It was a sweet summertime tradition. Hop in the Plymouth, fall asleep in the back seat while dad did all the driving, end up in Story City, Iowa six or seven hours later.
Every summer we would make the trip up to the nation’s heartland so that dad could visit his family. Brothers, sisters, mother, aunts, and a classic Garrison-Keillor-character Norwegian bachelor farmer uncle named Selmer.
What I remember best about Selmer was his passion for fishing (they gave me all his tackle when he passed, hoo-rah!) and his enjoyment of a pleasant summer evening pastime known as Jarts.
I was probably twelve, and presumed old enough by the adults that I wouldn’t do anything stupid like toss the weighted darts with pretty darned sharp ends up in the air. Doing so could be fatal.
But hey, the act of stepping out into a busy street without looking could end up in a similar fashion. In the early 70’s, life was still meant to be enjoyed by people smart enough to use their brains. The rest (and sadly, children who were given access to taboo things by the rest) were subject to death and dismemberment by forces not yet banned by our motherly government.
Lawn darts were first put on the market in the 50’s, The game itself goes back a lot farther. I can picture Roman soldiers tossing daggers at a vanquished Visigoth’s skull in the yard outside the encampment.
The Jarts I remember had some pretty sharp points. That’s because they needed to stick in a lawn that might not be nice and soft from a recent watering! The object of the game was simple enough. A plastic ring was placed on the grass, and you stood back a distance acceptable to both parties, and you launched your missiles.
The throw was recommended to be an underhand pitch. The Jart would sail upwards, then descend towards its target. If your aim was good, it would land within the circumference of the plastic ring.
Enter human stupidity. Printed plainly on the box was the advisory “For adults.” However, adults simply refused to give the sharpened, weighted lawn darts the same respect that they did for firearms, whiskey, and naughty magazines: locking them away from the youngsters.
Thus, there were tragic incidents of children getting severely injured or killed by Jarts that were casually tossed straight skyward, only to hit a child on the way down.
At first, the Jarts company responded by taking the sharp point off. Thus, the later 70’s and 80’s vintage Jarts had blunt tips. These either required a soft lawn or perhaps doctoring with a bench grinder to get them to consistently stick.
However, Mother finally won out. In 1988 all pointed lawn darts were banned from sale in the US and Canada. Here is an official May 17, 1997 release from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission:
After a recent serious injury caused by a lawn dart, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reissued its warning that lawn darts are banned and should be destroyed. Effective on December 19, 1988, CPSC banned the sale of all lawn darts in the United States. Pointed lawn darts, intended for use in an outdoor game, have been responsible for the deaths of three children. The most recent injury occurred last week in Elkhart, Ind., when a 7-year-old boy suffered a brain injury after a lawn dart pierced his skull. “CPSC banned lawn darts in 1988, but some of these dangerous products may still be in garages, basements, or second-hand stores,” said CPSC Chairman Ann Brown. “Parents should destroy these banned lawn darts immediately.”
Thus ended yet another another memory that we had growing up.
So Boomers, I hope that you have taught your children (and grandchildren) well. Dangerous things should be kept out of the hands of young children. If this directive is ignored, Big Mama will step in and start making things illegal.