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Archive for December, 2015

Weirs Beach New Hampshire

Neon sign in Weirs Beach, New Hampshire, home to Funspot, the world’s largest arcade. Photo © Tricia Vita


A recent trip to New Hampshire took us to Weirs Beach, a summer resort on Lake Winnepesaukee that is also home to Funspot, named “The World’s Largest Arcade” by Guinness World Records. The indoor fun mecca was founded more than 60 years ago by Bob Lawton, who at 84 years young still runs the place, which is open year-round.

While kids rode coin-op carousel horses and pint-sized bumper cars and families bowled and played the Famous Landmarks of New Hampshire-themed mini-golf in the 75,000 square-foot fun center, we trooped upstairs to meet Hercules, the World’s Largest Pinball Machine. Manufactured by Atari in 1970, the giant size machine uses a cue ball as a pinball and dwarfs its neighbor, a 1938 Genco Stop & Go.

Hercules, Largest Pinball in the World

Hercules, ‘Largest Pinball in the World,’ at Funspot. Manufactured by Atari in 1970. Photo © Tricia Vita

Hercules is stationed at the entrance to the American Classic Arcade Museum (ACAM), which museum curator Gary Vincent describes as “like stepping into the Wayback Machine.” ACAM has over 200 classic video games as well as a selection of pinball machines, any of which can be played for a few tokens. Four tokens cost $1.00; we splurged on 100 for $20.

“We use 1987 as a cutoff date for video games in the museum,” says Vincent. He notes that when Double Dragon came out, there was a shift in the industry from quirky puzzle-and-fantasy-based games to what he calls “the kick punch shoot games.”

Among the rare video games you can play are Computer Space (1971), the world’s first commercially available coin-operated video game. Developed by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, who would go on to found Atari, th mod looking machine has a fiberglass cabinet with sparkle gel coat. “It actually has a television set in it that has been modified to run with video game hardware, which is typical of video games until about 1974,” Vincent explains.

“Having worked at Funspot since 1981, and having watched the industry go way, way, way up and way, way, way down, I saw an opportunity to save a lot of the older games here by starting a museum,” Vincent says of the nonprofit which was founded in 2002. The fact that 60 video game enthusiasts showed up for the first classic arcade tournament in 1999 convinced him of the need to collect and preserve games and put them out where the public could learn about them and enjoy them again. “It’s really funny to see dad who is about 40 with his 15-year-old kid, saying look, come here, I played this when I was a kid.”

Although Funspot donates the space to the nonprofit museum, the games in the museum don’t make enough money to support themselves. “It’s sad but true, the only money to be made in classic games is selling them on eBay,” notes Vincent. “You don’t make money putting them out where people can play them, seven days a week, 12 hours a day. It’s kind of a labor of lovejust wanting to preserve games so people can come along 10, 15, 20 years from now and be able to play things that they just can’t play anywhere else.”

Sky Jump Grand Slam Pinball Games

Sky Jump and Grand Slam, pinball games from the early 1970s at Funspot’s American Classic Arcade Museum. Photo © Tricia Vita

Among the electro-mechanical pinball games that we got to play were Gottlieb’s 1972 Grand Slam, a baseball game of which only 3,600 were manufactured, Sky Jump (1974) and Devil’s Dare (1982), and Bally’s Mr. and Mrs. Pac Man Pinball (1982). Rare video games include Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator (Sega, 1983), Cloak & Dagger (Atari, 1983), and Death Race (Exidy, 1976). The museum’s 501-c3 status lets it to run weekly bingo games as fundraisers, allowing it to buy more classics, fix them up and put them on the floor. Luminaries from the video game community such as Curt Vendell of the Atari Museum, and Robert Mruczek, the former chief referee of Twin Galaxies, have donated a number of games from their personal collections.

As we were about to leave, it was a great pleasure to meet Funspot’s founder Mr. Lawton. We talked arcades and exchanged business cards. His card entitles the visitor to $20 worth of free tokens and is tucked away in the glove compartment in anticipation of our next trip to New Hampshire.

Classic Pinball

A row of electro-mechanical pinball machines at the American Classic Arcade Museum. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

March 30, 2014: Spring Reading: “Automatic Pleasures: The History of the Coin Machine”

November 15, 2013: Modern Pinball NYC Opens with New Arcade Business Model

November 29, 2011: Fascination: From Coney Island to Nantasket Beach

October 6, 2010: Traveler: Where You Can Play Fascination Year Round

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Miss Coney Island

Miss Coney Island – 25 cents to fall in love. December 6, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Miss Coney Island, the legendary dancing doll whose twin mottoes are “25¢ to Fall in Love” and “Don’t Postpone Joy,” will be open on New Year’s Day. Join her and her dancing cats– the cost of a dance will remain at 25 cents in 2016. She wants to show off her sweet new skirt, which her dresser did not get around to putting on till after the season was over. A favorite tape featuring reggae versions of Auld Lang Syne and Christmas carols will be played.

The doll and the cats are located on West 12th Street, under the Wonder Wheel, which will also be open for the first time ever on New Year’s, weather permitting.

Originally a circa 1935 Indian Princess at the Danbury Fair, the doll was bought at auction when the fair closed and soon underwent a sea change into Miss Coney Island. Father Time has been kind to her. Though you’d never guess it to look at Miss Coney, she is over 80, just ten years younger than Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park’s mechanical fortuneteller, Grandma’s Predictions.

Miss Coney Island

Father Time has been kind to Miss Coney Island, a circa 1935 dancing doll. December 6, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

October 4, 2015: Video: Coney Island Dancing 2015 by Jim McDonnell

April 6, 2014: Photo of the Day: Miss Coney Island’s Dancing Cat

September 30, 2012: Photo of the Day: Last Dance With Miss Coney Island

April 27, 2012: The Dancing Doll “Miss Coney Island” Speaks

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Astrolands Bright and Shining Gate On Surf Avenue, September 7, 2008. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita

Astroland's Bright and Shining Gate On Surf Avenue, September 7, 2008. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita

One of the eight-foot by seven-and-a-half-foot lighted stars from Astroland’s Surf Avenue gate is in the National Air and Space Museum among other space-age icons, but the second one could be yours for Christmas. Along with pieces of Dante’s Inferno dark ride, the Bonanza shooting gallery, and a variety of signage, the star is among the last vestiges of the Coney Island amusement park being offered for sale. Mark Blumenthal, Astroland’s longtime operations manager, has overseen the sale of the rides since the park closed and was dismantled at the end of 2008. If you’re interested in acquiring an Astro artifact, you can email Blumenthal at astrolandmark[at]aol[dot]com.

Dante's Inferno demon

Dante’s Inferno demon on crane, Astroland Park in Coney Island- Photo © Tricia Vita. December 26, 2008.

“We’d like to sell the ride as a whole,” Blumenthal said of Dante’s, which consists of the giant demon’s head and torso from the façade, props, track and cars in storage trailers. “But if someone has a home for the pieces, we’d entertain the idea of selling them.” Dante’s Inferno was made by the Italian manufacturer Soli and brought to Astroland in 1971, according to a tribute on Laff in the Dark’s website. More than a dozen stunts created by Lou Nasti’s Brooklyn-based Mechanical Displays in the 1990s are also for sale.

At the Brooklyn Museum, the Cyclops head from Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park’s Spook-A-Rama dark ride, which is going into its 66th year of operation in Coney, is on display as part of the exhibit Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland. Can Dante’s demon make a similar transition from the amusement park midway to the art world? Or what about bringing it home to Coney and exercising a little creative reuse?

Also being offered for sale is the old-timey Bonanza shooting gallery, where you could shoot the piano player. You may recall it was located on the Surf Avenue side of the park next to Gregory & Paul’s. Manufactured by Taylor Engineering, Bonanza shooting galleries first debuted in 1958 and this one was brought to Coney Island by Gregory in the mid-’70s.

“It was redone a couple of years before we closed,” says Blumenthal. “It’s the old technology,” referring to the fact that vintage Bonanza galleries used photocell sensors activated by a bright light source, usually from the rifles. That’s why there were multiple signs saying “No Photography” and why we have no photos. You can catch a glimpse of it in the following video. Refurbished galleries such as “The World’s Largest Bonanza Gallery.” currently on the fair circuit, use an infrared beam of light instead of flashing light.

As we noted in a post in 2013, Astroland’s rides have found homes in Costa Rica, South America, Australia, New Jersey and Brooklyn. Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park brought back the Barbieri Bumper Cars and Scrambler, and together with the Coney Island History Project, the 1960’s Astroland Rocket, which once perched on Gregory & Paul’s rooftop as an advertisement.

Signage from Astroland’s Surf and Boardwalk entrances to the park, as well as the arcade are also for sale.”I miss it, but a lot of us miss it,” Blumenthal says of Astroland. “Now it’s part of history.”

Astroland arcade sign

Astroland arcade sign. Photo © Tricia Vita. July 25, 2008

Related posts on ATZ…

June 4, 2014: Astroland Rocket Finds New Home Beside the Wonder Wheel

July 17, 2013: Astroland Rides Find Homes in Brooklyn, Costa Rica and Australia

March 16, 2012: Rest in Peace: Jerry Albert, Co-Founder of Coney Island’s Astroland Park

December 16, 2010: Blast from the Past: LFO’s Summer Girls Music Video

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