The Art of Jacob’s Ladder

This post has little to do with design unless you consider mastering the climbing of Jacob’s Ladder an art. And what is a Jacob’s Ladder you ask?

According to Wikipedia, Jacob’s Ladder is the “colloquial name for a bridge between the earth and heaven that the biblical Patriarch Jacob dreams about during his flight from his brother Esau, as described in the Book of Genesis.”

For the Magic Family and those who frequent Renaissance Festivals, Jacob’s Ladder is a climbing game where one might, if successful, win a ticket for a turkey leg or a flagon of mead. The challenge of climbing a dozen wooden runs on a pivoting rope ladder and ringing a bell at the top looks easy enough but defeats most. In most instances, a pile of hay cushions the falls of the unsuccessful climbers. Our son John mastered this skill at an early age.

John, Jacob's Ladder, Maryland

John, Jacob’s Ladder, Maryland, 2006

I have owned a shop at the Maryland Renaissance Festival for over 32 years and my two children, Alisha and John accompanied me frequently to Renaissance Fairs in Carver Massachusetts, Annapolis Maryland and in California. When they were very young it was necessary to hire a nanny to watch over them while I was occupied in selling at my shop but as they grew older, a fistful of silver could entertain them for hours in the medieval gaming areas.

John, Jacob's Ladder, Carver Ren Faire, 2006

John, Jacob’s Ladder, Carver Renaissance Faire, 2006

John, Jacob's Ladder, Carver Ren Faire, 2006

John, Jacob’s Ladder, Carver Renaissance  Faire, 2006








Another sure fire way of keeping tabs on John were the medieval stocks.

John, Medieval Stocks, 2006

John, Medieval Stocks, Maryland Renaissance Festival, 2006

In 2006 when our son John was 13 years old, I took him to the King Richard’s  Renaissance Faire where I sold my jewelry. Bob and Kathy Hall had a beautiful shop that featured Marty Magic Fantasy Jewelry and John and I flew to Boston to work and to play. At 13, selling jewelry bored John, but Jacob’s Ladder entertained and challenged him. On the first day the fistfuls of silver I turned over to John disappeared quickly into the pockets of the Jacob’s Ladder gaming barker. On day number two, agile John had learned the balancing act and the barker was allowing John unlimited climbs (but no prizes) to act as a shill and demonstrate the ease of scaling the ladder.

John, Jacob's Ladder, Maryland 2006

John, Jacob’s Ladder, Maryland Renaissance Festival, 2006

The following week, we traveled to the Maryland Renaissance Fair where I have owned my shop since 1982.  While I was greeting customers and selling jewelry, John scampered off to the Jacob’s Ladder game. He climbed the ladder flawlessly many times, each time winning a ticket for either a turkey leg or a beer, proudly brining the tickets back to me at our shop and feeling quite the ‘man’ in being able to provide food and drink for the Marty Magic crew. It wasn’t long until he was banned from Jacob’s Ladder as a player, but he was soon hired on to demonstrate it’s simplicity and to take the customers money. (If I remember correctly, back then, the price for three tries was just $2.00.) The operator of the ladder, always a handsome and strapping young man would hold the top of the ladder steady while John collected the $2 and the customer would begin to climb. A climber was doing well to get three rungs up but in order to win, the player needed to climb the entire length of the slanted rope ladder and ring the bell at the top. Easier said than done. Inevitably, the ladder would turn and the climbers would flop onto the soft bed of hay below. Three tries and they were out which resulted in embarrassed laughs and guffaws, usually from the adult males. John would scamper up the ladder hands free and ring the bell, sometimes showing off and doing the climb backwards.  John made it look so easy that naturally, those who had failed wanted to try again.

John has also climbed Jacob’s Ladder at other Fairs.  The Nor Cal Renaissance Festival is a wonderful event close to home that we attend each season.  Practice makes perfect:)

Jacob's Ladder, California Renaissance Faire, 2007

Jacob’s Ladder, NorCal Renaissance Faire, 2007

Jacob's Ladder, California Renaissance Faire, 2007

Jacob’s Ladder, NorCal Renaissance Faire, 2007








Flash forward to this summer 2015 at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. John is now 22 and recently went to the Boardwalk with his sister Alisha and her two children, his niece and nephew. Surprisingly there is a Jacob’s Ladder in the arcade area and John decides to try his luck. Huge (and ghastly) plush stuffed animals are the reward for climbing the ladder to the top and ringing the bell. Three chances for $5. It has been 8 years since John has attempted this and this Jacob’s Ladder is much longer. Sterling who is not quite 5 wants the giant stuffed dog and his lip is quivering in disappointment when John falls the second time. With his reputation on the line, John takes his last turn and makes it to the top, rings the bell and wins the prize! The barker is amazed, the crowd applauds and John struts his ‘stuff’ and his 5 year old nephew struts his stuffed dog around the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. John is told that he may not play this game again for 30 days.

Jacob's Ladder win at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, 2015

Sterling with Giant Stuffed Dog Prize,  Santa Cruz Boardwalk, 2015

This past Friday, John went to the Smash Mouth, Friday night concert at Santa Cruz Boardwalk. He went with his friends and put $5 down on Jacob’s Ladder. Naturally he scaled the ladder, rang the bell and won his choice of any of the gigantic stuffed animals. A Pink Dragon/Dinosaur now graces our patio:)

John wins, Pink Dino-Dragon , 2015

John wins, Pink Dino-Dragon for climbing Jacob’s Ladder, Santa Cruz Boardwalk, 2015

I guess that climbing a Jacob’s Ladder is rather like riding a bicycle. Once you have mastered it, you never forget.

John is finishing up his final year at S.F.S.U. and is cross registered this semester at Berkeley and will be studying and doing a research project at the Berkeley Gump Research Center in Moorea, French Polynesia. When John returns home for Christmas break, I’m sure he will visit the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. I wonder what giant stuffed animal he will win next?



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