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Pull-Down Maps: Vintage Student Maimers

If you never thought of pull-down maps as insidious man-eaters, well … you just weren’t paying attention.

Grade school and, especially, junior high (or middle school of you have frou-frous sensibilities) have always been vicious environments for kids trying to find their way in the world.

There are bullies around every corner, disgusting sights and smells in every lunchroom, Lord of the Flies in every gymnasium.

And terrible, soul-crushing, body-destroying learning devices in every classroom.

Take, for instance, the those old pull-down maps — vintage student maimers that sought the teach you everything from the location of all the Readings to the elevation of Mt. Airy.

Don’t believe those maps were a disaster waiting to happen? Then you’ve let your memory slip, my old friend.

How were those old pull-down maps nothing more than kid traps? Let’s count the ways …

The Pull-Down

So, the first way that those old pull-down maps were rigged against students was the pull-down mechanism itself.

These maps were mounted either a) all the way up at the ceiling, as if Kareem Abdul-Jabbar himself came in for the job or b) right on top of the top ledge of the chalkboard.

Both placements had their challenges.

The way, way-up maps made you stretch and jump and look generally like a fool, especially in junior high or before. After all, you were well short of your adult height then, right?

And the lower placement had you rubbing bellies with the chalkboard, which meant chalk dust all over your black Ozzy Osbourne T-shirt.

And if you were chunky, even a little bit?

Your shirt would come untucked, your belly would be exposed to the class, they would point and laugh, you’d turn red … you might even die from embarrassment.

Of course, most of the maps had implements to help you with your task. Tools like …

pull down maps vintage hook

The Hook

The Hook was just a wooden stick with a metal hook screwed onto the end of it.

If you couldn’t reach the looped handle on the front of the map roll, and the Hook was available, you could give it a go.

The Hook presented some challenges, though …

  • It marked you as short.
  • It was unwieldy and might whap around wildly.
  • If it whapped around wildly, it might pluck out an eyeball.
  • If the teacher was using The Hook and it whapped around wildly, it might pluck out your eyeball.
  • If the teacher was using The Hook, and your eyeball somehow survived, Teach might still smack you with The Hook.

Which brings us to another pull-down map tool, the good old, vintage …

The Pointer

I don’t know if this is still the case, but teachers in my day loved to wield those big wooden pointers.

We called them Knuckle Whackers, or Attention Smackers, or EmPHASis Poles.

Because, while teachers could and did use those wooden sticks to point things out on the big pull-down maps, they just as often used them to …

  • Smack the map in frustration when they weren’t getting the response from us they wanted
  • Smack their desk if we weren’t paying attention
  • Rap our knuckles if they were just generally frustrated

And, if you somehow avoided bodily injury at the hands of The Pointer and The Teacher, then you might be called upon to use the pointer yourself.

And, let me tell you … it’s damn hard to hide your misunderstanding of world geography when you have to point to Abu Dhabi with a pole the size of a Japanese Maple.

(See The Quizzing below for more on this indignity.)

The Recoil

Of course, even if you somehow managed to keep your dignity intact while wallowing against the blackboard and somehow reached that rusty-silvery handle, and miraculously pulled the map down … you STILL weren’t out of the woods.

Nope, ’cause those bastards were spring loaded.

In a perfect world, that even made sense. You pull the map down, you do your learnin’ business, then you snap the screen down with the flick of a wrist and it rolls up.

Nice and tidy.

Except …

The maps didn’t really care whether you were ready to roll them back up or not. They’d roll up whenever they damn well pleased.

Usually, they pleased right after you unrolled them. And they didn’t really roll back up as much as snap back up.

And when they did, The Recoil could result in anything from simple embarrassment to whiplash to …

The Crash-Down

Yep, often times — maybe most of the time — those vintage pull-down maps would snap back into place with enough force to rock them out of their silly little brackets.

Those silly little brackets may have been silly and inconsequential, but they were the only things standing between the map rolls and gravity.

And those map rolls were surprising weighty, checking in at approximately 700 pounds each. Freed from their wall-bound ties, the maps crashed down.


The Crash-Down took a few forms — total atomic drop, one-end baton flip, unsuspecting-student crush, floor-gouge free-fall — but all of them were devastating.

Perhaps more devastating than any physical calamity, though, was …

The Quizzing

The Quizzing was the ultimate goal of any teacher worth his salt when he sent you boardward to face a roll-down map.

Sure, he’d take great pleasure in any of the pitfalls that might plague you on your way to The Quizzing, but those were just bonuses.

What Mr. Teacher really wanted was to call you out. To show how much you didn’t know, because you were a little smartass.

And you could tell how much of a thorn in his side you were by the context of your The Quizzing session.

I mean, if he asked you to identify the nations of North America, excluding Central America — well, you were probably in good stead.

But … if your task was to identify the various countries in the U.S.S.R. — using a map made in the 1930s, before any of those states even existed — it was time to talk to Mom and Dad about what your next report card might hold in store for them.

pull down maps vintage

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