The perils of childhood play

As I’ve mentioned before, I like the 100-year-old photo blog, Shorpy, both for the pictures and the comments. But the comments on this one startled me.

The title is "Children's playground, St. Louis", and it is from 1936, taken by Arthur Rothstein for the Farm Security Administration.

One commenter sees this as "a wonderful place to go play."

I see a horrendous, dangerous dump, not a happy scene of “use what’s available” childhood play. And I think the photographer’s caption is sardonic.  This is what people then were trying to get rid of.

You always get some “good old days” commenters on Shorpy, but this time they seem to have gone off the rails, describing the healthy joy of playing with old springs and bones in a cesspit.

Now, sure, open and unrestricted play in a mildly dangerous and ominous place is one of those real pleasures of childhood that is definitely rarer now than it used to be, and I suppose that’s a loss. Jerry’s Pit, near my house, was a flooded brick pit that for years served as the local swimming hole, and the skinny kids in the pictures of it sure do look happy.

But this scene is something quite different. For one thing, the kid is alone in this spot. Think there’s a reason for that? He’s making the best of it. But I don’t think that best is all that good.