Jenison Park Mystery (Possibly) Solved

I happened to eat dinner at my parents’ house this Sunday. As my mom was preparing dinner, I told her about the Jenison Park amusement park and about the unnerving name of one of the attractions (“Nigger Baby”).

I mentioned to her that I’d asked the author of the book that the map was in about the attraction’s name. He knew nothing about it. I figured that I’d have to go to one of Holland’s assisted living centers and find someone old enough to have gone to Jenison Park during its heyday.

I may still do that, but I’m not sure that I’ll have to.

Jenison Park isn’t the only place that had that particular attraction. Apparently you could find it in Indiana (where my mom grew up) even into the 1950’s. They had it at carnivals and even at fundraisers for the local Christian school system that my mom went to. In fact once she described it, I realized that you can still find it at carnivals across the nation.

Basically, you had a rack of hinged figures on a wall. You were handed a certain number of balls, and, if you hit enough of the figures over you got a prize.

Since the name of the game was “Nigger Baby,” you would be right to guess that the baby figures that you knocked over with a ball were painted black.

You could never have a game like that now, but as a child my mom never remembered anyone questioning it. Strange to think that something that blatantly racist could be part of the background noise of life. It makes me wonder what we might be doing now that I’ll look back at with shock in the future.

2 thoughts on “Jenison Park Mystery (Possibly) Solved”

  1. i’ve researched jenison park from the 1800’s and never found a reference to “nigger baby” – there was a reference to the “colored camp meeting grounds” in a shaded area of the skating rink where the revivalists and jubilee singers held meetings in the evenings and were very well attended – thanks for your additional information – and yes the booth was noted on maps with no discussion…….

  2. I hadn’t known about the “colored camp meeting grounds.” I’ll have to take a look at that.

    I imagine that no one ever added a description (of the game) to the maps because they assumed that everyone knew what it was.

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