Fireball Dodging

Here's another photo series I found in an old issue of Life Magazine (April 26, 1937). I had to kill some time in the UCSD library this morning, which is why I was looking through old magazines. The photos were titled "South Carolina Negroes Play 'Fireball Dodging'".

Here are the captions for the five photos (complete with the racist language characteristic of the 1930s):

1) A new game invented by the Negroes of South Carolina is called "Fireball Dodging." Balls are made of burlap.
2) The balls are then drenched in kerosene. In preparation for a game several dozen such balls are made.
3) When night comes the burlap balls are set afire. The players spread out in a field and start throwing them.
4) "Fireball Dodging" is played chiefly by field hands on the cotton plantations. The object of the game is to hit someone else and to avoid getting hit yourself.
5) This darkie is losing. "Fireball Dodging" was uncovered by a Universal movie cameraman who made these pictures for a short called "Stranger than Fiction."

These photos were presented as a factual news item, but I have a hard time believing that anyone ever really played "fireball dodging." After all, the potential for incinerating one of your friends seems a little high. I can't find any references to it, except for this one article. My guess is that either the cameraman dreamed up this game, and arranged for some guys to pretend to play it, or the field hands were pulling the wool over the cameraman's eyes.


Posted on Fri Feb 22, 2008


Maybe the reason we haven't heard of this game before is that few of the players survived long enough to tell many people about it. 😉
Posted by Big Gary  on  Fri Feb 22, 2008  at  04:00 PM
I wouldn't underestimate the stupidity of people who are bored/drunk. I agree, however, that this is unlikely to be true if only because the potential for starting an out of control grassfire seems staggeringly high, and it's hard to hide a grassfire from people.
Posted by Charybdis  on  Fri Feb 22, 2008  at  04:06 PM
I'm sure if your wanted to play Dodge you could find something a little less deadly to play with. Maybe snakes or something...

Perhaps I'm a romantic at heart but I like to believe they were taking the piss out of the camera man.
Posted by Nettie  on  Fri Feb 22, 2008  at  04:25 PM
When I was a kid some of the older kids would kick tennis balls filled with sterno at each other. I don't find this that hard to believe.
Posted by bb  on  Fri Feb 22, 2008  at  05:31 PM
I've played fireball dodging back when I was at high school.. a tenis ball covered in Methalated spirits. It dosen't burn to hot, and it is an interesting game for night time, same as fire hand ball.
Posted by Dee  on  Fri Feb 22, 2008  at  08:47 PM
The fact that it was captured for a "Stranger than Fiction" short by a Universal pictures cameraman reminds me of Disney's "White Wilderness" and the suicidal lemmings of 1958.
Posted by fuzzfoot  on  Sat Feb 23, 2008  at  08:18 AM
I can't tell, are the guys throwing the balls wearing gloves or any protection for their hands? Without such protection you'd ruin your hands for work real quick. And field hand bosses weren't known for caring about their subordinates. "I don't care how you burned your hands, you can't work, you're fired." This has to be a set-up of some kind.
Posted by Christopher Cole  on  Sat Feb 23, 2008  at  10:07 AM
Reminds me of this, though the above article predates them by a good half century:

- "Salvadoreans hurl fireballs at each other during annual festival commemorating a volcanic eruption."

Some of my farmer friends played a similar game with fireworks when they were younger. Yes, incredibly dangerous and stupid, a combination of boredom, intoxicants and a general lack of appreciation of the dangers contributed; if you met them you'd understand!
Posted by Stef  on  Sun Feb 24, 2008  at  02:42 PM
Yeah, when we were in high school a favorite game was to go out to the farmland part of town and shoot bottle rockets and roman candles at each other. I remember my buddy having a bottle rocket go off in his lap (crotch) because he was crouched down and one happened to fly right into his lap. That pretty much ended that pastime.
Posted by Fafa Fooey  on  Sun Feb 24, 2008  at  06:49 PM
They don't look young enough to be playing such an idiotic 'game' (tho I can see drunk college jocks playing it). My guess would be real pictures, inaccurate description.
Posted by outeast  on  Mon Feb 25, 2008  at  02:31 AM
When I was youngs my friends and I would douse tennis balls in gas and light them up and kick or throw them at each other. This doesn't sound too far fetched.
Posted by blant  on  Mon Feb 25, 2008  at  04:23 AM
I was talking with my friend the other day and he spoke up balling up tee-shirts and pouring rubbing alcohol or gasoline on them and lighting them on fire to play a similar game. He didn't give any details of the origin, but it seems viable that it could've been passed on.
Posted by Alice  on  Wed Mar 19, 2008  at  10:30 AM
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