And there is always soup.
Each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, when the sprawling playground is open for general admission, children line up at a soup kitchen for Saltines and a bowl of Campbell's vegetable beef or chicken noodle. They also get snacks of milk and graham crackers in the morning and afternoon.
There are two pools, many swing sets, and lots of grassy lawn.
Everything is free, as it has been for more than a century.
"I've seen people 85 years old and in wheelchairs come and say, 'It's still here, and it's still the same,' and there are tears running down their faces," said caretaker Armand R. Perez, 48, who's been caretaker for eight years and lives on site with his wife. "We're still doing the same thing."
Founded in 1877 by a group of doctors who wanted to provide a place for poor and sick children from Philadelphia to play and breathe in the country air, the park was originally on an island near the Ben Franklin Bridge. In the late 1880s, plans to deepen the river and dredge out the island forced its relocation to the West Deptford location.
Steamboats used to ferry children to Soupy Island, but now the trip is made by car or bus. And the present-day Soupy Island is open to everybody.
Tuesdays are for children younger than 8, and Wednesdays and Thursdays are for those younger than 12. Adult supervision is always required.
When children are not spinning around the carousel, many are zooming down the giant, enclosed slide. "You take a piece of wax paper, you sit on this thing, and you fly," Perez said. "The kids love it. I mean, they love it."
Perez estimated that about half the children usually are from Philadelphia, and the other half come from Camden, Gloucester and Burlington Counties.
The playground is also open to school youth programs, church organizations, and other groups. If a group is larger than 20, calling ahead is advised.
On Saturdays from May through August, Soupy Island can be reserved for a fee of $3 per person for family reunions, weddings, company picnics and other group functions.
The playground, which employs up to 18 people during the summer months, is funded by an endowment and donations.
Besides keeping up the facility, Perez said he hoped to build basketball and volleyball courts.
Edward M. Watters, president of the playground's nonprofit parent organization, Sanitarium Playgrounds of New Jersey, said Soupy Island "gets under your skin."
"For many families and kids during the Great Depression, the soup and milk and crackers that get served at lunch was their main meal of the day," said Watters, a Berwyn lawyer. "And we still serve it."
Contact staff writer Adam Fifield at 856-779-3917 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Season at Soupy Island
* The season opens July 5 and ends Aug. 11.
* The park is open from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m Tuesdays, and from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays.
* From May through August, the park is available on Saturdays for groups by reservation. There is a charge of $3 per person.
Contact Soupy Island by calling:
Donations can be sent to:
Sanitarium Playgrounds of New
Jersey c/o Edward M. Watters, President
400 Berwyn Park
899 Cassatt Rd.
Berwyn, Pa. 19312