Fact? Folklore? Symbolic? A message that good triumphs over evil? Any way you
read it, the story of Noah and the ark is one of the world’s most widely known
and best loved stories. And it’s not a Bible story, exclusively.
A similar event -- and great deluges -- are related in the traditional
literature of almost every culture. The American Indians and ancient Mexicans
had stories of a flood and a man chosen by God to save pairs of living things.
It is generally conceded that the floods were different deluges, at different
times in history.
Early Chinese missionaries heard word-of-mouth stories similar to the Noah
experience. Egypt stands alone in that there is no written or “passed-down”
account of such a catastrophe.
Noah got his orders: he was to build an ark that was to be 300 cubits long, 50
cubits wide and 30 cubits tall. A cubit is the length from your elbow to the
end of your longest finger. This varies, of course, and so does the design and
construction of two arks and animals.
My brother and I didn’t have an ark of our own, but we played with arks at
friends homes, especially on Sundays. Our parents, in order to “keep the
Sabbath,” refrained from sewing, dancing, playing cards and doing any work
except milking the cows and feeding the hogs and other necessary daily chores
on the farm. Sunday was a day of rest.
At some of our friends’ homes, we couldn’t fish, play with our wagons or
sleds, hitch up the pony, race through the woods, or romp and play games as we
did the other six days. We could however, play with one toy: Noah and the Ark.
Other toys might be forbidden, but the Noah toy was an exception. Noah, the
ark and the animals, were the Bible toy -- the Sunday toy.
We were farm kids and sympathized with old Noah in a number of ways. Anybody
who’d ever helped get a bull into a loading chute understood the magnitude of
his loading problems. Imagine getting all those animals, crowded together,
into a strange thing like a boat!
Sunday, or any day children and adults march animals up the ark ramp while a
“play like” Noah directs the loading process yelling,~ “O.K., you brutes,
no screeching, no barking, howling, bellowing, screaming. The bathroom’s down
the hall to the left.”
Noah’s instructions were that the ark would provide the proper food for all of
the animals as well as food for the eight people, the Noahs, their three sons
and the sons’ wives. Whew! What an order!
There was also the problem of predators. In my 4-H project, my hen and
chickens were in a metal box-type house, one in a line of 10 such coops. Guess
which one the skunk visited for a late night snack!
Our farm didn’t have elephants, aardvarks, armadillos and kangaroos, but we
knew that foxes eat geese, snakes eat mice, purple martins eat mosquitoes and
wolves are dreaded wild predators. We kids giggled when we considered the
Nevertheless, we’d set up the ark and march pairs of animals across the carpet
to the loading ramp. Then squirrels went to the roof, as did ravens and
pigeons; doves peeked out of the hayloft; frogs stayed where water would
splash off the roof onto them. Skunks had a large space to themselves for
Antique arks of many shapes and forms are resurrected from attics. Wood was
the preferred material, of course. There are, however, arks made of pewter,
cloth, clay, yarn and other materials.
All ark makers must take liberty as to the size of the animals. As Charles
Dickens said, “Consider the noble fly, a size or two smaller than the
Whatever the material, whatever the form, Noah and his well-filled ark
continue to be the best-loved toy in the world.