Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Fun-Filled Danger of the Giant Stride


This month I continue my series on historic playground equipment with one of several posts on the simple swing. Actually, I'm leaving the simple part for another post because I'm excited to show you old glass negatives and images of swings that brought raised brows when I showed my husband an image of people flying around a pole with a death-grip, and laughing as they flew.


Playgrounds, May Day, Glass negative, 1924 May. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington

It's called the Giant Stride and for the first half of the 20th century appeared in most school and public playgrounds. This ride is one of those things that people say is the most dangerous of all those on the playground, and yet those who've taken a spin on this ride agree it's the most exciting one of all. In fact, I believe this apparatus is banned in many areas. 

In 1911, Woods Hutchinson published A Handbook of Health which included an area of children's play. Along with detailing mental and running games, he included a section on the Giant Stride.




Playground catalogs of the period show at least two types of Giant Stride with one being a pole with ladder-like chains hanging down. This is the type shown in the above image where the children are gripping with one hand higher than the other. One father has built on of these in his backyard and made a Giant Stride video. As I watched, a young lad jump away as he tired and I wondered how this can be more dangerous than children jumping off a high-flying regular swing.

The image of the Giant Stride No. D128 is from the 1922 Narragansett Machine Company catalog out of Providence, R.I.


The 1932 Fun-Ful Playground Equipment catalog shows a larger version called the Cycle Stride.





But what we now call a playground ride was used back in Victorian Britain as a physical education apparatus at the North London Collegiate School. Established in 1882, this fine college for young women promoted free and unchecked physical activity as a way to develop graceful and flowing movements. 




Even that wasn't the beginning of the Giant Stride, however, because in 1847 George French Angas contributed an illustration to The New Zealanders Illustrated, of New Zealand Maori children swinging above a bank by ropes that hung from a tall pole. The morere swing was made from ropes obtained from the leaves and fibers of the cabbage tree.


"Swing" Angas, George French 1822-1886: The New Zealanders Illustrated, 1847. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Doesn't it look like the children are enjoying themselves? If you love to hear the shrieks and laughter of children having fun check out this another modern video of a homemade backyard Giant Stride. This one is similar to the first, but the children are seated, and from the excited shrieks, it sounds like they're having fun. (https://youtu.be/scxM6jOnXxQ)




Like all things, however, moderation is the key and the danger heightens as people misuse these play activities at the expense of others who may be younger and weaker and unable to keep their grip.


What are your thoughts on the Giant Stride? Any experiences you'd like to share?






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Anita Mae Draper's historical romances are woven under the western skies of the Saskatchewan prairie where her love of research and genealogy yield fascinating truths that layer her stories with rich historical details. Anita's short story, Here We Come A-Wassailing, was a finalist for the Word Guild's 2015 Word Awards. Her novellas are included in Austen in Austin Volume 1, The American Heiress Brides Collection, and The Secret Admirer Romance Collection. Readers can check out Anita's Pinterest boards for a visual idea of her stories to enrich their reading experience. Discover more at: 

37 comments:

  1. Never seen this! I'm sure it would be more fun to an active child than one of those spinning platforms that you sit on. Great post! What you guys think of to research!!!!

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    1. Thanks, Connie. Glad you stopped by.

      We have one of these in a neighboring town's playground. It is one with the wheel at the top and a thick slab of rubber belting to sit in. I love the swinging part, but not the rubber belting as it squishes my thighs together and makes my knees ache. Haven't been on it for 20 yrs, but it's still there.

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    2. I fell off one of these when I was 6 years old. Flying so high. I hit the ground. Knocked the breath out of me. Thought I was going to die. Horrible play ground equipment.

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  2. Oh my goodness! I haven't thought about this in more years than I like to count. We had one on our playground at a park near us and one in our school yard back in the early '40's when I was in elementary school. It was one of my favorite things to do. I don't remember it being called this, but it had five or six "handle" contraptions on chains coming from the top of the pole. We would each grab one, designate one girl as the leader then run as fast as we could while she counted (Yelled) 1-2-3 and we all lifted our feet and flew around the pole. We laughed and squealed as went round and round until it stopped and we did it again. This and the merry-go-round were my two favorite playground rides although I did love the swings and high slide as well. The see-saw was my least favorite because it didn't have enough excitement.

    I also remember thinking how "grown up" I was when I was tall enough to grab one of the "handles" and run around the pole. Thanks for bringing back some fun memories. As soon as I saw that first picture, the memories flooded back.

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    1. Martha, I could see you 'flying' as I read your words. Thank you so very much for sharing your memory with us.

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    2. I just remembered what we called them. It was the "Johnny Strikes" pole. Where THAT name came from I'll never know. It had three bars across similar to the picture so that as we grew taller, we could reach up and hold the next bar.

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    3. Thanks, Martha. I just googled "Johnny Strikes" pole and found a website which shows a "giant strikes" playground device similar to the ones in my post. It also states that this was the most dangerous one ever invented. It says, "The large chains and handle bars on the ends would swing around and pop you in the face once someone let go or fell off. It caused more bloody noses than most alumni can count." http://www.collinsvilleisd.org/Page/48

      That is the first time I've read a definitive reason why people say this apparatus is dangerous, so thank you for that, Martha.

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    4. Yes, and I remember a few bloody noses and knots on the head. All from the boys and they were trying to do tricks. We girls hung on for dear life and even lifted our legs up high so we would stop more safely without stumbling or falling to let our bar swing loose. Sometimes girls are smarter than boys or maybe we just didn't want to get bloodied up. :)

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  3. Just the other day on Facebook there was a brief conversation about what some had called a “Maypole,” but I knew of as the “Giant Stride.” The elementary school that I attended had one, and it was amazingly fun, and a fantastic builder of upper-body and core strength! The ladder-like handles of the long chains allowed for kids of different heights to use it. If one of the 8 chains wasn’t being used, gravity kept it low and close to the pole where it couldn’t hurt a kid. The danger of injuries usually came about if a kid jumped off: the still-high handle could slam the next kid in the face, causing contusions, bloody noses and broken teeth. Also, occasionally a kid would hold a chain briefly while the other kids were still striding on it, then give the chain a careless heave. There was a far greater danger of injuries that way.
    I don’t remember witnessing any broken teeth or blood after seeing a kid being hit, and it never happened to me, but I was whomped a few times! Not fun but not painful enough to stop playing on it.
    Maybe someone could set one up with thickly padded handles, or make the kids wear helmets with face protection while they played on one. The exercise benefits and the sheer FUN is astounding!

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    1. What a fascinating comment, Wendy. It sounds like a bully could have a hey-day if they felt the urge. You bring to mind the participants of the extreme sports. They require superior athletic strength and the guts and bravado of someone who believes they are invincible. Perhaps the Giant Stride has been outlawed in some places then, because it presents a fun opportunity to children who haven't grasped their own mortality. Interesting.

      Thanks so much for sharing your perspective. Stop by and visit again. :)

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    2. We had one on the Academy of St. Catherine's playground (Ventura, CA) in the early/mid-1960s. The most fun was for one girl to step out, holding onto her chain, and wrap back over as many other girls' chains as she could. Once they got going, the over-wrap would cause the one girl to really fly high - like, perpendicular to the top of the pole, almost. Only once did I see a girl go flying off it at that speed and height. That was the only injury I remember. Man, I loved that thing!

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    3. Oh, my goodness, Toni and Clay! Very exhilarating if you're adventurous. That's one swing style I'd get more of a kick out of watching than doing. Haha. Thanks so much for finding me here and commenting. Really appreciate. it.

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  4. We had one at North Edwardsburgh PS that lost it's chains when the first leg was broken using it. It broke a few arms before that without decommission. But it WAS great fun. Our playgrounds were like Gladiator training camps outta Spartacus in those days

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    1. OH WOW! Those injuries are horrible. Wondering if you had an extra rowdy bunch, heavy duty chains, or simply less nutrition in diet so the bones weren't that strong. Lots to think about.
      Thanks for sharing!

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  5. I am transcribing an autobiography that my grandmother wrote in Kalispell, Montana, in 1935, and she listed "Jiant Strides" as one of her favorite playground entertainments. I am glad to have found this page that explains them, and helps me envision the "improvements" that she says they made: "Everyone brought a rope from home and by tying it in a loop on the handle, made a place for us to sit. ALmost always the girls sat in the loop and the boys pushed." Now I can understand this so much better, having never seen one myself! Thank you!

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    1. Oh my, Kate, that's very interesting. So very glad my post helped you in this very important endeavor. I am transcribing and posting the WW1 letters my hubby's grandfather sent back home and often come upon words and expressions that take much time, and sometimes frustration, to research.
      Thanks for sharing. :)
      On another note... I have a question about your grandmother's autobiography but can't find contact info on you. Can you send me a note via the Contact page of my website?
      http://www.anitamaedraper.com/contact.html

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  6. We had a Giant Stride at our playground in the 70's, it was far the most fun piece of equipment at school. We always took turns getting "pulled" where everyone else would run underneath the chain of the chosen "pulled". Eventually it would lift that person very high, very fast off the ground sling shotting them forward. I remember lots of kids shooting off the ride about 5' up parallel to the ground. We all learned to roll pretty quickly.

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    1. YEP! Just shared that memory myself!

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    2. You see, that's the type of thing we were talking about earlier... kids are going to find ways to liven things up. It's our nature. And we learn by our mistakes. I'm all for safety equipment, but instead of taking away simple playground structures because they're deemed dangerous, the manufacturers should build it with safety guards installed... say a rope and pulley system that will allow someone to shoot "off the ride about 5' up parallel to the ground", yet give them a controlled stop and release. They'll get a ride and learn cause and effect without painful injuries.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing with us. :)

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  7. Back in 1970 - 1977 I lived in Stoney Creek, Ontario and there was a park near my house that had a giant strider, we dubbed it the May Pole we would swing on that thing from as early spring to as late in the fall as the weather would permit and had the calluses to prove it. When I was still a lil kid the big kids would take every other swing and us lil kids would take the other swings, those big kids use to get that thing moving so fast us lil kids would literally be horizontal and hangin on with all our might when I got bigger my friends and I would do the same for the lil kids. It was a BLAST! and no one ever got hurt, we just had fun. When I was about 12 years old there is a picture of me in a pink bikini and I am ripped! I had a very visable six pack and muscled arms and shoulders I looked like an athlete. I would love to build a giant strider and start swinging on it like I use to try and have that body it gave me back then. 😃

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    1. Suzanne, I'm so glad you found my post. You've showed how the kids in your community were raised with a sense of citizenship in receiving and then giving back even though you it was all for the fun of it. And I'm glad you mentioned your physical shape back then. Those days of playing outside involved prolonged physical activities that kept our heads and bodies in shape.

      Thanks so much for sharing with us, especially the Ontario angle, considering I was born in Ontario, too. :)

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    2. Suzanne, I'm sorry I'm so late with this... I was sure I'd answered weeks ago, but have a niggle of memory about logging in problems at the time. Ugh.

      I love that you shared your positive experience with the giant stride, and also your reference to your physique at the time...a great reason for kids to be outside playing, climbing, swinging, etc. I especially liked that you mentioned you lived in Ontario which is the province I was born in and have many memories of playgrounds there.

      Thanks so much for visiting and letting me know you were here. :)

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  8. There was one on the playground in the elementary school that my sister and I attended in 1949. It was the most fun and great exercise; however, I did get cracked in the head with a loose chain once in awhile. I can’t imagine that there are still some Giant Strides around anywhere!

    There was also a tether ball game on our playground and it was easy to get a black eye playing that.

    We used to “hang by our heels” on what we called the “ turning pole” that was there. Thinking back, I guess we were real daredevils! Nice memories.

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    1. Ouch! Oh my, so sorry you were exposed to loose chains. Not a great way to enjoy play. Oh, and I hear you on the tetherball. Moving balls that I couldn't control were a problem for me. I could crack the bat a fair bit and send a ball flying, but was no good as a catcher as I couldn't seem to track the ball. However, I had no problem tracking a butterfly. :D
      Put me on a dodgeball or volleyball team though, and I was down for the count.

      So funny that you talk about the hazards of playing on the giant stride and tether ball, and yet end on a positive note about dangerous stunts that led to good memories. I love that!

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing with us. :)

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  9. Enjoyed your blog! Something similar to the Giant Stride was my all time favorite recess pastime. The principle was exactly the same only the ends to hold on to were metal triangles and there were only 4 chains hanging down. I was always first out at recess and couldn't wait for a fourth person to show up so that we could start running and flying. This was in the early 1960's at 12,000 feet in the middle of Peru at an American School organized by the Cerro de Pasco Mining Corp. where my father was employed. Most fun ever!

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    1. Hello, Heidi. Somehow I missed your wonderful comment before and yet I'm so glad you shared your international experience with the Giant Stride-type swing. I assume you needed very strong arms for the triangles as I can imagine myself doing the 'arm splits' while trying to keep control of my swinging body. Oh, what an image I would have made. It would certainly add another element of danger to the playground.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing. :)

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  10. At my grade school in the 60's we had a two teared giant stride. It was on an asphalt slab next to an old stone building which were both waiting to give some playground whirling dervish a broken bone or two. When the teachers weren't looking we would cross the chains over each other to go as high and fast as possible. Nobody ever fell because we were all having too much fun!! If you got to close while others were flying around, you would have been knocked out and had a permanent shoe print on your noggin. It was playground danger on steroids and we loved it!!!

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    1. Oh my, Jace, sounds like something you'd see on extreme sports. I can see where the most adventurous kids would have something to give them a thrill right at school. Today's safe school playgrounds still allow falls and broken bones, but it seems the thrill-seekers seek out their own fun in dangerous places and often get hurt away from help and supervision. I really like the places that teach kids how to play and fall safely, yet give them a chance to test their agility at the same time.

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    2. Jace, I was so busy envisioning your memory that I forgot thank you for sharing it with us. I'm really glad you did. :)

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  11. There was one on my school playground in the 60’s in Farwell, Michigan. I remember that we called it “The Giants”. I remember having a hard time reaching the handle, but also it being super fun. I remember long lines of kids waiting their turn.

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    1. Hello, Rettger family. It sounds like you have fond memories of that time. Your comment reminds me of the saying that you can't really appreciate something that comes too easy. Or something like that. Thanks so much for sharing. :)

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  12. Love your post and pictures! I built one for my kids last year. I had never seen or heard of them before and the design and construction was rather organic. I had tied a piece of line to pole in our front yard in order for it to dry before stowing it. The steel pole was originally for an awning. My 7 year old started swinging on the rope and letting it wrap up around the pole. After seeing her do this for a while i decided it would be cool to weld an old trailer axle to the top of the pole. Instant fun and a few weeks later I built a taller and sturdier version in the back yard.

    I didnt know what to call it so i searched online and found out that this was not my invention! Your article was very helpful and i love the old art and photos.

    Here is a link to my instagram account where i have some videos of the kids swinging.

    https://www.instagram.com/seth_birdd/

    Thank you!

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    1. Cool photos, Seth. Yes, your Giant Stride rendition looks great, but so does that railroad thing you've got going! I'm a sucker for trains and that caught my eye right away. But back to the swing, your instagram pics show the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, eh. No wonder your kids like it. :)

      I appreciate you sharing your creation and social media photos. May all of your family play safe.

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  13. our school playground in Oklahoma still had this in the 1970s and 80s. I loved it! Underneath was all rocks and cement, but I don't remember anyone getting hurt, mostly just blisters from hanging on it all the time

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    1. Wow, Julieplaid, things sure have changed. You must have REALLY liked that apparatus if you had blisters from hanging on. :)

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

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  14. We had one growing up in our park in Le Sueur, MN. We would play a game where everyone grabbed a line, I believe ours had 8, and went to the center pole. One designated kid would do the fly out while the rest kept it going as fast as they could. There was only one broken arm and it came down. Good memories! I never knew what it was called until tonight when I researched old playground equipment. I was telling my son stories of "the olden days".

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    1. Well then, I'm very glad I posted about it because I'm a firm believer in passing history on to the next generations. It's so much more personal to hear it from our elders when we can hear and see the excitement as they describe things and people. Those are wonderful memories.

      Thanks so much for sharing. :)

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