Friday, September 12, 2014

Finding Fun before Nintendo

This week the Geary County Historical Society is highlighting one of our Traveling Trunks, “Finding Fun before Nintendo”, which is designed to teach what kids did for fun before computerized technology was readily available. This trunk is one of eight that the museum owns and can lend out to schools or groups. The museum can also provide a docent who will present the trunk to your class or group.
One of the items in this particular trunk is a Cootie Catcher. These have been made for hundreds of years all over the world under a variety of different names. They have been called “salt cellars”, “fortune tellers”, “chatterboxes”, and “whirlybirds”. They are an origami form originally observed in the English speaking world in 1600 in England. There are two versions of the game involving this folded design, the first being a way to eradicate cooties from a girl who was said to be “infected” with them. The cootie catching device was folded and then the player used the thumb and forefingers open and close the paper form like pincers. On the inside of the cootie catcher on the four flat surfaces the player would have drawn small cootie bugs while the opposite four surfaces were left blank. Any child could contract the cootie germs but it was said that girls were the source of the cooties, and when a child was “infected” with them they were ignored and avoided. The “cootie infected” child would be touched with the folded paper cootie catcher thus eliminating the cooties. The other game associated with the folded paper toy was one that told the future of the player or her friends. Colors are written on the four outside flaps, and then on the eight inside surfaces the numbers 1-8 were written, and when the inner surfaces are flipped up they reveal the fortunes written on their interior side. The “fortunes” can include things like “You need to help with the washing”, “You will get an excellent grade”, and even something as silly as “You will kiss a frog”. The holder of the game will ask the player to first pick a color, then a number, and then corresponding fortune would be revealed. Between the questions the holder of the game alternately opens and closes each side of the cootie catcher while counting to the number of letters in the word, or to the number the player selects. This side of the game relies on the role of “luck” in girls’ lives.
Mary and Josephine Grammer playing house together.
            Another game highlighted in the trunk is Jacks. The game of Jacks has been around for hundreds of years and was originally played with five of any small found objects and a stone. The name “Jacks” is a modern one, and the game is known by many names all over the world. Jacks can still be found today and are now made of six knobs or points protruding form a center form, the Jacks are generally metal or plastic and the set comes with a rubber ball. However you do not need to purchase a Jacks set to play. When playing Jacks almost any collection of small objects will work—beans, rocks, stones, and even bones. Throughout history, kids in virtually every culture on the globe have sat cross-legged and played some version of the game. Pre-historic parents may have encouraged their children to play jacks on cave floors, to increase the eye-hand coordination vital to later success at hunting. Kids in ancient Egypt played “knucklebones” with sheep toe bones. The game of knucklebones led to dice games for boys, and jacks, usually played with a wooden ball, for girls. The object of the game is to collect the jacks between bounces of the ball. First six jacks are scattered in front of the player in one throw, then the ball gets bounced and with the same hand the player quickly picks up a jack and then catches the ball before it bounces a second time. Set the first jack aside and repeat until all six jacks are picked up. If this is done without missing then you toss the jacks out again, this time picking them up two by two, three by three, and so on until you scoop up all six at once. Variations on this game do exist, but these are the most popular rules.
These and many other historic toys are highlighted in the “Finding Fun before Nintendo” trunk as a way to teach what free time was like before e-mail, Nintendo, and smart phones. If you are interested in the “Finding Fun before Nintendo” trunk, or any of our other eight trunks, you can contact Meg at the museum to schedule a presentation for your group or classroom. To see these and other historic toys, including the first generation Nintendo, visit our “Playtime” exhibit, on display now through early 2015.