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Amy's Corner

Games of Yesteryear
By Amy Troolin, Research Room Coordinator

Before computers and video games were invented to occupy childrens hours, and even before playground and sports equipment were available to them at school recesses, children found plenty of ways to amuse themselves and have fun. Some of their most important pastimes were games like Old Sow, Duck on a Rock, Anteover, Pompompullaway, and Fox and Geese. These games did not require any fancy supplies, but they still provided hours of enjoyment for children large and small.

Old Sow was played with sticks and an old can or block of wood. First the players would dig a small sow hole just as big as the can or block. Next, all of the players except for the one who was It formed a circle around the sow hole and dug small holes into which they fit the ends of their sticks (each person had one). The player who was It would try to push the old sow (the can or block) into the sow hole with his stick while the others tried to block him while at the same time keeping the ends of their sticks in the holes. If any player took his stick out of the hole, the player who was It could replace him, and the other player became the new It. If It finally pushed the old sow into the sow hole, he would yell Change! and all the players scrambled to find new holes. The one who was left over became the new It.

In Duck on a Rock, players would start by drawing a baseline about 40 feet from a large stone on which they then set a piece of firewood, the duck. The object of the game was to throw stones at the duck in hopes of knocking it off the rock. After each player threw his stone without knocking over the duck, he had to go and stand by the stone but not touch it, or the person who was It could tag him. If the duck was knocked over, the person who was It had to hurry to set it back up and then try to tag the players who had picked up their stones and were scurrying back to the baseline. If It caught anyone, that person got to be the new It.

Anteover was another simple game that children spent hours playing. Two teams would stand on opposite sides of a building, usually the schoolhouse or a shed, and toss a ball over the roof yelling Anteover as they did so. If the team on the opposite side of the building caught the ball, they would run to switch sides. The person carrying the ball had the opportunity to tag people from the other side causing them to join his team. If the ball was not caught, the team would return it yelling Anteover. The game was played until everyone was on one side or until recess was finished, which probably tended to come first.

For Pompompullaway, the children would draw two baselines about 30 yards apart. They then chose a person to be It who stood between the lines while the others formed teams on either side. When It called Pompompullaway the others would try to run to the opposite baseline without being tagged. Those who were tagged also became It and helped chase the runners. The game continued until everyone had been tagged.

Finally, the game Fox and Geese was one played only in the wintertime, especially after a fresh snowfall. The children would make a large circle in the snow with as many spokes inside as was necessary to accommodate all the players. One person became the Fox while the others were the Geese. The Geese had to stay on the paths forming the circle and spokes while the Fox attempted to tag them. They were safe only in the middle of the circle. If anyone was tagged or stepped off the path, that person became the new Fox.

These games were very simple, and they did not require any expensive equipment to play. At most, all that children needed were a ball and some sticks or a piece of wood and a few stones, and these things were generally readily available for free. Yet children seldom seemed to get bored with these games. In fact, they provided hours of fun, exercise, and companionship that children today, with all of their expensive toys, seldom experience.

The information for this article comes from Frank Zieglers manuscript Reminiscing which is available for study at Kanabec History Center.

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