Dangerous vintage playgrounds

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?

1 Like

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!

1 Like

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)


This exact same picture has been featured on BoingBoing before.

Except then it described as fun and contrasted favorably with modern playgrounds where “safety was taken into consideration – jail-like equipment.”

Make up your mind, mutants!


They’ve done a few studies with preschools here in Australia with schools that have switched to higher-risk playgrounds. Injuries tend to go down by around 30 to 40%.

While the new grounds may look dangerous — a towering fort (with open edges), 1.6-metre-high balance beams, and climbing walls (without a fall mattress) — the data shows the opposite.
There has actually been a 43 per cent reduction in reported injuries at the centre.

Anecdata point: until about grade 2 my son was a lunatic climber, but he knew his limits and mostly worked within them. He mastered the 5-foot climbing walls at playgrounds before he could talk.

The day he finally fell and broke his arm, he was four and at a playground with lots of rubber and mulch padding. He fell off a short slide (about chest-high on an adult) that was brightly coloured plastic and for all the world looked like a big toy. He was treating it like a toy, not like something you could fall off. I can’t know for sure, but I believe that if it looked a bit more dangerous, he may have acted like it needed a bit of respect.

ETA: full disclosure: despite some similarities in the broken arm story, I don’t know anyone in the link:


I grew up in the 60’s as well, and didn’t see anything here that wasn’t similar, if not exactly the same, as what we had at my school. And we were lucky - at the area country schools (yes, there were still one room country schools in the 60’s) kids were fortunate to have a slide to play on, most often it was a tree. I loved climbing the monkey bars, and hardly ever got hurt. Once I got a big blister on my hand from sliding down the maypole after shinnying up to the top. Of course, I also had a science teacher who taught us to make gunpowder, and a shop teacher with only three fingers on one hand, so …


I vaguely remember this being discussed on BB before. I think there was also a 99 percent invisible podcast on it.

If memory serves, they found the biggest problem were dangerous things that weren’t obvious, like a slippery gap that you could get caught in. Dangerous things that were obvious, like heights, were much less of an issue. For example, the runged steps to a slide were more of a concern than the slide itself. More recent playgrounds take this into account.



It’s a highly defensible position in the Thermopylae sense, to be sure, but as soon as those kids master ranged weapons he’s a goner.

1 Like

Nice… Nice one!

That’s just grate!

Also, did anyone else have the half-buried tires to play leap frog over?
We had something kind of like this at my elementary school (1980s):


and the lack of vaccines! but here we are, with no playgrounds and an increasing anti-vaccine culture. sigh.

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.