9 Reasons why playgrounds back in the day were more AWESOME than today’s playgrounds
Public playgrounds today are a bastion of nauseating safeness. Everything’s bolted to the ground and made of plastic. Slides are never higher than about 5-6 feet. Swings are engineered in a way that they can’t be swung scarily 10 feet into the air (how do they do that?). It’s all just so safe and boring.
When I was growing up, and even before that in the ’60s and ’70s, the playground was not only unsafe, it might possibly kill you. Everything was made of steel held together by sharp metal rivets and slides towered over 20 feet high oftentimes curly cue-ing around 3 or 4 times. It was awesome and it was insane at the same time. It was awe-sane!!
I was looking at pictures on Flickr and I came across a group that had pictures of vintage playground equipment. People had even posted scans of old catalogs featuring enormous metal constructs that were sold to be put on public playgrounds. So, taking pictures from that vintage playground Flickr site, let’s take a look at how playgrounds from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s are much more unbelievably bad ass than playgrounds are today.
1. Stuff made from tires – Back in the ’70s, half of the playground consisted of stuff made with discarded tires. All you needed was some wood, metal chains, giant friggin’ nails and a few tires. Chain a tire to a wood frame, you got a tire swing. Nail like 10 tires together and fasten them to another wood frame, you have a climbing wall. Hell, just take a giant tractor tire and bury half of it in the Earth. What could be easier? And safer?
2. Horrifying skinny clown swing sets – Check out these giant, skinny clown swings sets. These towering clown totems were TERRIFYING. They actually look less like swing sets and more like something a demonic clown cult would sacrifice small animals around. Or maybe something Barnum & Bailey would tie you to if you snuck around their tents unsupervised. And what’s that last swing set on the bottom right? A lion? Some circus demon? Horrible.
3. Multi-colored metal carousels – Large metal merry go rounds that spun freely in either direction. More like “puke and go round”. Invariably, multiple kids would jump on it and then start spinning it faster than is totally necessary. Next thing you know, kids are thrown 10 feet into the air, getting dragged along the side in the dirt while holding on and others vomiting up their bologna sandwiches. It’s a wonder more kids didn’t die at the playground. Which made it all the more awesome.
4. We didn’t know how to play with/on half the equipment – Back in the day, playgrounds used to have equipment that made no sense. We would walk up to it and not really know what to do so we’d just climb on and jump off it. Look at the playground stuff above. WTF are they? Do you climb in them? Under them? We didn’t know. Look at the rocket ship. Where are the seats? There’s not really enough room in the cage for a bunch of kids. WTF?! And the long, mutant horsey with 5 saddles. After your parents lift you onto one of the saddles, then what? Do you just sit there? Who designed this?
5. Metal Animals and cars – The metal working and creativity that went into some of the structures at our old playgrounds was second to none. I imagine a giant John Henry wearing an apron stoking fires at a huge forge and banging out metal sculptures on an anvil. He made anything and everything; bugs, cars, stagecoaches, trains, barns and circus wagons. And they weren’t small. These things were big enough for 10 kids to climb on. Imagine riding the giant centipede as if you were riding a sandworm in Dune. Or riding the stagecoach waiting to be held up by Jesse James. So freakin’ awesome.
6. Obsession with space and rockets – Since it was the ’60s and ’70s, kids actually loved NASA and real astronauts. So playground equipment companies came up with tons of structures that mimicked space ships. Huge, metal structures that looked like UFOs and rocket ships with slides and ladders that could never be made within today’s safety standards. These things were AWESOME and dwarf the giant pile of plastic and safety nets we see on today’s playgrounds. I mean, look at the “Space Carrier” above (via Plaid Stallions). It looks like the USS Enterprise (click the image to make BIGGER). THE USS ENTERPRISE!
7. The Miracle Sputnik – No, this is not a carnival ride. It’s made to go on a public playground. The Miracle Sputnik. It was developed in the ’60s and used a lot in Europe, but Miracle started importing them to the States in 1966. You sat in a seat in the round part and pumped your feet to spin the car around. The two round ends counterbalanced each other and caused the whole thing to rotate. I’m not even sure what a mother of today would do if she saw this on the playground, other than dragging her kid off to Gymboree instead of letting him ride this awesome-ness.
9. Astro City – It’s nothing but metal forged into the shape of a bunch of rockets emblazoned with USA on the sides and connected to a bunch of slides and enclosed walkways. IT WAS A DAMN CITY MADE OF METAL ON THE PLAYGROUND!! If a kid saw these on the playground today he’d probably crap himself in excitement. I’m pretty sure this thing even got some of the playground mommies pregnant just by looking at it. BAD. ASS.
The majority of these pics from within the playground Flickr group come from a Flickr user named Nel_P_Olsen (including the image from the top of the article). Check out his photostream for a bunch more photos of vintage playground stuff.
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