History | February 20, 2021 6:00 am

A Century Ago, the Giant Stride Gave Kids Delight and Headwounds on Playgrounds

Not exactly the safest piece of equipment for kids (or anyone)

"The Giant Stride"
Ethel Spowers's 1933 lithograph "The Giant Stride" shows the fun side of this invention.

Spend enough time in a playground while growing up and you’re likely to have stories of misadventures on the equipment there. In most cases, though, this likely means swinging too high on a swing or being in the wrong place on a slide. It does not mean being flung from a ride at high speeds or ending up with headwounds after a session with a particular piece of equipment.

If you grew up a century ago, though, that might not be the case. A new article by Tristan Hopper at the National Post tells the story of the checkered history of the giant stride, which answers the question of what a medieval torture device repurposed for fun might look like. If you remember the The Far Side comic featuring the Mr. Rosy Cheeks Centrifuge — it’s not unlike that, but instead of being an absurdist cartoon, it was all too real.

Hopper describes the giant stride as “a metal pole topped by a wheel and hung with an assortment of knotted ropes.” Kids would grab hold and began moving around the pole in a circle. Soon, they’d find themselves moving faster and faster, their strides literally gigantic. Not surprisingly, kids who tried it found it thrilling.

Unless, of course, they let go — at which point they’d go flying into the ground. Some giant strides, Hopper notes, had metal grips — better for holding onto, but also deeply hazardous if one moving at a high velocity came in contact with someone’s head. One person cited in the article recalled having a two inch-long gash left in his head after such a collision in 1932, which never went away.

Giant strides began to vanish from playgrounds in the 1920s, but their infamy has lived on. It certainly sounds like something fun to try; it also sounds like the very definition of a safety nightmare.

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