Monday, May 07, 2007

There's a Witch In The Well!

Last night we had dinner at the house of some friends of ours. Their children are 4 and almost 2; after dinner we went outside to play and I taught them Witch in the Well, which was a big hit. If you are unfamiliar with the games, the rules as I learned them years and years ago went like this:

There is a designated well area. One person is the witch, decide this however you like. The witch hides in the well area, so something like a tree makes a good well. Another person is the mom, again, choose as you wish. The rest of the players are the kids. The mother says to the children

I am going downtown to smoke my pipe
I won't be back until Saturday night
Don't get into the jelly and jam!

(the rest of the adults were unfamilar with the game and in hysterics over the rhyme. My husband pointed out "you know, these days they'll put you in jail for that!)

Anyway. Mom walks away, kids pretend to get into the jelly and jam. Mom returns, scolds the kids and sends them to the well to wash up. As they reach the well, the witch jumps out, kids run back yelling "there's a Witch in the well!" Mom doesn't believe them, sends them back, witch jumps out, etc. You can repeat this part as often as you like, but eventually the mom says she will come with them to prove there is no witch, and at this point the witch jumps out and chases everyone. The one caught becomes the new witch, and the old witch becomes the new mother.

At one point Miranda suggested we play Barney in the well, because that would be really scary. She'd jump out and yell "be my friend!" while chasing the kids. It was pretty frightening.


At 1:04 AM, May 08, 2007, Blogger Carmen said...

Barney in the well... too funny.

At 4:38 PM, June 11, 2007, Blogger Stephanie said...

I did a search online for "Witch in the well" and found your page!
My sister and I have been talking about this game lately, as we played it the whole time we were growing up! Our version was essentially the same, but without the rhyme at the beginning and the jam part. In our version, mom calls the kids to come eat dinner. The kids line op with their hands behind their backs. Mom says, "let me see your hands." and the kids say "NO!", and again, and the third time the kids say "okay." Then the mom goes down the line of kids, paddycaking their hands as she says, "Dirty, dirty, double dirty. Go wash them in the well." Once she has done this with all the kids, they go over to wash their hands and the rest plays out like your version.
Where did you learn this game? My sister and I have no idea where we learned it, just know we always played it...
VERY fun to read your post about it!

At 10:02 PM, August 29, 2007, Blogger D said...


I also found your page while searching for "Witch in the Well" What a fun game-- we spent hours playing it on the playground at recess in third grade. And just like Stephanie, we would say "dirty, dirty, double dirty." I wonder if this was regional-- I grew up in northern PA.
My husband, a Hoosier, didn't believe there was such a game, so it was nice to show him that at leat two other people have heard of it!

Of course, Barney would be much too scary for me!

Thanks for the fun post!

At 9:31 AM, February 07, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We played the same game up to the point where Mom left the house. On the playground, our variation on the game included the witch kidnapping the kids one by one (often quite a few kids, since the whole class wanted to play) every time mom went to town to smoke her pipe (which she did over and over till all the kids were captured). The witch would give them all the names of different pies, and drag them off to the well. In the end, Mom came to the well, guessed the new pie names of the kids, then as the last one was named, everyone took off and ran for home. The one the witch caught was the next witch, the last person to make it home safely was the new mom. This was in upstate NY, and I, too, wonder where it origniated?

At 4:37 PM, February 13, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been trying to search for the "Witch in the Well" yard game for quite some time, and was beginning to think it was only a game invented by a few neighborhood kids. I remember little about it, other than the "kids" complaining to the "mom" that "There's a witch in the well. There's a witch in the well!" only to be sent back, and chased by the witch. I, too grew up in northern PA, so wonder if the game was, in fact, regional.

At 6:27 AM, March 13, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up in PA, too; just north of Pittsburgh: Ellwood City. We played this all the time in elementary school, only the mom went to town to do the shopping and was back the same day. The kids got into the sugar. When mom finally went to the well with the kids the witch would answer that she was there boiling water, Why: For my dinner. What are you having for dinner: You! Mom and kids would run. Whoever the witch caught would then become the new witch.

At 7:28 PM, March 22, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, too, reached this page with the search for "Witch in the Well." I belong to a Mother-Daughter Group that is looking for games to play. I remembered this (not that I want to play this version with my kids, but it brought back some fun memories.) In our game, played in the suburbs of Kansas City, we played a game very similar to yours. The mom went off to shop, warned the kids not to eat the cookies, when she left the kids commenced with the cookie jar raiding. Mom comes back, kids lined up with hand behind their backs, she demands to see their hands, etc. When the game reaches the point of the mom marching off to the well with kids in tow, it went like this:
Mom sees the witch leaning against the well...
Mom: Whatcha doin'?
Witch: Smokin' (witch is fake smoking with two fingers holding an invisible cigarette.)
Mom: Why you smokin'?
Witch: To make ashes.
Mom: Why do you want to make ashes?
Witch: To sharpen my knife.
Mom: Why do you want to sharpen your knife?
Witch: To get you! (At which point tag begins and the first to get caught is the witch.)
It sounds so twisted, but it was so much fun! We played all the time at school recess and on the block.

At 2:18 PM, May 04, 2008, Blogger Heather said...

I'm so glad someone remembers this game. It was definately one of my favs as a kids. I couldn't remember the details which is how I found this site. I just got done explaining the game to my kids. I too am from Cleveland and it was very popular at my school as a kid.

At 3:31 AM, July 27, 2008, Blogger rwitt0 said...

We played this game as children and I could not remember all of the details, but remembered how much fun we had playing it. I think that this game is so much fun for children, and it is probably one of the few games that I would still enjoy playing with my children, as an adult. I don't think that the saying "I'm going downtown to smoke my pipe, and I won't be back til Saturday night, has much to do with it, in a child's mind, other than the fact that it rhymes and it is an essential part of the game. (We now know as adults that this has been around for a LONG TIME!.)This is an awesome game that builds a lot of character in children! (By the way, I learned this game as a child growing up in Southeastern Ohio, born in West Virginia. Thanks so much for your post, I searched a couple of years ago and there was nothing. (Thought I was the only One!!) Amen.

At 7:49 PM, January 03, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was reminiscing with friends this weekend, and we all were talking about The Witch in the Well game. We loved it and played it often. I don't remember who taught it to me...I just remember knowing it. I grew up in Newcomerstown (east central Ohio), so it must be a regional thing. In my version, the mom warns the kids not to get into the "goodies", but everything else was pretty much the same as others have listed. It was a little twisted, but it was a great game. I am glad to know that others remember it as fondly as I do!

At 9:40 AM, April 01, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We played in Soutern Ohio as well. When the mom went to smoke her pipe she would run around the house and when she returned would catch kids eating brown sugar and say dirty dirty, double dirty, go wash them in the well.
And so on.

We also played ghost in the graveyard and kick the can.

Good memories.

At 7:58 PM, April 07, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This must have been regional. I'm from northwest Ohio and played it a lot in the 70's. The part I remember the most was, "dirty, dirty, dirty, dirty, go wash them in the well" - hitting each hand. (Don't remember double-dirty).

Now to teach it to the neighborhood...

At 9:58 AM, April 27, 2012, Anonymous Lynne said...

I recently was reminded of this game. My sisters and I played it in the '70's in SW Iowa. I remembered it as being so much fun, but I have no recollection about who taught it to us. I think I assumed it was a local thing, but now I see it was much more wide-spread. I have a 6 year old daughter who would probably love it, so maybe I'll teach it to her, but I have to admit, it does seem a little twisted! Hurray for old-timey games!

At 4:23 PM, June 15, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We played this game growing up in California in the '70's. I think the mom called the kids for dinner rather and occasionally she'd find a clean hand.. dirty! dirty! cleeeannn! dirty! hahaha

At 11:00 PM, March 30, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved playing this game in the 60s in Buffalo, NY!

At 12:50 AM, July 01, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We played a version of it in North Tonawanda NY in mid 70's

At 2:03 PM, November 29, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My mother, 1912-2002, always talked about this game, but we never had enough kids in old tiny town for me to learn it. Finally, sitting here with my grandkids, I decided to find out, if I could, how mother's game was played. I can't wait to teach it to the later generations. Thanks so much for the info.

At 12:02 AM, April 06, 2014, Blogger Kirsten bean said...

My cousin and I played this game in the 70's in Washington state! We played it always on the river at our grandmothers house.


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