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drop the handkerchief / drop-the-handkerchief

A children’s game in which all the players but one stand in a circle facing inward, while that one player stealthily drops a handkerchief behind a player in the circle who must pursue and attempt to catch the one who dropped the handkerchief before the latter reaches the vacated place.

A group of children join hands in a circle. One child ties their handkerchief into one or more knots, and then walks around the outside of the circle with it in their hand, finally dropping it behind another child. As soon as this child notices the handkerchief, they pick it up and run around the circle after the first child, trying to catch and touch them. If the first child gets around the circle to the starting point without being caught, that child is the winner, and the pursuer continues the game, walking around the circle to drop the handkerchief behind another child. — The Children’s Hour, January 1872.

There are many versions of the game, and instructions usually imply that the game is played by young children. Note that the children playing this game in the De Smet depot during Ben Woodworth’s party in Little Town on the Prairie and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Pioneer Girl manuscript are teenagers. In Wilder’s Prairie Girl manuscript (what became Little Town on the Prairie), she included a chapter about a surprise party at the Ingallses’ farm home, instigated by siblings Jennie and Gaylord Ross. Although most of the guests were young men and women, Ma and Pa naturally stay and participate in the festivities. Drop the Handkerchief is played here also, but one of the games suggested by Charles Ingalls is a kissing game!

The photo above is from Clifton Johnson’s The Country School (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1907), 75.


drop the handkerchief / drop-the-handkerchief (LTP 20; PG)