Dead Box

Ahh the game of dead box. What good fond memories, a simple game for a simple time…

This game has been played in inner cities for years, at least since the 20’s or 30’s. My father passed it on to me somewhere along the line and I decided I have to pass it on as well. The basics of dead box is to get your beerie (basically a beer or soda cap) from one base or pocket to the next without landing in the dead box. Variations of the game have been played as well, but thats the beauty of being a kid. Some people can just make new rules. Here we will outline the making of a dead box court, beeries, and the rules of the game. I hope someone out there will make it for their kids and invite me over to play.

Making the Dead Box:
When making a dead box you may have to improvise. Use materials that work for the location and keep other peoples property in mind (not that we did when we were kids). In our case we usually played in the middle of a side street that did not have much traffic. We used white or silver spray paint and used the dead box for a whole summer. Other people used chalk and used the dead box for one day. All that is a non-issue, as long as the dead box gets made. 🙂

First you will start by making a large square or rectangle (your choice), if square, it should be approx 5-6 feet on each side. Next you will need to make a box in the center which is called the dead box. It is traditionally decorated with a skull and crossbones in the middle. Start in one corner and make a box and number it with the number 1. The object in numbering the boxes is to make the player shoot across the dead box and much as possible. So after creating the first box the second should be the exact opposite side or close to it. Look at the drawing to see how your finished dead box should look.

Preparing the Beeries:
Each person had their own tricks to make a good beery or cap. My favorite way was to get an old crayon and a penny. Place the penny in the beer cap and melt your crayon into the cap filling it to the top with melted wax. You can use different color crayons to make designs and swirls. This gave you your own personalized beery. Some people carved their names in the wax afterwards and other put old toy parts in the wax. Whatever your mind could think of was ok with the kids. If you won with a beery it was traditionally thought of as a lucky beery, so you would guard it with your life or barter it for another beery, money or candy.

Play was started when the person chosen to be first (a shoot-out, age, or threat of an ass kicking can determine who goes first) knelt or laid on the ground at the base or pocket labeled 1. He took his turn trying to shoot the beery by flicking it with his middle finger to the number 2 position. If he made it there he went again and tried for the next number, if he did not make it, the beery stayed put and the next player went. If you land in the dead box at any time you pick your beery up and start from 1 again. This went on until someone made it to the last base or number, then from there hit it into the dead box in the center. It was also legal to knock someone elses beery out of the box, causing them to pick their piece and pride up and go to the beginning to start all over.

Here is a picture to help you in making your dead box. Remember the beauty of these street games was that it can be changed on a whim. Dont be afraid to change it to your liking.

dead box game or is it deadbox

About five years or so ago (I was 27) me and one of my cousins (Scott Ladooooo) decided to make a dead box and show the neighborhood kids the game. They loved it, I was surprised at how they took to it. If nothing else came out of it at least we had a blast for a day. Here is a picture of one of the neighborhood kids playing dead box that day.

Playing dead box on Cantrell Street in South Philly

29 thoughts on “Dead Box”

  1. I remember playing this in West Philly, late 50s-mid 60s in the middle of the street. Back in the day cars would stop and let you make your shot and wait until you picked up your pieces. I used old large wooden checkers. Our rule was once in the cooler (dead box), you stayed in until someone knocked you out of it. Of course, being a cutthroat game, you could knock someone in the cooler. That and wallball were the only games played at Brooklyn and Fairmount Ave.

  2. I remember like it was yesterday, back in the early 70's , my friend TopCat one day decide to introduce us, deadman, an the game play, to my friends we embraced, I had the advantage because the was in front of my house, we play all day thru the night, the coolie was painted black/ red, we also enjoyed buck-buck, wall ball, dodge ball, spinning tops, freeze tag, making homemade slate board, an scooters, bye using old wheel's from an shopping carts, we couldn't have money to purchase a basketball court, so used an milk crate, I remember in the winter, going to Cobb Creek Park, an sliding down the hill with homemade sledge.

  3. I used to played this game, in southwest Philly, the beautiful thing about the game was front of my house, I really enjoyed playing this game, an planning to share the experience with my son, something different from video games, an less expensive , I plan on bringing it back !!!

  4. Jailbreak
    Back in the day on winton street, we had a bunch of buddies with nothing to do so we'd play jailbreak. 2 captains were picked, usually the best athletes or most popular then each captain would pick there team. It was usually 4 vs 4. A "jail" was then picked. Usually joes brownstone double step which was as wide as two front doors. There was normally two cement blocks
    spanning the width of the step. The way it played out was eight knuckleheads would sit or stand at the step. Team one would bolt from the steps and try to hide as team 2 would count to 10 while hiding their eyes. We usually peaked, but then it was south philly. At ten team two would run after team 1 looking for them. The object was to "capture " them by holding on to them and saying, 123 your my man. You'd then take them to jail, and one guy would stay back to gard them. If one of there guys stepped on the cement block as the gard wasn't paying attention, he'd yell jailbreak and the jailed guys would escape and rehide. When all 4 were captured team two gets to hide and team 1 searches. It sounds silly but it covered a lot of time in a summer where there wasn't a camp or organized sports to go do.
    Ps. Wouldn't give up that childhood up for anything.

  5. Grew in West Philly/Overbrook.. played everynite in the summer until 11 or 12 at night. Always put the "Coolie" under a street light!!! We called "Coolie" or "Deadblock".. Classic game… marq61, Wallball and Halfball.. what you know about that??? lol.. man what memories!!!!

  6. Grew up on 42nd and Viola in West Philly and we would play this game all day long in the summer..Loved knocking someones checker (berrie) down the street to get to your next block or finning them in the coolie for going out of turn. Our block number placement was a bit different but still the same game. We also played halfball, wallball, kingball, dodgeball, stepball, ringo, redlight as well as others. Kids had a lot of fun back then….

  7. As someone said you forgot the critical 13 and 14 box on opposite sides of the skull. It took care to get in them for some went over and in the dead box. Without these 2, the game is less exciting

  8. Wow, talk about memories i was born and raised in south philly, better know as two street. Went to sacred heart school then onto bishop neumann high school, but the memories i had as a kid dont happen today. Half ball, floters, deadman woodem scooters made from one skate a two by four and a milkcrate talk about fun, out all day& and night, thanks for bringing back some great memories ..

  9. Awesome to see. I'm from Beachwood & Snyder. My dad past the game on to me and my brother in the eighty's. 2 years ago I moved to Memphis Tennessee and we have a tournament every weekend. I HAVE THE "LUCKY BEERIE"(cap)

  10. I grew up at 6th & oregon, we played Dead Box every day, now i'm going to make one for my grandchildren. Good old so philly………….

  11. This brings back so many memories when children was just children having fun. I remember playing this game until we couldn't play anymore, we called it coodie block, around 17th & wharton street but everyone had a different name for it. To bad the children of today, they don't know what fun truly is…..

  12. Just checkin in as a kid who grew up on Woodstock St. just a few blocks from 22 & Allegheny. WOW! does this bring back some great memories,Dead Box was my favorite and the artical is right you did take pride in making your Beerie although i don't remember it being called that or having any name at all but 1971 was a long time ago and i might have forgotten. I also used to enjoy making a scooter city style with a metal milk crate a 2×4 and the wheels off an old pair of key skates. Great days Great memories.

  13. You forgot something on your diagram of the deadbox. There were two more number boxes (13 and 14) that go on oppisite sides of the skull box. They went the lenth of the skull box but were only about 4 inches wide.

  14. My dad created the Dead Box for my block located in South Philly. He spray painted a rectangle box and added extra boxes around the Dead Box. His design looked similar to the one above. I also have other street games listed below.

    My brother and his friends created a handball field that was spray painted in the middle of the street, which was South of the Dead Box game. Handball was played by either using handies, or fisties. Handies was where a batter would use an opened hand and would try to use their palm to hit the ball. Fisties was when the batter used their fist to hit the ball, which would create more force and projection to the ball. The ball was either a tennis ball, or a racket ball. The field was designed like a regular baseball field, except the pitcher’s mound was placed off centered to home plate.

    There was another form of handball, which I will not name because of the political incorrect nature, that required two or players who would slap a ball to the ground with one bounce and hit the wall. The next player would have to wait for the ball to bounce before starting their turn. The goal was to have the ball hit the wall and the ground at the same time, which would stop the ball from bouncing and would roll from the pavement and into the street.

    Fastball was played usually in a mall where a strike box is created on a wall. The batter would have a mop, or broom stick to hit the ball. There where no bases in the game, but depending on where the ball landed which was described by the boundaries, determined the base, or homerun of the batter.

    Half-ball was where a tennis ball was cut in half where the same rules applied as with Fastball, except this was played on the street. The pitcher would stand between two parked cars and would pitch underhanded to a batter who would stand across the street.

    Wire Ball used the same rules as Half-ball, except the ball was either a wiffle ball, or a pimple ball.

    Step- ball was played by two or more players. The offense would throw a ball on the step, which would project the ball across the street. Depending on where the ball landed, was predetermined by a base, or homerun.

    Of course, all of these games made the neighbors upset because the balls, including cars, were constantly hitting their windows to their houses.

  15. Oh my god Talk about memories. I was watching Crooklyn (the movie by Spike Lee) and it bought back memories of playing "Tops"in the streets of North Philly. We actually called it Deadman. To my surprise it didnt take to long to find web sites dedicated to the game. I've see lots of variations that I have never heard of. I also saw a version that was like a board game. It was well done on a laminated paper that could be rolled up when game play was done. I also came across a version that was played on the computer….go figure.

  16. Yo, I grew up in southwest Philly and we used to play this everyday it seemed!We called it Tops! My dad grew up in south Philly so he informed me @ a young age of its original name. We would use tar and candle wax in our tops to give the tops weight! Then we started using back gamon pieces(gliders). We also had little blocks along the outside of the square that contained the skull, they went up to 20! your diagram above only goes up to 12! This really brought back memories! All the rules that applied! We used to "fin" for blocks and "hunch" to our blocks. lol thanks for the memories!

  17. I have been working on a book about my preteen life in South Philadelphia (1940-45). It includes "Dead Box", "buck-Buck" "Half Ball", etc.

    I also wrote about the PTC, Radio, How-to-build a fruit box saket scooter, the War, Movies, etc.


  18. I remember getting yelled at for painting on the street by the usual Old Grump of the street.

  19. In Oxford Circle in 50s I played dead box every day on my small front cement patio where we had tiny numbers 11 to 14 chalked next to the dead box and you had to go up and back from 1 to 14, and then go in the dead box to become "poison", and then kill every other player by hitting their bottle cap before they could become poison and kill you. My dad was from 3rd and Emily in South Philly and other kid's dads were from West Philly, Strawberry Mansion, etc so we had a lot of cross cultural influences.

    Some years ago I started a Phila Rowhouse Sports Olympics with a friend and we had 100s of people show up to play box ball, wire ball, dead box, chink, stickball, half ball,wall ball,and step ball. Still getting people together for row house sports in Fairmount.

    I thought I was a great dead box player and in my fraternity at Penn State I played against a guy from Overbrook Park who thought he was better. We trash talked, bets were placed, and everyone rooted. I lost, though we never resolved who was the better basketball player in numerous 1 on 1 games.

    I've tried to teach Dead Box to kids everywhere I've lived in Philly, and to kids down the shore in the summer but somehow they never stick with it. Its as frustrating as dealing with the stupid people who think Cousy was a better ballhandler than Guy Rodgers.

  20. Didn't read all of the comments, so if not already mentioned, we made gliders. I wasn't good at it and always needed help. You make a glider by slowly and ever so lightly dragging a glass soda bottle across a rough surface like a man hole cover. The lip of the bottle separates and provides a circular replacement for a bottle cap. You'd have to adjust for the increased speed with which you traveled but was easier to "glide" from one box to another in a single turn with master skills.
    Thanks for the article. It helped confirm the accuracy of my memory.

  21. 2341 S. Carlise st. Great ol' days. My big brother painted one just like the diagram on our street back in 1970…. some of the most fun not including half ball and step ball and buck-buck…

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