Memorials – London, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C.

The dedication of a memorial playground is a great way to commemorate a person’s life. Some honoured in this manner have walked the world stage. For others their influence has been more modest but no less important to those they touched. For all remembered in this way, a breath of magic is released each time a child calls their name. What follows is a snapshot of three memorial playgrounds.


In June of 1964, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. presided over the official opening of a new playground in Washington D.C. It wasn’t just any playground as the plaque unveiled that day attested – “This playground was named by the young people of this area as a memorial to the spirit of youth of John F. Kennedy.” Prior to its opening, there were virtually no recreational services for the approximately 10,000 children that called this part of Washington home. The $500,000 investment in the playground was an almost unheard of sum in the early 60s.

Ebony magazine covered the excitement and pride generated in the community by this new symbol of hope through play. The John F. Kennedy Memorial Playground had all the standard equipment associated with playgrounds and more.

The new play space also had a selection of military hardware and a marine obstacle course that wouldn’t pass muster today except perhaps to be
included in a round up of dangerous playground equipment. The triangular slide, jet fighter and locomotive being clambered over certainly didn’t put a damper on opening day activities. The Ebony photo spread lights up with smile to smile faces, a bunch of happy looking. we’re having fun kids.

John F. Kennedy’s memory continues to be honoured through the community centre at the corner of 7th and P Streets that bears his name. The original playground is no longer there. It lives on though in the memories of thousands of aging boomers who played in that extraordinary space. Play has not been forsaken. There are now two of the ubiquitous, modular plastic playgrounds there but their allure pales in comparison with what was.

In London, England the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens commemorates the life and work of the late Princess. Peter Pan author J M Barrie was the guiding force behind an earlier playground built on the same site in 1906. Land Use Consultants pay tribute to Barrie in their creation that echoes Never Never Land. The memorial playground was officially opened in June 2000 at a cost of 1.7 ₤ million. It was developed in response to suggestions from the public on how Diana’s life could be honoured. There is a good slide show of the playground posted at KaBOOM!

In Philadelphia, the Smith Memorial Playgrounds have been welcoming children for over 100 years. Back then the site was in the country. Now known as SMITH the Kids’ Play Place in the Park it’s run by a non-profit organization and governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. In addition to the three-story mansion playhouse and giant wooden slide measuring 39′ long by 13′ wide, there is a 6.5 acre playground with over 50 pieces of equipment.

Richard and Sara Smith were the original benefactors of this children’s wonderland. As participants in the American Playground Movement they were among the pioneers who advocated and created publicly supported playspaces at the turn of the 20th century. It is through their untiring work that an awareness grew around civic responsibility vis à vis children and play.

To see more of SMITH the Kids’ Play Place in the Park click through to their YouTube channel. Please note, admission is free.

In some way, every playground is a memorial to the unstoppable energy that courses through it, to laughter, friendships, daring feats and shared memories. They are memorials to childhood itself and to the people who made them happen. Long live playgrounds…

Photo credits in order of appearance

    1. Ebony
    2. Ebony
    3. Land Use Consultants

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.

2 responses to “Memorials – London, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C.

  1. Thank you so much for writing this blog!

    We had never heard of the Smith Memorial Playground before… it looks like we will have to check it out with our 3 and 4 year old sons!

    As you stated in this post: “The dedication of a memorial playground is a great way to commemorate a person’s life. Some honoured in this manner have walked the world stage. For others their influence has been more modest but no less important to those they touched. For all remembered in this way, a breath of magic is released each time a child calls their name. ”

    Your heartfelt and inspiring words are just what we needed to hear today. 🙂

    We are knee deep in the very early stages of planning a memorial park in memory of our oldest son, Andrew. (11 years old)

    Almost ten months ago (on July 13, 2009) Andrew went outside to play with friends and did not return home to check-in on time.

    He never did make it home that day.

    Andrew was found 11 houses away in a field that has been zoned as a park for almost 30 years.

    We hope to turn that blank, boring field into the vibrant, exciting park and playground that it was always meant to be… for the children in the neighborhood, his friends, cousins, and little brothers.

    Today, your post is the wind beneath our wings.

    Amy and John P.

    • Amy and John,

      Thanks so much for your note. I am touched and humbled that you have found something written in PlayGroundology to be helpful. I can’t begin to imagine your heartbreak. I’m sure your two young sons will be excited about and proud of the playground you are in the process of building. I hope you’ll keep in touch and let me know about the progress of the shiniest new spot of brightness in Toledo.

      Alex

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