The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 24, 2008


Yesterday’s toys delight today’s children at Heald House event


From left to right, Kyra Forsberg, her grandmother Joanne Forsberg, and Meg Winikates of the Discovery Science Museums work on a “whirligig.” (Photo by Jane Hamilton)

On a cool Sunday afternoon, several Carlisle families gathered at the Heald House barn for a program called “Yesterday’s Play,” sponsored by the Carlisle Historical Society.

Meg Winikates of the Science Discovery Museums in Acton brought replicas of toys from the past 200 years and encouraged the children to play with them. She then showed the children how to make simple toys out of everyday household objects.

Winikates described the vintage toys. Among them were Sliding Sarie (a doll that falls down the stairs), the “gee-haw stick” or “whimmy diddle,” (a spinning propeller on a serrated stick), a cup and ball, Jacob’s Ladder, and an assortment of tops.

These folk toys are replicas of or variants on toys which were used in 18th and 19th century America, although several had roots in earlier toys as well. The Jacob’s Ladder, for example, was a “Sunday” toy because its name related to the Bible and was therefore the only amusement allowed to children on Sundays in strict Puritan families.

All these toys worked with simple machine physics: potential and kinetic energy such as in twisted rope (tension/torque), momentum and human energy (no batteries required!).

Many historical toys were designed to improve skills that children would need later in life such as miniature bows and arrows, or graces, which taught graceful momements and hand-to-eye coordination.

Making simple toys

Winikates reported that the two toys the group made were the “Toss and Catch” and the “Buzz Saw/Whirligig.” Children in Native American tribes and in Colonial America played variations on “toss and catch” games. For example, a small ring made of a vine was tied to a string and then to a stick. These games encouraged good hand-to-eye coordination.

The toys made at the Heald House program were composed of leftovers found around the house – recycled wooden spindles, nylon twine and hoops cut from a cardboard mailing tube.

Buttons, wooden disks, and even spare pieces of wood could be used to make fast-spinning noise makers, sometimes called “buzz saws” or “whirligigs,” designed to spin fast. Present-day whirligigs were made with popsicle sticks, nylon twine, and recycled wooden disks from various crafts and furniture ends like drawer pulls and candlestick bases. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito