Dangerous vintage playgrounds

Originally published at: Dangerous vintage playgrounds | Boing Boing


Except the kid in the photo is clearly on a swing, not falling. Look above the kid, you can see the spots where the swing chains attach, and can see a bit of the chains themselves.


Fun was cheap in those days, and the bruises a plenty.


and it taught us risk management practice



I remember playgrounds somewhat like this in the 80s. It’s a weird scenario that playground equipment that you enjoyed so much as a child is likely to be removed or replaced if you ever go back to see it when other things seem to last.


The trick I remember for the old steel slides was to take waxed paper and sit on it while going down a couple of times. After that, the slide was significantly faster. I also recall being disappointed when they switched to the sling-style seats on the swings, because you couldn’t jump off of them quite as easily.


I played on similar equipment in the 1960s. Rural schools built decades earlier didn’t have the money to replace their aged equipment unless it was broken. As it was all made of steel tubes and cast iron fittings, it was never broken. So we played on it.

Adult guidance of the era consisted mostly of admonishments to not “fall and break your necks.”

For those of us who survived, it was fun! For the parents of the kids who didn’t, it was tragic, and tragically avoidable.

So thanks to a bunch of activist parents, assorted do-gooders and liberals, and a big pile of dead and crippled children, kids these days are deprived of the incredibly fun opportunities to risk life and limb.


This kid… this kid right here…

that would be me.

(wistfully remembers the crazy-ass shiat we kids would do in the 70s)


I doubt that reliable data on playground accident rates exist anywhere, especially going back to previous decades, but I would bet that truly serious injuries were less common than a lot of people would expect based on that slideshow. If something looks inherently dangerous people (even kids) tend to be a bit more careful and hold on tighter.

Example: there are a lot of decades-old, incredibly rickety chair lifts still in service at ski resorts in the US, many of which don’t even have a safety bar that you can lower down. People ride these things with heavy objects strapped to their legs, often on a slippery icy seat, riding high enough over often rough terrain that a fall would lead to serious injury or death. Nothing like that would ever be approved as a new ride in an amusement park today without additional safety features being added, yet the fatality rate is extremely low. According to a report from 2012, nationally the fatality rate for chair lifts is just 0.149 per million miles travelled, which is about an order of magnitude safer than cars. (The report was written by the National Ski Areas Association, so take it with a big grain of salt).

That said, if I were responsible for designing a new playground for a municipality, I’d be pretty safety-minded too and avoid structures with significant fall heights.

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Wax paper to sit on? Luxury. We’d walk around the park and fish the fast-food cups out of the trash cans, tear them open, and then use the inside face to wax the slide. It would take a dozen cups and 30 minutes of time to achieve what was probably a negligible difference in slide-speed. But we sure thought it made a difference.


The Playground Movement was new enough to allow a lot of designers to release their (death-defying, risk-embracing) inner child.



And not too long ago, we had the Longfellow helicopter.


I actually remember that when the taped off the jungle gym and didn’t let us use it, it was not because of the risk of falling, but because they discovered that the pea-gravel that they had put under it to cushion our falls was contaminated with asbestos.


Only two kids from my old neighborhood died in play-related accidents.


Sorry to hear that. Was it on playground equipment?

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No, one started a fire and the other fell out of canoe. But I managed to break a tibia and a fibula on a swing. Learned about Hooke’s Law!

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In our neighborhood park, it was almost always the girls (as in the photo at 4:09) who would take the swings to their height extremes, so high, that the gals were pretty much parallel to the ground at their zeniths. The way they got there and to help maintain it, was to crouch down from a standing position as low as possible while on the way down.


Personally, I’d be more worried about the Ivanhoe tobacco killing them than the swing.


Cue Elvira Kurt… :laughing:


I think the decision to make playgrounds safer was mostly based on lawsuits. It probably didn’t take a lot of lawsuits to get schools, parks & recs, Lions clubs, etc., to get the word out that parents are winning these suits for huge sums of money, so they started shutting them down on their own. Even the staunchest conservative would at least bulldoze the unsafe playground equipment rather than face a lawsuit.

Turns out there’s a whole ton of research on the subject. I searched for nih playground injury rates and came up with these among the top results:

  • Injury and frequency of use of playground equipment in public schools and parks in Brisbane, Australia (Brisbane, 1997) "The low overall rate of injuries of 0.59/100000 uses of equipment in this study suggests that the benefit of further reduction of injury in this community may be marginal and outweigh the economic costs in addition to reducing challenging play opportunities. "

  • Incidence and cost of hospitalisation of children with injuries from playground equipment falls in New South Wales, Australia - PubMed (New South Wales, 2010) " Results: There were 7795 hospitalisations of children for playground fall injuries. The highest hospitalisation rate was for the 5-9 year olds (220.7 per 100 000 population) and was higher in males than females (234.2 and 206.3 per 100 000 population, respectively). The majority of these injuries occurred in schools (17.1%) and homes (14.6%), and were as a result of falls from trampolines (34.3%) and climbing apparatuses (28.2%). Over half the playground falls led to fractures of the elbow and wrist (54.7%). The total hospital cost of playground fall-related injuries was $18 million."

  • Surface-specific fall injury rates on Utah school playgrounds. (Utah, 1990) Abstract: The purpose of this study was to estimate surface-specific rates of fall injuries on school playgrounds. Playground injuries related to falls from climbing equipment and the surfaces involved were identified from injury reports for 1988 to 1990 from 157 Utah elementary schools. Enrollment data and playground inspections were used to estimate student-years spent over each surface. The fall injury rates per 10,000 student-years were asphalt, 44; grass, 12; mats, 16; gravel, 15; and sand, 7. These data did not show that impact-absorbing surfaces reduce fall injuries on playgrounds better than grass. Improved field studies are needed to guide policy decisions for playground surfacing."

  • https://adc.bmj.com/content/archdischild/89/2/103.full.pdf (Arch Dis Child, 2002)