A Look at Christmas’s Past, the 1960s Part 2
How many of you spent hours creating Creepy Crawlers? What could possibly go wrong using this toy? Well, pretty much everything! The entire creative process was a health hazard. First you baked your Creepy Crawlers in an oven that reached a high of 390 degrees, which in turn turned the metal mold plates into searing instruments of pain and if that was not enough, the fumes from the baking “Plasticgoop” (the magical substance you poured into the molds) was downright noxious. It did, however, make the best creepy spiders, worms, snakes, and other wriggly things ever. If you think that was risky, can you believe they also sold “Gobble De-good” (more magical substance you poured into the molds) used to make incredible edibles using the same process. These were supposedly safe to eat, but who really knows? It may explain a lot when you stop to think about it!
It just wasn’t Christmas without a wooden Lightning Guider sled. They were manufactured in Duncannon, and could be quite dangerous, especially the ones without the curved runners. There we were, unsupervised, racing down a hill in every dangerous position possible, one of which was on your stomach, the perfect position for running headfirst into rocks and tree stumps hidden beneath the snow. There were also the dog piles where you would see how many kids you could stack on top of each other on your stomachs and then go flying down the hill. My personal favorite was standing on the sled, holding on to the rope to steer. Talk about a death wish! It was a good thing we were all bundled up in layers and layers of long johns and snowsuits, it helped to soften the fall.
Next, we have the Spirograph. What a great gift to encourage your child to get in touch with their artistic side. The set came with a variety of outer and inner wheels that you guided with colored pens to make beautiful patterns. Harmless, at least one would think so, but the way you held the plastic wheels in place was with sharp metal push pins inserted into cardboard. Just the right size to be swallowed by, or stuck into, little brothers and sisters.
Then we have the Satellite Jumping Shoes. These metal jumping devices strapped over your shoes and had metal springs (they looked an awful lot like bed springs) in between two layers of red metal. They were considered to be anti-gravity and were touted as giving the wearer the feeling of walking on the moon. In reality, it was a great way to break an ankle, skin your knees, or a myriad of other injuries. The box stated, “Fun for boys and girls ages 4-14.” I have a grandson who is four and trust me he would most certainly injure himself in these!
By now you are starting to understand why I question my parents’ judgment in all of this! Not only did they allow these dangerous activities, but they also purchased them for us. One of my favorite toys consisted of two balls made of tempered glass attached to a tab with strong string. You held the tab and moved your hand up and down causing the balls to strike one another, gaining speed until the balls clacked together above and below your hand, thus they were given the name Clackers. Mine were purple and had silver sparkles. During the process, the balls sometimes missed each other and struck you in the arm instead. It was not unusual for me to have bruises up and down my arm. They were also known to shatter, sending shards of glass onto the player and anyone standing within striking distance. It rather puts you in mind of a medieval weapon of sorts.
Everyone had a BB gun or cap gun. I can still remember the smell of sulfur after you shot the caps, which were small charges of an explosive compound, and the loud sound it made when fired. I also remember getting my finger pinched in the hammer. Anyone who has watched “A Christmas Story” is aware of the damage that can be caused by a BB gun. Ralphie receives the gift he desperately wanted, a Red Ryder BB gun, but when he shoots, the gun ricochets and strikes him in the face. He believes he shot himself in the eye, but in actuality he knocked off his glasses, which fell to the ground.
I would be remis if I did not mention another personal favorite, lawn darts, also known as “Jarts.” This outdoor game consisted of four very large plastic darts (approximately 12 inches long) with heavy weighted metal tips. You would stand opposite your opponent and throw them directly towards one another and try to land them within a plastic ring placed on the ground in front of you. Shockingly, they were banned in 1970 by the FDA for being dangerous after several serious injuries occurred and even a death was reported.
I feel like I could go on and on, but here is my final example. Who wasn’t thrilled to wake up Christmas morning to a brand-new bike? One reader I spoke to said that the year he got his new bike was the best Christmas ever! So why would I add a bike to the dangerous toy list? Perhaps it is because we rode them while wearing bell bottom pants. Can you guess what happens when you wear bell bottoms while riding a bike? Nothing good I can assure you. I can remember plummeting to the ground when my pink and white striped, wool, cuffed bell bottoms became lodged in my bicycle chain. Not good. Also, no one even owned a helmet, let alone wore one.
Even though some of our toys were lethal, or at the very least harmful, we enjoyed them and somehow survived, mostly unscathed, and grew up to treasure those childhood memories. Which leads me to believe that our parents were not secretly trying to get rid of us, just trusted us to be responsible and make good decisions.
Rhonda S. Kelley, Executive Director, Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce