The Drowning Room

Education and Child-Life,
page 5 of 17

“Whereas ye children of ye sd city do very unorderly to ye shame and scandall of their parents ryde down ye hills in ye streets of the sd city with small and great slees on the lord day and in the week by which many accidents may come, now for pventing ye same it is hereby publishd and declard yt it shall and may be lawful for any Constable in this City or any other person or persons to take any slee or slees from all and every such boys and girls rydeing or offering to ryde down any hill within ye sd city and breake any slee or slees in pieces. Given under our hands and seals in Albany ye 22th of December in 12th year of Her Mars reign Anno Domini 1713.”

In 1728 Albany boys and girls still were hectored, still were fined by the bullying Albany constable for sliding down the alluringly steep Albany streets on “sleds, small boards, or otherwise.”

Mrs. Grant, writing of about the year 1765, speaks of the custom of coasting, but not of the legislation against it, and gives a really delightful picture of coasting-joys, which apparently were then partaken of only by boys. The schepens and their successors the constables, joy-destroying Sivas, had evidently succeeded in wresting this pleasure from the girls.

“In town all the boys were extravagantly fond of a diversion that to us would appear a very odd and childish one. The great street of the town sloped down from the hill on which the fort stood, towards the river; between the buildings was an unpaved carriage-road, the foot-path beside the houses being the only part of the street which was paved. In winter the sloping descent, continued for more than a quarter of a mile, acquired firmness from the frost, and became very slippery. Then the amusement commenced. Every boy and youth in town, from eight to eighteen, had a little low sledge, made with a rope like a bridle to the front, by which it could be dragged after one by the hand. On this one or two at most could sit, and this sloping descent being made as smooth as a looking-glass, by sliders ’sledges, etc., perhaps a hundred at once set out from the top of this street, each seated in his little sledge with the rope in his hand, which, drawn to the right or left, served to guide him. He pushed it off with a little stick, as one would launch a boat; and then, with the most astonishing velocity, precipitated by the weight of the owner, the little machine glided past, and was at the lower end of the street in an instant. What could be so delightful in this rapid and smooth descent I could never discover; though in a more retired place, and on a smaller scale, I have tried the amusement; but to a young Albanian, sleighing, as he called it, was one of the first joys of life, though attended by the drawback of walking to the top of the declivity, dragging his sledge every time he renewed his flight, for such it might well be called. In the managing this little machine some dexterity was necessary an unskilful Phaeton was sure to fall.


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