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1972 photo essay about Brian Sullivan, a New York City teenager.
Caption from LIFE. Playing round in the city is fun, Brian Sullivan told LIFE assistant editor Anne Holister, and scary sometimes too. One of us hides in these rocks in Central Park and the others find him. Then we slide down the slope. Some kids fell off it 20 years ago and got killed.Bill Ray—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
1972 photo essay about Brian Sullivan, a New York City teenager.
1972 photo essay about Brian Sullivan, a New York City teenager.
1972 photo essay about Brian Sullivan, a New York City teenager.
1972 photo essay about Brian Sullivan, a New York City teenager.
1972 photo essay about Brian Sullivan, a New York City teenager.
1972 photo essay about Brian Sullivan, a New York City teenager.
1972 photo essay about Brian Sullivan, a New York City teenager.
1972 photo essay about Brian Sullivan, a New York City teenager.
1972 photo essay about Brian Sullivan, a New York City teenager.
1972 photo essay about Brian Sullivan, a New York City teenager.
1972 photo essay about Brian Sullivan, a New York City teenager.
1972 photo essay about Brian Sullivan, a New York City teenager.
1972 photo essay about Brian Sullivan, a New York City teenager.
1972 photo essay about Brian Sullivan, a New York City teenager.
1972 photo essay about Brian Sullivan, a New York City teenager.
1972 photo essay about Brian Sullivan, a New York City teenager.
1972 photo essay about Brian Sullivan, a New York City teenager.
1972 photo essay about Brian Sullivan, a New York City teenager.
Caption from LIFE. Playing round in the city is fun, Brian Sullivan told LIFE assistant editor Anne Holister, and scary
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Bill Ray—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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Inside the World of a New York City 13-Year-Old in 1972

The end has come—of the school year, that is.

This Tuesday will mark the last day of school for New York City public schools. And by now, most kids all over the country will be free at last. What they’ll do with their free time will vary widely, but in 1972 LIFE Magazine took at the world outside the schoolhouse walls for one particular NYC 13-year-old, a boy named Brian Sullivan.

“If you’re not one, being a city kid can sound like an awful drag,” the magazine noted. “You haven’t got a backyard to fool around in, and since you live in an apartment house the neighbors are likely to complain about any noise you make. A gang may swoop down and steal the city boy’s bike, or grab his bus pass while he’s at the penny arcade, or beat him up while he’s just waiting at the corner for a friend.”

In following Brian, photographer Bill Ray discovered that there was lots for a city kid to do.

It’s a look back at a time when the city was rougher than it is today: Brian had been mugged once, and though his parents let him take the subway alone, they told him to avoid certain streets. But, if the city was more dangerous, it was also more innocent. Brian’s hobbies included shooting off homemade rockets in Central Park, which he did freely, with only the hassle of too many looky-loos, and playing in a junk yard with his friends. (Not everything was innocent: Brian also threw things off the roof of his building.) Brian and his pals roamed the city, unencumbered by social media or cell phones, and in the evenings he played cards with his family.

And, though things have changed in the decades since then, it's clear that the possibilities for fun were endless—something with which, especially today, a modern city kids could surely agree.

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