Monday, June 1, 2009
Pictorial History of American Sports...
This book - the Pictorial History of Sports is one I got in that big batch of mostly non-fiction I picked up two months ago (wow - time flies).
At any rate, this was not one of the big items from the collection, but I've gotten around to listing it in the database this morning.
I thought I'd poke through it to see what sort of odd sports have come and gone in American pastime.
I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN there would be something just plain yucky.
Ok. Get this. While early puritans frowned on sports (along with anything that could crack a smile), there were still games / sport available to eager participants. Mostly easily understood and normal sort of pastimes like foot races, shooting sports, etc. But in New Amsterdam, the inhabitants brought with them this little gem:
"Today the area is surrounded by skyscrapers, but the little park still preserves its original name. Not so gentle wsa the Dutch-imported sport of gander pulling (with an illustration that I CAN'T get on my camera that would come out decently). If a man pulled off the bird's head while passing in the swift current, he was given the gander. If he failed, he got a ducking.
The illustration shows a gander tied by its legs on a string over a river. The man is on a plank at the edge of a boat and he's trying to grab the bird by the neck to do the icky and obvious task of wringing its head off. The picture shows the man mostly toppling off the boat so I'm going to assume that this particular participant lost the game.
There are a few things that were probably obvious to the crowd who thought this was great sport that people today don't --
first off I'm going to assume that the bird was ALIVE. Otherwise, there's really no sport to yanking it's head off.
Second, I'm assuming that Ganders are lo less savage tied upside down over a river than they are upright and barrelling down at you with wings spread and mouth open (note, this comes from experience -- I took my sons to an apple farm that had geese which you could pay to feed .. the geese were, at the time, bigger than both my sons (2 & 4 at the time) and when they come blazing across the grass at you with full out wings and beaks at the ready, you RUN... at least we did. Son number two was quite traumatized at the time).
Three, I am guessing that ganders weren't that expensive an animal to keep / maintain, as having them available for the sport seems to not be a big thing -- of this I am completely unsure.
It's obvious that yanking a gander's heads off was no big deal -- casual cruelty to an animal (which you were then given as a prize to eat) seems the norm at the time.
And if that game isn't enough to put you off your feed, here's another gem:
"In contrast to the gentle sports described on the opposite page was a method of fighting common in frontier America, known as gouging. A bare-knuckle fight was as mild as a church supper compared to this brutal sport - if it can be called a sport. It gouging brawls, anything went. Kicking, biting, and knee-ing were allowed, and the gouging itself, performed by grabbing the hair near the temple and scooping the eye out of the socket with the thumb nail, was the ultimate aim - like a K. O. in modern boxing. Gougers used to let their thumb nails grow long for that purpose. "
Of course, I know that today there are still events that have the same yuck factor but...
While this book does indeed point out some unusual and rather negative sporting events, the majority of the book is dedicated to very interesting tidbits of information about the genesis, history and Americanization of a great number of sports -- many of whom still exist today.