Monday, June 8, 2009

Memphis' Trampoline Pits

Posted By on Mon, Jun 8, 2009 at 10:05 AM

3eae/1244474750-trampolinepits1961-2.jpg In the early 1960s, a new form of entertainment opened all across the country, and Memphis wasn't immune to this crazy fad. Called "trampoline pits," these were essentially big rubber trampolines stretched over rectangular holes in the ground. You paid a quarter (I seem to recall) and bounced and bounced for 10 minutes or so.

They were usually low-rent affairs, set up outside abandoned gas stations and drive-ins. At first, the trampolines were mounted on steel frames above the ground, but to avoid disasters the owners eventually placed the mats over shallow holes surrounded by sand, just like in the pictures here — so somebody wouldn't bounce off the things and break their necks, you see. And that's why they were called trampoline PITS.

Still, there were casualties. Kids would hop and leap and tumble and suddenly bounce off the side of the mat and land smack on their little heads. Schools across this great land were filled with poor little children, their faces battered black and blue, their heads swathed in thick bandages, groaning in agony as they shuffled down the hallway, dragging their broken legs behind them. You'd see them and think "Another senseless trampoline tragedy."

About a dozen trampoline pits opened in Memphis in the summer of 1960. The first one, called Jump for Joy, was at Poplar and Perkins. Since the photos here were originally published in a 1961 White Station High School yearbook, I believe they show the Jump for Joy establishment, since it would have been just a few blocks south of the school, but I can't say for certain. (I can't tell from anything in the background.)

Within a year, though, all but three of them — Jumpin' Gyminy at 4275 Summer, Dixie Jumps at 1022 Whitney, and the Fairgrounds Amusement Park Jump Center — had closed because of accidents. The Memphis Press-Scimitar observed that "there's no substitute for common sense." At the same time, the paper noted that one prominent Memphian had broken his neck at a local trampoline pit, and "reports of broken limbs and bruising are growing with the number of public trampoline parks in the city."

Trampoline operators responded by posting safety rules at all the pits. Among them was the curious admonition, "No smoking, eating, or drinking on trampoline," which seems painfully obvious. Chomping on a hotdog or slurping a milkshake while bouncing on a trampoline is just asking for trouble, if you ask me. And pretty hard to do, come to think of it.

Well, the rules didn't really help much. Even the Journal of the American Medical Association weighed in with an article about "death and injury from acrobatics on bouncing mats" and insurance companies refuesed to cover the places. In June 1962, Memphis' last trampoline center, the Upsy-Daisy at 2560 Lamar closed. "It took us two years and many bucks to come to the conclusion that Memphis does not want a trampoline center," the owner told the newspaper. "I guess it was a fad after all."

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