'Fox Tossing' Looks Back On Strange And Forgotten Games

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Catapulting foxes into the air for fun doesn't sound like a wise thing to do--that didn't stop rich 18th century German hunters from doing it though.
Catapulting foxes into the air for fun doesn't sound like a wise thing to do--that didn't stop rich 18th century German hunters from doing it though.

"Fox Tossing." It's an unfortunate title since it's bound to suggest images of foxes being tossed. I supposed this is what Edward Brooke-Hitching's point was when he wrote the book, "Fox Tossing: And Other Forgotten and Dangerous Sports, Pastimes, and Games."

The author joined Bill Littlefield to discuss a few of these so-called forgotten pastimes.

Highlights From Bill's Conversation With Edward Brooke-Hitching

BL: What is fox tossing, exactly?

EBH: Fox tossing was the sport that I found and then spawned the idea of the book. And, it was hidden away in a German hunting manual from 1720. And in between this Gothic text was a bizarre image of German aristocrats, dressed up in their wigs and finery, standing in an arena a bit like a grass tennis court, divided into couples, mixed couples, and they held between them a cloth a bit like a badminton net that they lay slack along the ground. And on a signal, foxes — but also badgers and wildcats — were released into this arena. They'd chase each other around and the moment that one stood on this cloth, it was the job of the "tossers" to yank the cloth taut and catapult that animal up into the air as high as possible. And this was called Fuchsprellen, which, depending on which German you'd ask, is fox tossing, fox launching, fox bouncing. And it was the strangest thing I'd ever seen, and so I wondered if there were other similarly bizarre things that had been completely forgotten about.

BL: OK, well we've got that out of the way, and we'll move right along to some sports, pastimes and games that don’t involve animals. I'm going to start with waterfall riding. What is it that makes waterfall riding a competitive sport?


EBH: I think originally it was the prestige of being the first person to conquer Niagara. Some of the stories are fairly well-known, but some people aren't aware that the first person to ever go over the Niagara Falls in a barrel was a 67-year-old retired school mom named Annie Edson Taylor. And she did it to avoid the poor house but also to show, in this sort of quite Victorian era, that a woman was as good as a man. You know, she was defying this patriarchy and that's why I adore Annie's story so much.

BL: Let us roll along to the monowheel. Having researched that contraption, are you surprised that the idea of a person sitting in a big wheel and propelling it with legs, arms or both never really caught on?

It was just not safe, it's not stable and I think my favorite incarnation of it is something called the DynaSphere, which was from just after World War I, and it was invented by a Scottish engineer, and it could go up to 30-40 mph, but it suffered from a couple of problems: not just the instability of just falling over, but also the issue of something called "gerbiling," which is when if you accelerated too suddenly or braked too sharply, the inner carriage in which you were riding would spin around like a load of washing, and you'd lose interest in perhaps pursuing the hobby.

Bill's Thoughts On 'Fox Tossing: And Other Forgotten and Dangerous Sports, Pastimes, and Games'

Lots of the “sports” Edward Brooke-Hitching discusses in Fox Tossing are cringe-worthy, fox tossing itself among them. As the name suggests, it involves lots of merry people tossing into the air a fox that has found its way on to a net lying on the ground. To his credit, Brooke-Hitching celebrates the fact that this witless exercise, as well as bear-baiting, cat-burning, and other sadistic endeavors, have disappeared from the contemporary catalogue of entertainments.

[sidebar title="An Excerpt From 'Fox Tossing'" align="right"]Read an excerpt from "Fox Tossing" by Edward Brooke-Hitching.[/sidebar]

Brooke-Hitching presents all sorts of entertaining pastimes that harm only the humans who indulge in them…going over a waterfall in a barrel, for example, and a Viking sport called “Drowning.”

As Casey Stengel liked to say, “You could look it up.”

This segment aired on November 21, 2015.


Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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