Museum invites visitors to take a trip back to their favorite playgrounds (w/video) |

Museum invites visitors to take a trip back to their favorite playgrounds (w/video)

Park City Museum welcomes visitors to reminisce about their childhoods with the exhibit, “Once Upon a Playground,” which examines the history of playgrounds, which will be on display until Oct. 16. (Tanzi Propst/Park Record)
Tanzi Propst/Park Record | The Park Record

“Once Upon a Playground” is on exhibit through Oct. 16 at the Park City Museum’s Tozer Gallery, 528 Main St. For information, visit

People born before the 1970s might remember how dangerous school and park playgrounds were.

These areas, usually located on sand, tarmac or gravel, featured cold steel climbing cages, iron teeter-totters and 12-foot high sheet metal slides.

“Once Upon a Playground,” the new traveling exhibit on display at the Park City Museum, visually brings back the days of scraped knees, broken noses and metal-burned legs.

The exhibit, which is on display until Oct. 16, is a nostalgic trip of playground equipment through decades past, said Courtney Titus, Park City Museum exhibition curator.

“Playgrounds first started in 1880s and were called sand gardens at the time,” she said. “They were basically glorified sandboxes, which developed into massive wood-and-steel play structures that featured slides and climbing apparati.”

As an introduction, the exhibit includes photos, culled from the Library of Congress, of children playing on original playground equipment in the late 1800s, according to Titus.

“The classic iron monkey bars, or jungle gyms, and sheet metal slides began to emerge in the 1920s,” she said. “Back then the equipment, was separated into their own areas. The slides would be in one place while the monkey bars would be in another.”

Playground equipment manufactoring slowed down during the 1930s, due to the Great Depression, and the lull in lasted through the 1940s because metal was needed for the armed forces during World War II, Titus said.

That changed postwar and lasted through the 1950s and 1960s, she said.

“These new playgrounds were fun because you started to see the development of novelty equipment,” Titus said. “There were many pieces inspired by pop culture – cartoons, the Space Race and movies.”

Some of these pieces were also inspired by urban design and architecture, she said.

“A playground would include apparati that were molded out of freeform abstract sculptures, which inspired children to use their imaginations when they played,” Titus said.

Another playground change came in the 1970s when playground safety became a public concern, she said.

“Guidelines for equipment development were put in place and the tall steel jungle gyms and slides were replaced by plastic-based structures that were shorter and more smooth,” Titus explained.

These eras are also depicted in the exhibit, which features photos from vintage advertising catalogs and contrasts them with contemporary photos of the same equipment that was located in dilapidated playgrounds from 2009 to 2011.

“The photos are kind of eerie, because the equipment is abandoned and some are very worn down,” Titus said.

“Once Upon a Playground” includes a few interactive elements.

“We have some playground equipment catalogs that visitors can flip through, and our director of education, Diane Knipsel, brought in a hopscotch pad, some jump ropes and a little child’s fire truck,” Titus said.

Another exhibit-related activity is an ongoing Park City playground scavenger hunt.

“Park City has many playgrounds, and we have a map that shows where the playgrounds are,” Titus said. “Visitors can use the map to visit the playgrounds and then rate them according to categories that are included on a piece of printed paper. We hope people can come enjoy the exhibit and then explore the city.”

“Once Upon a Playground” was co-curated by Brenda Bionda, author of the book, “Once Upon a Playground: A Celebration of Classic American Playgrounds, 1920-1975,” which is available in the gallery for viewing.

The other curator is Carol Johnson, who recently retired from the Library of Congress as curator of photography, Titus said.

The traveling exhibit is organized by ExhibitsUSA, a program in MidAmerica Arts Alliance. The MidAmerica Arts Alliance, which works often with the Park City Museum, is a nonprofit that supports artists and cultural organizations.

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