How do you describe with words playground equipment made of metal and wood that spins in a circle, hangs from a single center pole, teeter-totters in ovals and circles, on which riders can sit or stand, so that others know exactly what you are talking about? There is a reason for the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words”. What I have just described to you is located in the park in Wilsey, Kansas. It looks like this:
It was the most fun playground equipment I ever played on as a child and my children thought it was the best as well. Visits to my grandparents farm always included trips into town (their church is located right next to this park) and usually some time to play at the park. The businesses are now closed up with many buildings falling apart on main street, there is no longer a school—the few children are bussed to a larger town, but the church has a large new addition on the building. As mom and I drove around the town on our trip to Kansas recently, I was so happy to see the swinging merry-go-round still standing in the park. Oh, the memories it brought back! I jumped out of the car to snap a picture, but I really should have gone to play a few minutes. The temperature was 105 degrees that day and we felt like we melted every time we got out of the car.
But there is more to the story (history) of this piece of equipment than just the description and current photo.
My mom attended a one room schoolhouse through 8th grade about a mile from the farm where she grew up. The school was built in 1912 on a hill with a good spring below it— and was aptly named Hill Springs. This swinging merry-go-round was originally located at Hill Springs school. Mom found a picture taken of her classmates sitting/standing on it. Mom is the third from the right and also in the cutoff picture on the left. When Hill Springs ceased being a school, the merry-go-round was moved to the park in town.
My grandpa and his brother also attended that school when they were kids. I don’t know though if this existed yet on the playground for him to play on as a child.
My grandma and grandpa met in high school (located in town) and after graduation grandma went to Normal Training and then started teaching at Hill Springs School while living with a family near the school. She and my grandpa wrote notes to each other and left them in a little crack in the bridge close to Hill Springs. Grandpa would go there everyday to check their little “mailbox” to see if she left a note. The family she boarded with moved away in the spring and she ended up living with my grandpa’s family for a few months. Since she had to sleep with my grandpa’s grandma, she chose to live with another family the next year. She taught at another school the year after that and even though she had one more year left on her certificate, she and grandpa got married and they would not hire a married woman to teach back in those days.
Curiosity led me to search online to see if this type of playground equipment had a name and it does— a “witches hat”. Now whether that was a nickname or an official name, I do not know.
One of the art challenges for the month of June in the Documented Life Project was using photos and words with the journal prompt, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. I decided to use the photo of the “witches hat” as my inspiration. Mom did not have any pictures of me playing on it as a child (back then every single moment of your children’s lives were not documented on film like we do today!) However, I found a couple of photos of my children playing on it. In one of the photos my son is dressed in white pants— not his typical play clothes— we were visiting town for my grandma’s funeral. After putting my page together, I realized that the witches hat has been altered from the days when my kids played on it. Look closely and you’ll see the metal ring in the middle (which regulates how high it will swing around the center pole) is much smaller than before. I guess it had to succumb to the safety regulations of today’s playgrounds. It’s probably not as much fun to play on now.
I used Gelatos and Inktense blocks with water to make a swirling design for the background— like you would see going around and around in circles, blurred grass and sky. The word PLAY was cut from a gelatin print and outlined with marker.