Sheri Samson County maintenance workers conduct routine safety work on the steel rocket at Lion’s Park last week.

Sheri Samson
County maintenance workers conduct routine safety work on the steel rocket at Lion’s Park last week.

Once a Babbitt playground piece at Seabee Park, the old historic steel rocket had a safety check done by the county’s public works maintenance workers at Lions Park this week. Employees slowly inspected the rocket, as screws and bolts were tightened down and bars were tested for strength. Employee Matt Madrid was on the ground, as a spotter to those that were up in the three story rocket unit.

“I remember this rocket from the 80’s and it’s still going strong. I’d like to see it painted red, white and blue, just to freshen it up.”

Madrid shared that keeping the playground safe and fun for the community was a concern for him personally. He expressed that there are scheduled rotations made by public works in order to maintain all the playground equipment which includes graffiti removal, touchup and safety issues. Repairs are also done when special requests are called in and if they are alerted to a specific repair that is needed.

The rocket holds a specific place in history, as part of what is referred to as “the Cold War playground equipment,” as it was built to foster a curiosity and interest during the space race. Research shows that these three-story rockets and a variety of other space-age equipment, were finding their way into playgrounds across the United States in the era of 1959 and into the early 60’s.

A report from 1963 showed there were 160 space related playgrounds within metropolitan areas across the nation, which had children climbing on metal satellites, swinging in rockets and spurring a new imaginary of play at space environments built within park settings.

Popular Mechanics magazine featured a playground rocket that was similar to the one at Lions Park, being installed in Ontario, Calif. in 1960. It was sponsored by the Kiwanis Club and was titled, “Entering the Atomic Age.” That playground was highlighting Saturn climbers, orbit merry-go-rounds, radar dishes, planet themed exploration and nuclear submarines which a child could climb into. The makers of the equipment stated, “It is our desire to complete equipment that is safe and interesting for family use. Equipment interests change, so we adapt to the requests being given. As trends change, so do our designs.”

Once these domestic interests evolved, it did not take long for the Soviet Union and the Eastern European nations to begin their own requests for rocket parks. The United States creators were shipping playground equipment overseas, which mimicked the same influences of a competitive space program, ruled by adult minds. The push to encourage innovative thought within their own children launched unique, specialized designs which showed rockets being launched at an angle for crawling kids, boost rockets that could be explored inside and an excitement of play to blast off into outer space.

The rescued rocket, installed at the east end of Lions Park, is reminiscent of days gone by. Today’s playground equipment has taken on new designs which emphasize natural woods, synthetic polyethylene elements of tubes, which allow children the chance to crawl around in critter trails and stand on stacked pieces as if giant Legos encase their park.

The equipment on our current playgrounds also have a concentration of comfort and safety, with an intended measure of using cooler materials, unlike the bulky steel once used on all the early day playground equipment. One can only remember how cold the steel rocket was in the winter months, and how it became scorching hot during the summer months. The kids of today can’t possibly understand the memories running through a parent’s mind as they witness the upright rocket still standing in their midst at Lions Park in Hawthorne.

Madrid said it best when he said, “I remember this rocket.”