The famous line from the movie “A Christmas Story” is “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” A variation of that line is said throughout the movie whenever the young boy who is the center of the story expresses his wish for a Red Ryder B-B Gun for Christmas.
However, a bigger threat to young boys’ eyes during the later decades of the 19th Century and even into the 21th Century was not a B-B gun, Red Ryder’s or otherwise. It was the bow gun and its sibling, the sling shot.
Though crossbows have been around for centuries, it wasn’t until 1868 that Howard Tilden patented “The Flying Comet,” a toy bow gun for children. He wrote on his patent application that, “the object of my invention is to provide for children a mechanical toy, that shall be once harmless and amusing.”
Unfortunately, things didn’t work out that way.
Case in point, the Franklin Repository reported in 1890 that, John Zullinger, an 11-year-old boy who lived in Orrstown had injured his right eye playing with a bow gun at his home.
“The little fellow was using a horse shoe nail to shoot at a mark, and while drawing up the bow, the string slipped and the nail struck fairly upon the ball of the eye inflicting a dangerous wound,” the newspaper reported.
John’s father brought him into Chambersburg the next day to have a doctor look at his eyes and see what could be done. The prognosis was not good. It appeared as if the youngster would lose most of his sight in his injured eye.
“This is another warning to boys not to play with dangerous toys. That there have not been some bad accidents in Chambersburg with this ‘cat and dog’ nuisance is almost a marvel,” the newspaper reported.
The newspaper article noted that because bow guns and sling shots had been such a problem in Philadelphia recently that the city police went through each public school in the city and searched the pockets of the boys in the schools. If they found any sling shots or bow guns, the toys were confiscated.
“There have been a number of fatal accidents from them in the city. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a similar raid here,” the newspaper suggested.
There’s no reference as to whether such a raid ever took place in Chambersburg, but it is not hard to believe that it wouldn’t have. It wouldn’t be much different than the no-tolerance policy that schools nationwide have for weapons being brought into the school.
As far sling shots and bow guns, they can still cause problems for young boys who test the limits of their toys. Only last year, a 12-year-old Roseville, Minnesota, boy was killed when he was hit in the chest by a rock from an oversized sling shot.
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