Who can forget the great playgrounds of the past, with their rickety, rusty merry-go-rounds, teeter totters, and monkey bars, beckoning children from far and wide? Has America forgotten all these great treasures? What about those swell hours spent in the emergency room, waiting for arms and legs to be reset? Ah, memories. It’s a real shame, but most vintage playground toys were torn down decades ago, with no fanfare, only to be shipped off to the scrap heap and replaced with plastic and fiberglass monstrosities. Luckily, photojournalist Brenda Biondo is devoted to capturing these decaying old relics, traveling to schoolyards and public parks in order to take pictures of the few old-timey playground toys still in service. She’s turned her findings into a coffee table book, and she discusses the entire project with writer Lisa Hix for a fascinating and occasionally alarming interview in Collectors Weekly.
In her research, Biondo found that the playground is really an invention of the early 1900s, when social reformers wanted to provide children with a safer place to play than the middle of the street. Yes, children would occasionally sustain injuries on steep metal playground toys, but that was better than having them stand directly in the line of traffic. Over in Germany, kids were just supposed to play with big piles of sand, but that idea never really caught on in America. According to Biondo’s book, the golden age of playgrounds lasted from about 1920 to 1975. The beginning of the end came in 1973, when a bunch of spoilsports called the Consumer Product Safety Commission began investigating playground injuries. A handbook with guidelines eventuated in 1981. Schools and parks departments everywhere freaked out, tore down the old toys, and replaced them with plastic ones that were closer to the ground and surrounded by mulch. Ironically, this did not really make them safer, so the number of injuries did not decrease. But by then, the vintage toys were long gone.