Has anyone invented anything like calculus all this time you’ve been bored and sheltering at home? Yeah right, right?!
And then there’s la-la land Gwenyth Paltrow who said this:
As much as I love to write, would love to learn a new language, and love the idea of making productive use out of being home all day every day, it just ain’t happening. At least not for me.
But that’s exactly what happened to Eleanor Abbott many years ago and under very similar circumstances that we all find ourselves in today. Not only did she create something new, she created the perfect something at the perfect time. And while in a hospital. During a quarantine. And it’s not medicine. Per se.
Back in the 1940s our nation suffered under a Corona virus similar plague: polio. The first major polio epidemic occurred in 1916 and reached its peak in 1952. During it, children were confined indoors and often times in a hospital. They were highly restricted and forced to spend days inside an “iron lung,” which were the cumbersome and total body entrapping ventilators of the time. Patients were offered only brief breaks to sit up and maybe play a game in their beds, making for a very scary and depressing pediatric ward.
A viral disease that affects the nervous system and causes paralysis Polio, much like COVID-19, spreads through direct contact with people carrying the infection. Dr. Jonas Salk developed a polio vaccine in 1955 and the U.S. has been polio-free since 1979. There is no cure for polio and in the United States, children are recommended to receive a polio vaccine at two and four months old, and then twice more before entering elementary school.
In 1949 and in the midst of the crisis, young San Diego teacher Abbott, who herself was a polio ward patient, saw a need for something to give the immobilized kids a distraction and way to escape their bleak realities. What better way or place than a land made entirely of candy? Enter Candy Land, the now beloved game that’s been entertaining kids ever since.
I’m guessing all of you reading this have played Candy Land and love it as much as I do. I remember playing it when our daughter was little and just the sight of it brings me a sweet level of joy and nostalgia. Using locations called Candy Cane Forest, Gumdrop Mountain, and Peppermint Sea along with characters like Queen Frostline, Princess Lolly, and Gramma Nutt, what’s not to love?
Attractive to kids of all ages, the simple board game is won by reaching the Candy Castle by drawing color-coded cards and moving your marker. It requires no reading or counting skills and players are never asked to make any complicated decisions or choices.
Because of its simplicity, low stress level, no need for physical movement, and simple competition, it was the perfect way for quarantined kids to pass the time and have some fun. It was also inclusive of all skill levels and ages and if you look on an original Candy Land board, you’ll notice artwork of a little boy in a leg brace. Today, kids love the fact that they can play it by themselves, which given our current home-bound situation, is music to parent’s ears as we all strive to carve out alone time while also juggling many household chores and demands.
Bought by Milton Bradley as a temporary fill in for what was their main product line at the time, school supplies, Candy Land quickly became the company’s best-selling game and basically put MB on the map. In 1984 Hasbro bought Milton Bradley and today nearly 1 million Candy Land board games are sold each year. The Toy Industry Association named Candy Land the most popular U.S. toy for the 1940s and in 2005 it was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, NY.
I’m guessing Abbott had no idea she was designing a standard bearer that would stand the test of time, as bored kids are still being entertained by a board game. Brilliant! Still, how wonderful that a teacher who was sick herself, created a “cure” that helped sick children feel less sad and lonely and gave them a sense of freedom and fun. How wonderful too that Abbott reportedly donated the majority of her earnings to the purchase of school supplies and other equipment for schools and kids in need.
All this makes me wonder what Eleanor Abbott would think of today’s COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully most kids are at home and not in hospitals but they might be getting just a bit bored and antsy after all these weeks without their friends and classmates. I’m sure you’ve pulled out the puzzles and card games already, but have you played Candy Land with them? Why not give it a roll and a short history lesson at the same time? Maybe, just maybe similar innovations and blessings will come out of today’s crisis that will benefit generations to come. You never know if you have another Candy Land on your hands!