On Nov. 7, 1938, Robert Lange, the German consul at Honolulu, notified the press that he would be asking Territorial Gov. Joseph Poindexter to eliminate the “sock ‘em” game to be held at the Saint Catherine Church fair on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 19 and 20, at Kealia Park, the present Kealia rodeo arena.
Lange had found the sock ‘em game most offensive, since fair patrons playing the game would be throwing bean bags at a wooden image of his leader, Adolf Hitler, as well as at Hitler’s fellow dictators Mussolini and Stalin.
The idea for the game originated with St. Catherine pastor, the Rev. Maurice Coopman, who saw similar contests in his native Belgium. Coopman explained that, in Belgium, where the game is popular at church fairs, the figures used are named for political candidates.
When Coopman was advised of Lange’s protest, he said, “The parishioners of St. Catherine Church do not want to be the cause of creating an international crisis.”
Although Coopman had received no official notice of Lange’s protest, nor had he personally heard from the governor, he then took preemptive action, in deference to foreigners who might have their feelings hurt, to mollify the situation by changing the names of the figures and modifying them for the sock ‘em game.
As a result, the effigies were renamed Boen, Flop and Fifi.
Hitler became Boen, which is the plural of the German word Boe, which means a sudden squall of wind, sometimes used colloquially in Flanders, Belgiumas “a bag of wind,” or “a wind bag.”
Furthermore, Hitler’s fierce face was revamped to take on a less-unpleasant appearance by removing its frown, while his swastika was transformed into a harmless flower.
Mussolini, nicknamed Flop, still wore a black shirt, but was given a curling mustache, and redshirted Stalin, remade into Fifi, underwent a facial uplift that gave him a broad smirk.
When the fair opened on the 19th, the sock ‘em game turned out to be a popular attraction, even without Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin as targets.
Hank Soboleski has been a resident of Kauai since the 1960s. Hank’s love of the island and its history has inspired him, in conjunction with The Garden Island Newspaper, to share the island’s history weekly. The collection of these articles can be found here: https://bit.ly/2IfbxL9 and here https://bit.ly/2STw9gi Hank can be reached at email@example.com