Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fun and Games in 1864

by Linda Farmer Harris

In her June 26th CFHS post, Schoolyard Games, Winnie Griggs posed an intriguing question, “Was there a favorite game you remember playing during recess?” She mentioned Hop-Scotch. Wow - that brought back lots of memories. There is something irresistible about a chalk diagram on a sidewalk. Children and adults alike will hop across the board and go on their way with a chuckle and a smile. But, how many of them actually know the rules.

In the 1864 edition of the American Boys Book of Sports and Games (Dick & Fitzgerald, New York), the rules required that the player hop on one foot and kick an oyster-shell or small flat stone from one compartment to the other, without putting the lifted foot on the ground and without allowing the shell/stone to land on a line.

The diagram consisted of thirteen compartments, twelve were numbered, and the last one had a large “P” standing for plum-pudding. No explanation was given for why the plum-pudding designation.

One method to decide who went first was for each player to throw a stone onto the diagram and the one nearest to the P played first.

The winner would stand on the place marked with the star and throw his shell into the No. 1 box; he would hop into the space and kick the shell back to the star.

For his second move, he threw the shell into No. 2, kicked it from No. 2 to No. 1, then kicked it back to the star, all the while hopping with one leg lifted. For his third move, he threw his shell into No. 3, kicked it from 3 to 2, from 2 to 1, and out to the star. He would follow this kicking sequence again for No. 4 — 4 to 3, from 3 to 2, from 2 to 1, and out to the star. He followed suit for No. 5 and No. 6. He proceeded to No. 7 where he was permitted to rest by standing with one foot in No. 6 and the other in No.7.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired already! I found it interesting that this was a game played primarily by boys. I’ve always thought of it as a girls’ game.

The player must resume hopping before he can kick No. 7’s shell back to the star, following the kicking sequence. He passes through the beds 8,9,10, and 11 in the same pattern as 1-5, until he reaches the P. He can now rest again. He is then required to place his shell on P and while standing on one foot, kick the shell from P to the star in one kick.

A player loses his “innings” if he throws his shell into the wrong compartment, if his shell or his foot rests on a line; or he kicks the shell out of the diagram.

This made me think of the ways we chose teams or the person to be “it.” No matter the group, everyone seemed to know the Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe chant. This counting rhyme has existed in various forms since well before 1820 and common in many languages with similar-sounding nonsense syllables. I think locality had some influence on the rhyme also. Some chants caught a tiger by the toe, some caught a monkey or a chicken, others caught a teacher (hmmm). We caught a cowboy and made him pay fifty dollars every day instead of letting him go.

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,
Catch a tiger by the toe.
If he hollers, let him go,
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

There was always some kid who wasn’t satisfied with the person pointed to on the last moe so he had to add “My mother told me to pick the very best one, and that is Y-O-U.”

Growing up I heard “Hop, Step, and Jump” used to denote distance. Such as, “Old man Brown’s pond is a hop, step, and jump behind his barn.” Or, “It ain’t far, just a hop, step, and jump and you’ll be there.” In New Mexico, it was a hop, skip, and a jump.

Lo, and behold, the boys played a game as early as 1864 that may have originated that measurement phrase. To play, mark a long line on the ground as a starting point. Ten yards from this point make another mark for the “spring.” Players line up along the starting point line and in succession run to the spring line. From the spring line, he makes first a hop on one leg, then a long step, then a long jump. He holds his ground until every player springs. The winner is the one who covers the most ground. This is now an typical track and field event plus a variation of it is one of the Olympic Games competitions.

I never thought of boys needing to be taught to jump, but the 1864 manual encourages them to jump upward, downward, backward, and over long distances. They are to practice these moves in earnest.

Now, that you’re tired and want to play indoors, “Twirling the Plate” and "Cupid’s Coming” will fit the bill. These are particularly good for cooling down after a vigorous romp.

Twirling the Plate was new to me, but lots of fun when I tried it with some visiting children. I used a plastic “charger” plate; set it on its edge and gave it a spin. I called the name of one of the children and she had to catch it before it quit spinning or pay a forfeit. We used a dime’s worth of pennies as the penny-forfeit. The forfeit went to the person who twirled the plate. The person called on now spins the plate and calls on someone to catch it. It isn’t as easy as it sounds.

The girls really liked Cupid’s Coming. Yes, we Eeny, meeny, miny, moe’d to choose the person to start the game. She chose a letter for a word that ended in “ing.” For example, R was chosen. The IT girl said to the person next to her, “Cupid’s coming.” The person responded, “How is he coming?” Miss IT replied “Racing.” The person now tells the girl on her opposite side, “Cupid’s coming.” The third person asked, “How?” The response was “Rudely.” The question and response goes around the circle until the “R” (or chosen letter) and its “ing” are exhausted. The penny-forfeit was used when someone couldn’t answer with an “ing” word.

Indoors or outdoors, kids need to be active and interact with each other. Maybe some of these old games need to be refreshed in our backyards and family outings. Have you or your family invented any games to play or modified an old game?

Blessings, Lin

Lin grew up in Lovington, New Mexico and married Jerry 47 years ago this month. When she isn't researching the many fascinating things in and around Chimney Rock, Colorado, where they now live and ranch, she is working on her new series Voices in the Desert. The first book, Treasures Among the Ruins, is set in 1926 and introduces Cornelia Miller and her adventures as a Southwestern Indian Detour Courier. The other four books span the years 1928-1932.  


  1. We had the Eeny meany miny moe. but our next line had what would be a bad word in it although we wouldn't known it was. We also had the line added "and out you must go cos Mickey Mouse said so".
    Our hopscotch set up was different too.
    We use Hop, Skip and Jump in Australia.
    Hop, Step and Jump is the other name for the Triple jump.
    I enjoyed reading about the games.

    1. Hi Jenny, thanks for your comment. I've heard that other line too. Being a Mouse fan, I would have loved to use that one. One of my friends said that they still use the Triple Jump in elementary schools here in Colorado.

  2. Wow, the hopscotch sure brings back memories. We had the diagram on our driveway and played all the time. I loved it, but now I can't even stand on one foot longer than 30 seconds. We used "Eeny, meeny, minie, moe" all the time. (This is the way we spelled it) We added the second part for the same reasons you stated. Crazy what we did back then.

    Thanks for the information about the other games. I enjoyed reading about them. We had a lot of fun as children without all the electronics of today.

    1. Hi Martha, I know about the balance thing, too. I tried to hop one on a sidewalk not long ago. I sure hope no one but my laughing husband was watching. You should have seen the various ways I found the "Eeny" line written. I can remember when coming in the house for supper was a hard thing to do because we were having so much fun outside. Now, it's hard to get the kids outside to walk to the car!

  3. Fun Post, Linda. I'm trying to figure out what which Olympic game has the hop, skip, and jump. the only one I can think of that comes close is the long jump. So please do tell! Love the Olympics.

    1. Debbie Lynne, I can answer that Hop step and jump is now called the Triple jump.

    2. Howdy Debbie, yep Jenny's right it's called the Triple Jump. You will hear many Olympic commentators refer to the sequence as hop, bound, and jump. The jump part is very similar to the long jump, but the three phases of the H-S-J sequence is very distinctive.

  4. I enjoyed reading about the fun and games of the past. I love playing games with my children, indoors and outdoors! I know we will have fun trying "Twirling the Plate."

    1. Thanks for your comments, Britney. I really enjoyed Twirling the Plate. Maybe because it took me a few twirls to master it and to keep the plate from cratering the minute my hand let go. My young guests and I spent some enjoyable time trying to walk around with water bottles on our heads. We tried various levels of water for the "best" walk but couldn't go below 3/4 of the way so a gulp was really all you could remove from the bottle. Loads of fun and laughter.

  5. I loved reading about the fun and games children through times have played. I am sure we all have great memories of great games we would play at recess or those we played inside when it was a rainy day. I can still remember as I jumped rope saying the little diddy, "Teddy bear, Teddy Bear, turn around!" Thank you for bringing pleasant thoughts to mind.

    1. Hi Melanie, thanks for stopping by. I loved jumping rope as a kid. I watch every competition they put on TV. We chanted Teddy Bear, too.

      Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, climb the stairs
      Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, say your prayers
      Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn out the light
      Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, say good night

      Did y'all do "Red hot pepper in the pot, who's got more than the leader's got?" then you had to jump double time as high as you could without missing. I never could get to 70.

      Thank you for reminding me of those great jumps.

  6. OH my goodness, I'm tired just from reading all those! So interesting to learn about games long ago. I was in the double dutch jump roping generation. Great post!

    1. Susan, I'm jealous! Double dutch jump rope didn't hit our elementary playground until I was in high school. I always thought that would be such fun to do, but we were all too grown up to do that. Then, lo and behold, it became a television event when I became an adult. I still watch every competition I can. Thanks for your comments.

  7. Enjoyed your post, Lin. Had no idea the rules for hop scotch were so complicated & glad my kids are grown - some of these games sound too tiring for my retired body.

    Enjoyed - also - touring the pretty state you live in, several years ago.


    1. Hi Bonnie, the rules alone give me pause. I had hoped to find some kids who were currently hopscotching, but school wasn't in session when I wrote this post. I wonder how they've modified the rules and how they decide what rules to use. If I find out, I'll tuck it in a future post. Thanks for stopping by.