Street Games of Brooklyn

With Stewart Culin’s classic summary of games gone by we commence at OUR GAME a cascade of stories and source documents relating to baseball’s origins. These will besprinkled in as extras alongside my posts of the by now customary sort. Most of the forthcoming “Origins Reports” will discuss or illuminate the nineteenth century game, but this article is cited in the very first entry of Early Baseball Milestones for the year 2500 B.C. and thus bears additional relevance to the Baseball Origins Committee, which I chair for Major League Baseball. Quoting from Early Baseball Milestones: “Writing in 1891, Stewart Culin reported ‘the discovery by Mr. Flinders-Petrie of wooden ‘tip cats’ among the remains of Rahun, in the Fayoom, Egypt (circa 2500 B.C).’  Culin infers that these short wooden objects, pointed on each end, were used in an ancient form of the game later know as Cat.” This article is also a personal favorite because of its Game 36 below, “Pictures,” which I believe to be the origin of baseball card flipping, that beloved pastime of my boyhood. Last but not least, Culin provides wonderful insight into the teen gangs of the day, especially in Philadelphia.

Street Games of Brooklyn, by Stewart Culin

SOURCE: American Journal of Folklore 4, 1891. pp. 221-237.

The games of which I shall give an account are all boys’ games or games in which both boys and girls participate, and were all described to me by a lad of ten years, residing in the city of Brooklyn, N. Y., as games in which he himself had taken part. They are all games played in the streets, and some of them may be recognized as having been modified to suit the circumstances of city life, where paved streets and iron lampposts and telegraph poles take the place of the village common, fringed with forest trees, and Nature, trampled on and suppressed, most vividly reasserts herself in the shouts of the children whose games I shall attempt to describe.

Marbles and tops and kindred sports, which have their set times for advent and disappearance, together with the special amusements of girls, I have left as deserving more extended consideration than can be given them in this article, where I shall confine myself to the outdoor games of boys as played in the city of Brooklyn.

Who shall be it?” is the first question asked when children assemble to play games. Counting out is the general procedure, but among boys in Brooklyn the method referred to by Mr. Bolton,[1] as conducted by boys in New England under the name of “Handholders,” is more in favor. It is the custom in Brooklyn when boys are discussing some game for one to cry out, “Pick her up!” another, “Handholders!” others, “First knock!” “Second knock!” and so on. The first boy picks up a stone and gives it to the one who cried “Handholders!” and goes free. The subsequent procedure is known to everybody. In ball games, and in many games in which sides are chosen, one of the leaders will toss a bat to the other, and they will then grasp it hand over band until the one who has “last grasp” is adjudged to have won the first choice. “Counting out” is almost the invariable custom among girls in Brooklyn, and the boys, possibly for that reason, affect to think lightly of it, although they do occasionally resort to it. I have made a collection of the current rhymes, but as they are all given by Mr. Bolton, in his admirable work on the subject, I need not make further reference to them.[2]

And now for the games. Many of them have, no doubt, often been described before, and the writer makes no claims to originality either in his materials or comments. He has only attempted to arrange the games in groups, so that their relations, one to another, may be apparent, and the scientific value of these specimens of childlore, which has not, even in our highly developed civilization, ceased to be folklore, may become somewhat revealed.

1. TAG

In its simplest form, one player, who is “it” attempts to tag, or touch, one of the other players, and when successful runs away, so as not to be tagged in his turn. The game is sometimes rendered more complicated by certain places which are called “hunks” or “homes” being agreed upon, where the players may find refuge when closely pursued. One of these forms is known as:


In this game, the one who is “it” tries to tag any player who is not touching wood, any object of wood being, regarded as a “home” or “hunk.” Otherwise the game is the same as simple tag. Tag is sometimes varied by increasing the difficulties of the pursuit, as in the two following games:


In this game bounds are agreed upon, within which are numerous fences, high stoops, etc. Those who are pursued run up the steps and jump the fences to avoid being tagged, and the first caught becomes “it” as in the simplest form of the game. Any one who is seen to go outside the bounds is at once declared to be “it” by the pursuer.


Bounds are chosen along a fence. “It” gives the other players a chance to get over the fence, and chases them until he tags one of them, who becomes “it” for the next game. The players jump over the fence and back again, as they are pursued, but are only allowed to cross the fence within the bounds.


This game is played within boundaries, and the one who is “it” may chase any of the other players. when closely pursued, they may escape being tagged by squatting down. This immunity is only granted to each individual a certain number of times, usually ten, as may be agreed upon, and after his “squats” are exhausted be may be tagged as in the ordinary game.


The player who is “it” selects one of the others whom he will chase. The pursued is given a short start, and, while both are running another player will try to cross between them. If successful, he becomes the object of pursuit, and this is continued until one of the players is tagged. He becomes “it,” and the game is continued.


When a company of children are about dispersing to their homes after their play, one will start up the cry of “Last tag” and endeavor to touch one of the others, and retreat into the house. Each will then try to tag and run, until at last there will be two left, and one of them, getting the advantage, will tag the other, and escape to the refuge of his own doorway. From this point of vantage he will exultingly cry, “Last tag, last tag!” Whereupon the second boy will reply, and the following colloquy will ensue:–

Second Boy: “N****r’s always last tag!

First Boy: “Fools always say so!

Second Boy: “Up a tree and down a tree, You’re the biggest fool I see.

Children will frequently exclaim, “You can’t tag me, for I have my fingers crossed,” or “I have my legs crossed,” positions which they regard as giving them immunity from the consequences, whatever these may be, of being tagged.

The three following are games of pursuit:


Two equal sides are chosen, and each player is provided with a piece of chalk. The “hares” are given three minutes’ start, and on their way (they can run wherever they like) they must make a straight mark [—-] upon the pavement. The “hounds” who follow them must cross the chalk marks made by the “hares.” The chase is continued until the “hares” are caught.


On a cold morning when boys wish to play some game in order to keep warm, “arrow chase” is proposed. Sides are equally chosen, and a large boundary agreed upon. The side that starts first is provided with chalk, with which the players mark arrows upon the pavement, pointing in the direction of their course. The others follow when five minutes have elapsed, tracking the pursued by the arrow marks until all are caught.


The two best runners “count out” to see which shall have the first choice, and this done, these two alternately choose a boy for his side until all are chosen. A course is then determined on, and one side is given a start, which, if the course is around a city block, is usually a quarter of the way round. The start given, the chase commences, and when one of the pursued is captured, he is brought back to the starting-place, where be is placed within a ring marked with chalk or coal upon the pavement. If he succeeds in pulling in one of his opponents while they are putting him in the ring, he becomes free. Or one of his own men will watch his chance to relieve him by running and putting one foot in the ring. The game continues until all players of the side that had the start are made captives.


Two even sides are chosen, and go upon opposite sides of the street. Bounds are agreed upon about two hundred feet apart, between which the game is played. One of the players starts the game by running into the middle of the street, and another from the opposite side will try to capture him. While the first is running back, one from his side will endeavor to capture his pursuer, and this is continued, any player having the right to take those who ran out before him, and being protected from their attack. The prisoners solicit the players on their own side to rescue them, which they may do by touching them, although the rescuers themselves run great chance of being caught. The side wins that makes captives of their opponents.

In the three following games, the one who is “it” tries to catch the others, who, as they are caught, must join “it” in capturing the remainder.


The boy who is “it” stands in the middle of the street, and the others on the pavement on one side. When “it” cries, “Black Tom” three times, the other players run across, and may be caught, in which case they must join the one who is “it” in capturing their comrades. “It” may call “Yellow Tom” or “Blue Tom,” or whatever he chooses; but if any one makes a false start, he is considered caught, or if one of the captured should cry, “Black Tom” three times, and any player of the other side should start, be is considered caught. The first one caught is “it” for the next game.


The boy who is ‘it” is called the “Red Rover,” and stands in the middle of the street, while the others form a line on the pavement on one side. The Red Rover calls any boy he wants by name, and that boy must then run to the opposite sidewalk. If he is caught as he runs across, he must help the Red Rover to catch the others. When the Red Rover catches a prisoner, he must cry, “Red Rover” three times, or he cannot hold his captive. Only the Red Rover has authority to call out for the others by name, and if any of the boys start when one of the captives who is aiding the Red Rover calls him, that boy is considered caught. The game is continued, until all are caught, and the one who is first caught is Red Rover for the next game.


The players “count out,” to see who shall be “Red Lion” who must retreat to his den. Then the others sing:

Red lion, Red Lion, 

Come out of your den, 

Whoever you catch

Will be one of your men.

Then the Red Lion catches whom he can, and takes him back to his den. The others repeat the call, and the two come out together and catch another player, and this is continued until all are caught. The first one caught is Red Lion for the next game.

Another way: One boy is chosen “Red Lion” as before, and the others select one of their number as “chief,” who gives certain orders. The chief first cries “Loose!” to the Red Lion, who then runs out and catches any boy be can. When he catches a boy, he must repeat “Red Lion” three times, and both he and the boy whom he has caught hurry back to the den to escape the blows which the other players shower upon them. The chief may then call out “Cow catcher,” when the Red Lion and the boys he has caught run out of the den with their hands interlocked, and endeavor to catch one of the others by putting their arms over his head. When they catch a prisoner, they hurry back to the den to escape being hit. If a boy’s hands should break apart in trying to catch another boy, all the boys from the den must run back, as they may be hit. The chief may call “Tight,” when the boys in the den take hold of hands, and try to capture a boy by surrounding him, and so taking him to the den. The chief may also call “Doubles,” when two boys must take hold of hands, or all the boys in the den may go out in twos and try to catch prisoners. The chief may call out these commands in any order he likes after the first, and repeat them until all the boys are caught.


is similar to the preceding. When a company of boys and girls are standing in a group, discussing what game to play, one of them will suddenly shout, “Every man in his own den.” Each will at once select for his den a place not too near that of another. One player will then run out, and a second will try to catch him. The third player out will try to catch the first or second, and so on until the last one out, who may catch any player who is out of his den. When a player is caught, he goes to the aid of the one who catches him. In this way several sides may be formed, and the side that captures all the players wins the game.

I find three games of hiding as follows:


A boundary of a block is agreed upon, within which the players may hide, and then they count out to determine who shall be “it” for the first game. A lamppost or tree is taken as the “home” or “hunk”; the one who is “it” must stand there with his eyes closed, and count five hundred by fives, crying out each hundred in a loud voice, while the others go hide. At the end of the five hundred, “it” cries:

One, two, three! 

Look out for me,

For my eyes are open, 

And I can see!

and goes in search of those in hiding. They may hide behind stoops, in areas, etc., but are not permitted to go in houses. When “it” discovers a player in hiding he cries out, “I spy so and so,” calling the person by name, and runs to “hunk,” for if the one spied should get in to “hunk” first, he would relieve himself. The players run in to the “hunk” when they have a good chance, and cry relievo! and if they get in first, they are free. Sometimes the game is so played that, if a boy runs in and relieves himself in this way, he also relieves all the others, and the same one is “it” for the next game. Two players will frequently change hats in hiding so as to disguise themselves, for if the one who is “it” mistakes one player for another, as often happens through this change of hats, and calls out the wrong name, both boys cry, “False alarm!” and are permitted, according to custom, to come in free. The game is continued until all the players come in, and the first caught becomes “it” for the next game. In “I spy,” the one who is “it” is sometimes called the “old man.”


One player throws a stick as far as he can, and the one who is “it” must run after it, and put it back in its place. In the mean time the others hide. “It” then looks for those in hiding, and when he spies one of them, he cries out and touches the wicket. The players may run in from hiding and if they touch the wicket before “it,” they are free. The first spied becomes “it” for the next game.


The boy who is “it” runs from one street corner to another, and while he runs, the others go hide. The first boy spied is “it,” unless he can get in and touch the base before the spy.

Of vaulting games there are four.


This game is played by several boys who vault in turn over each others’ backs. Thus if four play, the first leans over, and the second vaults over him; the third then vaults over the first and second, and the fourth over the first, second, and third. Then the first boy vaults over the fourth, third, and second, and thus the game may be continued indefinitely.


Any number of boys can play. When boys are “standing around,” one boy will squat down, and cry, “First down for Head and Footer!” He becomes the “leader.” Then another boy will squat down and cry, “Second down for Head and Footer!” and so on, and the last one down is “it”.

A level place is selected, preferably on the grass, but otherwise on the sidewalk, and a straight line is drawn at a right angle across one end of the course, which latter is usually about thirty feet in length. The one who is “it” stands at the cross line with his feet parallel to that line, and stoops over, and the leader, who is always first, places his hands upon his back, and jumps over him. The others follow in turn, and a fresh line is drawn across the course at the point touched by the one who makes the shortest jump. The one who is “it” must then stoop at the new line, while the leader must jump from the line first drawn to where he is stooping and then over him as before. The others follow in turn, and this is continued, the one who is “it” advancing to a new line at the end of each round. As the latter goes farther from the line first drawn, the leader may take two jumps before leaping over his back, and finally, as the distance increases, three jumps. If one of the players cannot follow the leader, he becomes “it,” and the game is recommenced from the beginning. When a player does not jump squarely over the back of the boy who is down, but touches him with his foot or any part of his body except his hands, it is called “spurring,” and he has to down, and the begun again. But if the next in turn leaps over the boy who is down, before he gets up after being touched, the one who touched him is relieved of the penalty. When the boy who is down is touched by one of the jumpers and does not know it, the leader or any of the players who may see it, cry, “Something’s up,” and the boy who is down may guess three times who it was that touched him. If be succeeds, the one Who touched him takes his place, but otherwise he must remain “it.”

21. PAR

This game is identical with “Head and Footer” up to the point where all have leaped over the back of the one who is “it.” The latter then moves forward a certain distance, which he measures by placing one foot lengthwise beside the base line and the other foot in the hollow of the ankle at right angles to the first. This distance, amounting to the length of the boy’s foot plus the width at the in-step, is called a “par.” The boys then leap over as before, and this is continued until the distance is so great that some one fails to make the leap, or the one who is “it” is “spurred.” The game is then started again from the original line, the one failing to go over, or “spurring,” becomes “it.”


This game is similar to “Head and Footer” and “Par,” except that the one who is “it” remains stationary, and the “leader,” who vaults first, practices or suggests various feats or tricks, in which the others must follow him. One of these is called “Hats on the Back.” The leader, as be jumps, leaves his hat on the back of the boy who is down. The second boy puts his hat on the leader’s, and this is continued, the players piling up their hats, until one of them lurches over the pile, and becomes “it.”


is a game in which the leader endeavors to stunt the others; that is, perform some feat in which they are unable to follow him. One boy is chosen stunt master or leader, and the others arrange themselves in order behind him. The leader may vault fences, jump, run, etc., and the others must follow him. Three chances are given to them, and those that fail on the last trial are sent down to the end of the line.

The largest number of games which may be classed together are those in which some object, usually a ball, is either thrown, kicked, or struck with a bat. Of these there is an interesting group, the precursors of our national game of base ball, which are played by the boys in Brooklyn under the following names: Kick the Wicket, Kick the Can, Kick the Ball, Hit the Stick, One o’ Cat, and One, Two, Three.

I find but one hopping game:


Two distinct ways of playing this game exist among the children of Brooklyn: one common among boys and girls, called “Kick the stone out,” and another, said to be played exclusively by girls, called “Pick the stone up.” I shall first describe the former:

Kick the Stone Out

A diagram, as shown in the figure, is drawn upon the sidewalk, where five flagstones, as nearly of a size as possible, are selected, of which the second and fourth are divided in halves by a line drawn vertically through the centre. The compartment formed by the entire surface of the first store is marked 1; the two compartments the next stone, 2 and 3; the third stone is marked 4; the fourth stone, 5 and 6; and the fifth and last stone, “home.” The diagram may be enlarged, and the numbers continued up to 10, which makes the game longer and more difficult. Each player finds a stone of convenient size, one about an inch thick being usually selected. The first player stands without the diagram, and throws his stone into the compartment marked 1. If it falls fairly within that compartment, he hops on one foot into the same place and kicks the stone out, taking care not to put down his other foot or to step on a dividing line, as either would lose him his turn. If he succeeds in kicking the stone out and hopping out himself, he throws the stone into number 2, and then hops into number 1, and from that into number 2, kicks the stone out, and hops back as before. This is continued until “home” is reached, and the one arriving there first wins the game.

Pick the Stone Up

This is played in the same manner as “Kick the stone out,” except that the players pick the stone up instead of kicking it out.


A lamp-post or a tree is chosen as “home,” and several bases are agreed upon, usually four, around which the players run. The boy who is “it” places the wicket, which is sometimes made of wood, and sometimes of a piece of old rubber hose, against the tree or post chosen as home, and then stations himself at some distance from it, ready to catch it when it is kicked by the other players. They take turns in kicking the wicket If it is caught by the boy who is “it,” the kicker becomes “it”. If the boy who is “it” does not catch the wicket, be runs after it and puts it in place, and any boy whom he catches running, between the bases, when the wicket is up, becomes “it.” The players run around the bases as they kick the wicket, and when they make the circuit, and touch home, they form in line, ready to kick the wicket again, each in his turn. If all the boys have kicked the wicket, and are on the bases, the one nearest home becomes “it,” and must run in and touch the wicket, as all must do when they become “it”.


This game is identical with “kick the wicket,” except that an empty tin can, usually a tomato can, mounted on a rock is substituted for the wicket.


Bases are marled out as in playing base ball, that is, first, second, and third base and home plate, and equal sides are chosen. A small rubber ball or a base ball is used. The boys of one side arrange themselves around the bases, and one of them a little to one side of the home plate. Then a boy from the opposite side, who stands at the home plate, kicks the ball in the direction of the bases, and immediately runs to the first base, thence to the second, and so on to the third base and back home. This is counted as one run. But if the ball is stopped by one of the players on the other side, and thrown to the boy near the home plate before the one who runs has reached one of the bases, he is out, and another player on the same side takes his place, and again kicks the ball. If the runner is touching a base when the ball is thrown home, he remains there, and waits until the ball is kicked again to run towards home. If one of the players in the field catches the ball when it is kicked, the one who kicked it is out. If a player on a base runs when the kicker attempts to kick the ball, and misses it, he is out. Kicking the ball and running around the bases is continued until three of the boys from the one side are put out. Then the side in the field comes in and has its turn. These together constitute what is called one inning. Four innings are usually played, and the side that scores highest wins.


Equal sides are chosen, and bases are determined upon, usually at the intersection of two streets, where the curb at one corner is fixed upon as the “home plate,” and the other comers designated as first, second, and third base. This game is identical with the preceding, except that, instead of kicking a ball, a small wooden wicket is knocked in the air. The players of one side arrange themselves around the bases, with one boy near the “home plate.” One player from the opposite side also takes his position at the home plate, where he balances a stick, about three inches long by one wide, across the inner end of another stick some ten inches in length, which is laid so as to extend about three fourths of its length beyond the edge of the curb. He then strikes the projecting end a sharp blow with another stick about three feet in length, which he holds in his hands, so that the smallest stick is tossed into the air. The batsman at once runs to the first base, and so to home, which constitutes one run. The boys on the opposite side try to catch the flying stick, however, and if they are successful (they may use their hats for the purpose) the batsman is put out; or, if they should succeed in throwing it to the boy on their side at the home plate, while the batsman is off a base, he is out. The first player is succeeded by another until three men on the side are put out, when the others go in and have their inning. A player on a base may run to another at any time during the game, but be may be declared out by the opposite side, if he is observed, unless the stick has been knocked into the air.

The terms used in this game, as in “Kick the Ball,” are the same as those of the game of base ball.

29. ONE O’ CAT[3]

One boy will cry out “Inner!” another will in turn cry “Catcher” one “Pitcher!” one “First base,” and one or two “Fielder!” A home place with a base some feet distant is then agreed upon, and the players take their respective positions. The “inner” takes the bat and stands at the home place between the “pitcher” and “catcher,” and strikes at the ball as it is thrown by the “pitcher.” If the batter makes three strikes at the ball without hitting it, or if he hits it and it is caught by any of the players he is “out,” and takes the position of “fielder,” while the others move up in order, the catcher becoming, batter, the “pitcher” “catcher,” and the first base “pitcher,” and so on. If the “batter” strikes the ball, and is not caught “out,” he immediately runs to the base and from there “home.” If he reaches that point before the ball, which is at once thrown to the catcher and put on the “home plate,” he is considered to have made one “run,” and takes his place at the bat again. The boy who makes the most runs, wins the game. An ordinary base ball bat is used.


This game is similar to “One o’ Cat,” except that the players call out numbers, “one, two, three,” “four,” etc., instead of the names of their positions. Those crying ” one!” and “two!” become first and second “batsmen”; “three” is “catcher”; “four,” “pitcher”; “five,” “baseman;” “six,” “seven,” “eight,” “fielders.”

Simpler than the foregoing, is the game of:


Only two can play. A boundary about twenty feet long and as many wide, with a wall or fence at one end, is chosen, and a tennis ball or ordinary rubber ball is used. One player throws the ball against the wall, and, as it rebounds, the other player strikes it with the palm of his band back again against the wall. Then, as it rebounds, the first player strikes it, and so on. If a player misses the ball, the other player counts one. The player who thus first counts twenty-five wins the game. If the ball goes outside the boundary, the miss is not counted.


This game is played on a vacant lot, or in the middle of a wide street. One boy is chosen for batsman, and the others stand around at some distance from him. A base ball is used, and the batsman throws it in the air, and then bats it out to the fielders, who endeavor to catch the ball “on the fly.” The one who first catches the ball, a certain number of times that has been agreed upon, takes the batsman’s place for another game.


Sides are chosen, and goals, one for each side, are agreed upon. The latter consist of two lines about three hundred feet apart, which are drawn across the street. The implements of the game consist of sticks with a crook at one end, with which each of the players are provided, and a wooden ball or a block of wood about two or three inches in length, which is placed in the middle of the street, midway between the goals. The sides form two lines facing each other, up and down the street, with a distance of about two feet between them. The two boys on opposite sides of the ball, which occupies the centre of this alley will strike it at the cry of “Ready;” and each side then endeavors to drive it to its own goal, which constitutes the game. It is not permitted to touch the ball with the hands; and if a player crosses to the side opposite to the one to which he belongs, he is greeted with the cry “Shinney on your own side!” and liable to a blow on the shins.

34. CAT[4]

A circle of about four feet in diameter, with a straight line at right angles about twelve feet distant, is drawn upon the sidewalk. The “cat” is whittled from a piece of wood, and is usually about six inches in length by an inch in diameter, with sharp-pointed ends. The players are the “batter,” who stands a little to one side of the circle; the “pitcher,” who stands at the line; and the “fielders,” who are numbered in rotation, and stand about the ring. The pitcher throws the cat towards the circle, and the batter, who stands ready with his bat, a stick about two feet long, hits it or not, as be thinks best. If the cat falls within the circle, the batter is out, and the pitcher takes his place, and all the other players move up one place, while the batter becomes the last of the fielders. If the cat falls without the circle, the batter hits it on one end as it lays on the ground, and as it rises into the air strikes it again. The other boys try to catch the cat in their hats or with their hands as it falls; and if they succeed, the batter is out. If they do not thus catch it, the pitcher endeavors to jump from where it lies into the circle. If it is too far away for the pitcher to cover in one jump, the batter gives him as many jumps as he deems proper. If the pitcher accomplishes the distance in the jumps that have been accorded to him, the batter is out; but if he fails, each jump the batter is allowed counts as one point to his own credit in the game.


A convenient place is selected, and each player digs a hole three or four inches in diameter. If this is impossible, hats are used instead of holes in the ground. A medium-sized rubber ball is used, and one of the players stands at a distance of about twenty feet, and tries to roll it into one of the hats or holes. All the others stand by their holes; and when the ball enters one of them, its owner must throw the ball at the player nearest to him. Meantime, when a boy sees the ball rolling into any near hole, he will run away to escape being hit. The boy who is hit must put a stone into his hole; but if the thrower is unsuccessful in hitting any one, the stone must go into his own hole. The game continues until one of the players gets ten stones in his hole, when he has to stand up with his back against a wall or fence, and let each boy take three shots at him with the rubber ball, the first time with the thrower’s eyes closed, and afterwards with them open. When the boy is put up against the fence, the distance at which the players shall stand, when they throw at him, is sometimes determined by letting the victim throw the ball against the fence three times, and a line drawn at the farthest point to which the ball rebounded is taken as the place at which the throwers shall stand.


This game is a recent invention, and is played with the small picture cards which the manufacturers of cigarettes have distributed with their wares for some years past. These pictures, which are nearly uniform in size and embrace a great variety of subjects, are eagerly collected by boys in Brooklyn and the near-by cities, and form an article of traffic among them. Bounds are marked of about twelve by eight feet, with a wall or stoop at the back. The players stand at the longer distance, and each in turn shoots a card with his fingers, as he would a marble, against the wall or stoop. The one whose card goes nearest that object collects all the cards that have been thrown, and twirls them either singly or together into the air. Those that fall with the picture up belong to him, according to the rules; while those that fall with the reverse side uppermost are handed to the player whose card came next nearest to the wall, and he in turn twirls them, and receives those that fall with the picture side up. The remainder, if any, are taken by the next nearest player, and the game continues until the cards thrown are divided.

Of “pitching pennies” my informant knew nothing, except that there are said to be three different ways of playing the game. It was regarded among his associates as a vulgar game, and only practised by bootblacks and boys of the lowest class, such as compose the “gangs” that are a well-known feature of street life among the boys of our cities. There is said to be a prejudice against other games on account of their associations among certain sets of boys Thus, in Philadelphia the game of leapfrog is abandoned to the rougher outside class, who are known as Micks” by the boys of at least one of the private schools.

Concerning the “gangs,” my young friend in Brooklyn was unable to give me much information, other than to relate the name of one of these organizations, the “Jackson Hollow Gang,” which is said to have obtained more than local celebrity. I am able, however, to give at least the names of some of the gangs in Philadelphia, obtained by personal inquiries among the boys along the Schuylkill river front. They comprise the Dumplingtown Hivers, of Fifteenth and Race streets; the Gas House Terriers (pronounced tarriers), of Twenty-third and Filbert streets; the Golden Hours, of Twenty-fifth and Perot streets; the Corkies, of Seventeenth and Wood streets; the Dirty Dozen, of Twenty-fifth and Brown streets; the Riverside, of Twenty-third and Race streets; the Dung Hills, of Twenty-third and Sansom streets; and the Gut Gang, of Twenty-third and Chest­nut streets. These I am able to supplement with a very complete list of the names of similar organizations that used to exist in Phila­delphia, which has been kindly placed in my hands by Mr. Leland Harrison.    It is as follows: —

Pots, Twelfth and Shippen.

Skinners, Broad and Shippen.

Lions, Seventeenth and Shippen.

Bull Dogs, Eighteenth and Shippen.

Rats, Almond Street Wharf.

Bouncers, Second and Queen.

Fluters, Tenth and Carpenter.

N****rs, Thirteenth and Carpenter.

Cow Towners, Nineteenth and Car­penter.

Tormentors, Twenty-second and Race.

Hivers, Broad and Race.

Pluckers, Ninth and Vine.

Buffaloes, Twentieth and Pine.

Snappers, Second and Coates.

Murderers, Twenty-third and Filbert.

Ramblers, Beach and George.

Forest Rose, Seventeenth an(J San­som.

Prairie Hens, Fifteenth and Brown.

Bed Bugs, Front and Brown.

Pigs, Twentieth and Murray.

Killers, Eighth and Fitzwater.

Lancers, Twentieth and Fitzwater.

Cruisers, Eleventh and South.

Forties, Eighteenth and South.

Wayne Towners, Eleventh and Lom­bard.

Mountaineers, Twentieth and Lom­bard.

Bullets, Twenty-first and Lombard.

Ravens, Eighteenth and Lombard.

Darts, Sixteenth and Lombard.

Spigots, Twenty-third and Callowhill.

Bleeders, Fifteenth and Callowhill.

Hawk Towners, Seventeenth and Cal­lowhill.

Canaries, Eighteenth and Market.

Clippers, Seventeenth and Market.

Rovers, Nineteenth and Market.

Bunker Hills, Fifteenth and Market.

Badgers, Twenty-first and Market.

Haymakers, Twenty-seventh and Mar­ket.

Blossoms, Broad and Cherry.

Railroad Roughs, Eighteenth and  Washington Avenue.

Didos, Eighteenth and Lombard.

The “Didos” were a portion of the “Raven” gang.

These, however, belong not only to Folk-lore, but to the never-to-be-written history of our city. They had their laws and customs, their feuds and compacts. The former were more numerous than the latter, and they fought on every possible occasion.[5]  A kind of half secret organization existed among them, and new members passed through a ceremony called “initiation,” which was not con­fined altogether to the lower classes, from which most of them were recruited. Almost every Philadelphia boy, as late as twenty years ago, went through some sort of ordeal when he first entered into active boyhood. Being triced up by legs and arms, and swung vio­lently against a gate, was usually part of this ceremony, and it no doubt still exists, although I have no particular information, which indeed is rather difficult to obtain, as boys, while they remain boys, are reticent concerning all such matters. I am also unable to tell how far this and similar customs exist among boys in other cities. They were unknown to my young friend in Brooklyn, although he told me that a new boy in a neighborhood had rather a hard time of it before he was finally recognized as a member in good standing in boys’ soci­ety. And this leads back to the subject of street games. Here are some of the games the new boy is invited to play: —

HIDE THE STRAW. — Bounds are agreed upon, and the new boy is made “it.” All close their eyes while he hides the straw, and afterwards they searched for it, apparently with much diligence. At last they go to the boy and say: “I believe you have concealed it about you. Let us search him.” Then they ask him to open his mouth, and when he complies they stuff coal and dirt and other objects in it.

LAME SOLDIER. — The new boy is made “doctor,” while the rest are “‘lame soldiers,” who have been to the war, and been shot in the leg. The “lame soldiers” have covered the soles of their shoes with tar or mud ; and, as they hobble past the “doctor,” and he examines their wounds, he soon finds that his hands are much soiled, and discovers the object of the game.

FIRE is a game in which the new boy is made a fireman, who is sent in search of a fire ; and when he cries out, as he has been in­structed, “Fire! fire! fire! ” the others come running from their engine-house, and salute him with a shower of stones.

GOLDEN TREASURE resembles hide the straw. The new boy is chosen “thief,” two other boys “policemen,” and one boy “judge,” before whom the “thief” is brought. The “thief” is suffered to go and rob a house. The “policemen” capture him, and bring him before the “judge.” The case is tried, and it is discovered that the “thief” has robbed a house where gold was hidden. The “judge” orders him to be searched; but, as nothing is found on his person, the “judge” says sharply: “Let me look in your mouth, and open it wide, for you may have hidden the gold there.” As the prisoner opens his mouth, the others, who stand ready, stuff it with handker­chiefs and dirt and coal, as is most convenient.


1. Dr. Carrington Bolton, The Counting-out Rhymes of Children, New York, 1888.

2.  A large number of counting-out rhymes, collected by Francis C. Macauley, Esq., have been kindly placed by him in the writer’s hands. As many of them, not included by Mr. Bolton, were contributed by French and Irish maidservants, it is probable that a part at least may become incorporated in the lore of Ameri­can children.

3. Dr. Edward Eggleston pointed out, at the Annual Meeting of the American Folk-Lore Society in New York in 1889, that this was originally ” one hole cat,” ” two hole cat,” etc.

4. The antiquity of this game is well attested by the discovery by Mr. Flinders-Petrie of wooden “tip cats ” among the remains of Rahun, in the Fayoom, Egypt (cir. 2500 B. C.). Through the courtesy of Mrs. Cornelius Stevenson, Curator of the Egyptian Department of the Museum of Archaeology of the University of Pennsylvania, one of these objects is now exhibited in the writer’s collection of games in the American Department of the museum.

5. An abstract of this article appeared in the Public Ledger, Philadelphia, De­cember 9, 1883, and elicited the following letter from the Rev. Henry Frankland, of Cheltenham, Pa., which is here printed for the first time: — •

The Public Ledger.

Your article on ” Street Games ” in to-day’s (Tuesday) issue of the Ledger is so thoroughly interesting, and has awakened so many memories of the past, that I cannot resist the temptation of writing a few words in addition. I was espe­cially interested in the account given of the Philadelphia “gangs.” It carried me back to the time when I was a “railroad rough.” In those days, under the leader­ship either of regularly appointed or self-constituted “leaders,” the various “gangs,” often by previous arrangement, would meet, and “fight it out” for hours. What boy of twenty years ago who does not recall these famous “stone fights” ? A scar on my own face near the temple — a scar that will never be effaced — shows how successfully (?) they were fought. The list of these “gangs” as given by your correspondent—the most complete I have yet seen—is made still more complete by the addition of the following : “Buena Vistas,” near 13th and Federal; “Garroters,” south of Federal or Wharton and toward old “Bucks” Road; “Schuylkill Rangers ;” and the ” lascous,” or “Glassgous,” near 20th and Ellsworth. In addition to these, I distinctly recall the “Tigers” and the “War Dogs,” but cannot now locate them. The “Ravens” and the “Railroad Roughs” were friendly, and would frequently combine against the combined forces of the “Glascous” and “Lions ;;” they also fought against the “Buena Vistas.”

We had great times in those days. The boy who either could not or would not fight was of no use. Often, through having to pass through the boundaries of a hostile “gang ” on our way to school, we were compelled to fight. For this rea­son, we frequently went in companies of three or four. In passing through the territory immediately in the neighborhood of a fire company, a boy would some­times be ” tackled ” and asked, “What hose do you go in for?” If he knew his neighborhood, and was shrewd enough to “go” for their particular hose, he was usually set free, but sometimes not before his pockets were rifled. If he was un­fortunate enough to “go in for” some other company, he was usually set upon by his enemies, and most unmercifully “lambasted.”

Those days, happily, have passed away. How much the volunteer fire com­panies were responsible for them, I am unable to say, but my impression is, that the new and better order of things has prevailed since the introduction of the paid fire department.

Not all the boys of those “by-gone days ” have turned out bad. Most of them were fighters, perhaps, but the habit of taking care of themselves, and fighting their own battles, has been of incalculable service to some, at least. I could mention at least four preachers of the gospel from down town alone, and many others who have since occupied positions of honor and usefulness in the church and State. Let some one else contribute to the list of “gangs” until it is complete, and if they care to tell us what has become of some of the once famous “lead­ers” and fighters.


1 Comment

Fascinating indeed. Imagine the youth of today being integrated into the neighnorhoods of 1890s Brooklyn or Philadelphia.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: