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New York Folklore Vol. 1. Nos. 3-4, Fall-Winter 1975
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NEW YORK FOLKLORE
Vol. 1, Nos. 3-4, Fall-Winter 1975

OLLEY, OLLEY OXEN FREE:
AMERICA’S CONTRIBUTION TO HIDE & SEEK
by Florence Healy French

Even as America was called “The Melting Pot of Europe” when wave after wave of tribes and nationality groups swept over our shores in the years of our pioneering and settling, so California could be termed a melting pot of America during the decades of the 40s, 50s, and 60s, as waves of midwesterners, easterners, southerners, and Texans flocked to her warm shores and rich, luxuriant valleys.

The result of this latter-day “Go west, young man” movement can bring out interesting facts in the field of children’s games, with its concomitant folklore calls and language. Also, research indicates our children have put the stamp of America’s spirit on one of their games by originating calls not found elsewhere.

A study was conducted during the fall of 1970, among seventy children in a private parochial school in Pasadena, California. In order to discover whether there were differences in play customs, both from the author’s childhood in the American Midwest of the 1920s and current customs from state to state, or from one broad geographical area to another, the children were asked to specify in which state they were born, where they lived (if the family moved) to age five, and in what states they lived from age six until they moved to California.

One of the games selected for study was “Hide and Seek.” This game was currently a popular one with these children, and had been much-used in the 1920s. This is an ancient game. Another name for it was All Hid, according to Paul G. Brewster. This game is No. 105 in William Wells Newell’s Games and Songs of American Children. Newell tells us how it was played in 1883.

This game is world-old and world-wide. To judge by the description of Pollux (in the second century), it was then played exactly as American children play it today. “One of the party places himself in the middle of his comrades, and closes his eyes, unless some other covers them for him. The players run away and scatter. Then the pursuer opens his eyes and proceeds to look for them. It is each player’s object to reach that one’s/it/ ground before him.” (p. 160)

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