During one of the most soul searching times in American history, a simple child’s game appeared. Its exact origins are a mystery. With WWII raging a half-world away, children from impoverished families, living primarily in the southern part of the United States, were forced to create their own forms of entertainment. Many struggling families with children had no access to toys, and on Christmas morning their absence would be felt for the remainder of the war. Whatever toys they possessed before the war became extremely prized.
Many toy manufacturers were forced to close their doors during the great depression. When WWII began, those that survived retooled their factories to build war supplies. One such company, an American toy manufacturer specializing in tin lithographed toys, produced nose cones and tail units for bombs as well as casings for incendiary devices. This was a harsh contrast to the circus and amusement park themed toys that the company became known for. Today, they are considered prime examples of the golden age of toy manufacturing. One of their specialties was a child’s coin bank in the form of a circus clown. Its popularity was due to its affordability and because children were enchanted by its striking colors and magical, almost life-like appearance.
It was in the midst of those difficult years that young children began demonstrating that, though their families were poor, their minds were anything but. Colorful and highly creative, these games were built with materials found around the house: bits of old cardboard, construction paper, fabric remnants and the like.
One aspect of these homemade games was anything but innocent.
With a lingering interest from the spiritualism movement at the turn of the century, many adults were still very fascinated by its mysterious appeal. Séances and medium consultations were a sought-after service for the poor as well as the wealthy.
What they didn’t realize at the time was that their children were quietly paying attention.
The central piece in many of these home-grown games was oddly, and strangely, enough one of the tin circus clowns. The exact reason the children chose it is unknown, but it’s believed that it had to be a favorite possession of the child and that it could contain a “spirit” or “spook." The rules were simple- follow the instructions on the game cards, and in doing so, try to trick the spirit guiding the game. The game ended, more often than not, with the game piece knowing the exact outcome before the game began.
Because children of that era had very little exposure to more costly forms of entertainment, their game boards often reflected experiences they would have been familiar with, such as small country carnivals or travelling circuses. Some of the games they crafted bordered on folk art.
The point of the game was very much the same regardless of where it was played, its origins bordering on the occult. Without even realizing it many children were channeling spirits and inviting evil entities into their sanctuaries of innocence: their bedrooms. The nightmares that followed caused many families to destroy the games, in order to rid their kids of the night-terrors they reported having. Several documented stories abound of neighboring barns, out-structures and abandoned houses mysteriously burning to the ground- even in the dead of winter. These reports become even more disturbing when you consider that, at several of the burn sites, fire officials recovered a child’s small tin toy bank. When asked about any involvement, the children would say, “The game told me to do it” or “I was just following what the game said.”
Many children, in order to "silence the game", would actually rip the tongue out of the clown, hoping it would stop the "voice" that was tormenting them.
Most people brushed off such stories as childish nonsense or mere coincidence. Regardless of what folks thought, the children played on.
When interviewed decades later as adults, all of those who had played it were asked if they had a name for it. Without exception they all called it the same thing: “The Knowing Game.”
Leading experts in the fields of folklore and superstition feel that the game, though cloaked in childhood innocence, is a tool for conditioning children- the most vulnerable members of society- to open themselves at a young age to occult phenomenon and practice. One researcher, while pouring through ancient occult texts, came across an image that strongly resembled the distinct features of the clown game piece. Written beneath it were two frightening words, “Soul Thief.” Could there be a connection between an ancient evil and a mid-twentieth century child’s game?
Today, these games are hard to find and are highly prized by American folk art collectors worldwide. When they do turn up, they often fetch astronomical premiums. Some die-hard collectors label them as priceless.
Unfortunately, very few of them remain intact. Most were stuffed into old shoeboxes or tobacco tins when the children grew up and moved on. They were left to wait patiently in the dark, decaying in damp attics and basements, forcing them back to whence they came- never to be seen or played again.
Those that did survive enable us to pull back the veil of history and glimpse at a unique, and some say not-so-innocent time in our nation’s spiritually turbulent and soul-searching past.
Reprinted from the University of Kentucky Anthropological and Social Sciences Department and the University of Kentucky library archives.
- the nature of the game coincides with mystery entertainment and performance
- no memory work and is virtually self-working, allowing performer to focus on presentation
- demonstrator is free to exhibit the game in a variety of ways and includes two interchangeable outcomes
- can be shown as a piece of American folk art and superstition
- includes authentic period correct antique components
The player would lay out the game board along with the instruction cards and roll the dice to see who would go first. The player with the highest number would proceed. The cards were then mixed by a series of cuts. The player would take the top card from the pile and read its instruction, moving the clown game piece around the board accordingly. The player, during their move, would try to trick the game and land on the space that the card mentioned. No matter how hard the player tries, the game seems to know the exact outcome of each move, taking on a mind of its own. In the end, the player has their fortune told and are lead unwillingly down a path they never bargained for, causing them to question whether they played the game or if the game played them.
WHAT YOU GET
1 authentic tin lithographed child’s clown bank. (This is the central game piece figure and was actually made in a factory that made bomb components and incendiary devices for WWII.)
1 large authentic tobacco tin to hold contents of the game.
1 small authentic tobacco tin to hold smaller game pieces.
14 hand aged and smoked game instruction cards.
10 hand aged and smoked game discs with carnival themes ( 2 fortunes told discs. One for the softer alternate ending)
1 hand aged game board (1940’s replica Kellogg’s corn flakes cereal box)
1 handmade bone dice.
1 authentic period correct Crayola Crayon ( color varies)
1 1943 steel wheat penny
3 aged game cards with blank backs
Articles on the game and clown game-piece
Fate Magazine cover showing a story written about the game in the 1960’s (replica)
7000 word instruction manual explaining the game and its variations in complete detail
1 small votive candle
NOTE: Antiques are guaranteed to have appropriate wear and patina. No two game sets are identical. This includes the tin lithographed clown as well as the tobacco tins. Limited availability: Because of the painstaking process to locate the antiques that make up this effect, there are only 9 complete sets available for immediate shipment. This will be a very exclusive item with only 23 sets ever assembled. Each game will be numbered on the hard copy instruction manual included in each complete set.
The cost for each complete set of The Knowing Game is $250.00 shipped anywhere in the USA.
Shipping is now available to the UK. The cost for shipping a complete Knowing Game to the UK is $300.00 USD. I cannot be responsible for the shipment once it leaves the US; I cannot refund the cost if it does not arrive as sent. I will ensure that it is extremely well packaged for its trip.
For serious inquiries and availability please email Steve at: firstname.lastname@example.org