were. But I think we might have had more fun when we were kids.
A personal story: I grew up not far from Mount Pleasant, where the local elementary school playground had a piece of equipment called The Witch’s Hat. It was taken down a good 20 years ago, but everybody who played on it remembers it vividly.
“The first time I played on it I got hurt,” a friend of mine said on Friday when I called him up. “I was in the second grade and I had to go home that day. But up to that point it was awesome.”
The Witch’s Hat was a tall metal pole with long chains at the top connected to a big metal ring near the ground. Imagine a cross between a merry-go-round and a tetherball set and you’ve got an idea of how kids played on it, and it was a patently dangerous thing that was forever trying to knock your teeth out and break all of your fingers. But some of the best people I know went to Mount Pleasant Elementary back then, and they all still talk about The Witch’s Hat with great fondness.
Where I went to elementary school we had a big iron merry-go-round that sent any number of children to the nurse’s office, but until the point that one of the 6th graders got it spinning fast enough to fling the smaller kids into the dirt at what felt like highway speed it was great fun, and I loved it.
I think it’s also worth noting that generations who grew up before the universal adoption of the “no climbing up the slide” rule had a very different upbringing than those who came along after it.
There are very good reasons why playgrounds are made like they are today. But there are also good reasons to miss playgrounds like they used to be.