Homemade Toys & Pranks
From Jim Klein
In the process of writing down some family history,
I recalled a story my Ger-Rus grandfather told me over 40 years
ago. The story was about the pranks he and other youngsters would
play upon people in the Bowdle, South Dakota area in the 1890's.
The problem is, I can't remember the name of the
homemade toy they used, so I will describe it and hope that someone
can name it.
A knife is used to cut a sequence of teeth and notches
around the rims of both ends of a large wooden spool of thread that
has been used up. A stick is whittled to form a smooth dowel that
fits into the hole of the spool with enough clearance to freely
spin the spool. Then an arm's length of string is wound around the
Pressing the spool with the dowel next to an outside
window and then quickly pulling the string will cause a loud racket
as the spinning teeth chatter against the window pane.
My grandfather said that he and 3 or 4 older boys
would sneak out at night and quietly surround a house. Each would
take a different window, and when the ringleader started his noisemaker
all the others would simultaneously spin their's startling the people
inside with noise coming from all directions. Of course the boys
would then flee into the darkness and regroup to hit up the next
I don't know if this noisemaker was wide-spread among
American youth at that time or if it was peculiar to Ger-Rus youngsters.
Either way, I would like to know the name of this toy and anecdotes
From David Easterday
In the 1940s my brother and I found plans for the
window rattler you described in some main-stream publication. It
may have been a cub scout handbook. You would never find it there
today. We made them to use on Halloween. When our father saw what
we were up to (He was born in Salina, Kansas in 1901 of German-
Russian parents) he told us what they used to do on Halloween.
Two nights before Halloween was "corn night."
The pranksters would fill their pockets with dried, shelled corn
and throw it at peoples windows to frighten or more likely annoy
those inside. The next night was gravel night and they did the same
thing with gravel or chat. Halloween night was also know as outhouse
night on which they went around turning over outhouses which were
not always empty. They did not "trick or treat" on Halloween.
None of the above can be considered ethnic in character. However,
on New Year Day the children in his family would go to the homes
of their German-Russian relatives and neighbors and ask the parents
or other elders of the household for their blessing which was always
Then they could perform a skit or sing a song and
be rewarded with candy or other treats much like trick or treat
is practiced in some localities today. I think that is a German
Nobody asked, but my grandfather's favorite comic
strip is said to have been the Katzenjammer Kids.
Electronic mail message from Mary Ellen Lanigan Reisenauer,
San Bruno, California
My late father in law once told me of the toys that
he and his sibblings had. My late father in law was George Reisenauer
who was born in North Dakota in 1920. His father was Ignatz Reisenauer
who had been born in Russia. The children didn't really have toys
and dad told us that they collected various size rocks and pretended
that they were their toys. It was all very sad to me but, I do know
that a lot of people whould think this a funny story. When George
grew up, he bought lots of toys for his children and also for himself.
He just couldn't get enough of these. He did collect horse figures
and all the family bought him horses to add to his collection for
all occasions. Besides being a farmer, he was also a great carpenter
and made a lot of his own furniture and well as doll houses for
his kids, and grandchildren. My daughter, has a victorian doll house
that she will be handing down to her daughter Amber Lee Maguire.
It is almost 4 feet high! I also have a jewelery box that George
made for me. He also made his wife and other's these boxes as gifts.
He was really a great carpenter, and a great person. He will always
be remembered through not only these great gifts that he made but,
also in our hearts. Hope you enjoyed this story.
Mary Ellen Lanigan Reisenauer is the wife of
Dr. Kenneth Robert Reisenauer, who is the son of George.