Today we're celebrating the day the clamp-on roller skate was patented -- a truly important invention in the history of childhood because it gave kids another exhilirating way to sail through their young lives. Such energy is the subject of an exhibit currently on display at the Museum of Transportation in Brookline, Massachusetts. It's called "Kids on the Move," and it looks at the ways children have found to transport themselves, literally and imaginatively, since the first pull toys of Ancient Egypt, from the 11th century B.C.E., to the Roman hobby horses that over the years would travel to England and eventually get wheels attached to them in the late 19th century and become, in a few more decades, the first bicycles. These early locomotors, made out of wood with metal-hooped wheels, could weigh as much as a hundred pounds -- no wonder they got the nickname "Bone-shaker." On display in this exhibition is a several remarkable pieces of bike sculpture -- the "Otto Ordinary," with its 46-inch front wheel, that was made in Chicago in the 1880's -- and its companion, the Fairy Tricycle for young ladies, with its three, delicate, spoked wheels.
The dream bike from my own childhood is here, too -- the Schwin Black Phatom from the 1950s, which the museum literature describes as "the most coveted bicycle of its time" -- with its white-walled balloon tires and chrome everything. Like all the other kids in my neighborhood, I had to settle for a Roadmaster (mine was blue and white) -- which could haul a load of newspapers and a friend in a pinch.
In the exhibition, you can follow the evolution of sleds, from a board on two sticks to Samuel Allen's Flexible Flyer, which was invented in the 1890s; or see an array of scooters, from an art deco 1930s model or the one that looks like it came out of an early Batman comic book, wings and all, to today's hi-tech Razor Boards that are zipping down the sidewalks of our cities.
But the real stars of the show are the peddle cars, which had their zenith in the 1920s, when the original Richie Rich and his friends got to ride in Panhards, Citroens, and boat-tailed Bugattis, with two-toned paint jobs and leather trim.
As for me, I'd prefer the home-made fire-engine that can seat 10 kids, the one nailed together by the Little Rascals in the film clip that's playing all the time at the little theater at the exhibit. In my mind's eye, I can still see that unbelievable contraption, loaded with kids, moving miraculously across the screen.
Copyright © 2001 by John Cech
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Wednesday, 04-Sep-2002 22:23:32 EDT