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Old Doc's GameWe’re long accustomed to seeing antique carnival wheels, ball-toss figures and shooting gallery targets in the collectibles category on eBay. Ten years ago we wrote an article for Games Magazine titled “Step Right Up! Folk art collectors are snapping up vintage carnival games.” But this is the first time we’ve seen an entire vintage game being offered along with its vintage game booth—wooden stick joint, canvas and all—as historical memorabilia. Is “Old Doc’s Game” a museum piece or merely an obsolete piece of carnival equipment? You decide…

The photo of the vintage Duck Pond and canvas-and-stick joint transported me all the way back to the New England midways of my childhood. In the 1950s and early 1960s, my parents operated games with traveling carnivals and at fairs—Pitch Till U Win, Balloon Dart, Cover the Red, Slot Roll Down–you name it, we worked it. In those days we still had home-made wooden joints instead of custom-built concession trailers.

Stick joint textI can almost feel the heft of the lumber. As a little girl my first job was to carry the little wooden braces from Dad’s big red truck to the location where the joint was being set up. Each stick of lumber had to be laid out on the ground in a preordained manner. As Dad and our roughie hammered together the hinged pieces, I handed out the nails and sometimes got to drop one in. The canvas ballycloth in particular evokes tactile memories of helping set up the joint because snapping the ballycloth onto the front of the counter was the very last part of the job.

ducks in tank The Duck Pond for sale on eBay is described as Classic 1950s Americana. “Up until last year this game was at the fair making money for over 50 years,” says eBay seller “houseofmemories802,” who is based in Vermont. “All original, all hinged together and comes completely apart for easy storage. I have the canvas sides and top, the light fixture board, the breaker, the original metal stand that it sat on, the motor and pump and approximately 30 of the original ducks.”

When ATZ got in touch with the seller for info on the game’s provenance, we learned that he’d bought both the Duck Pond and a Cat Rack Game from “an old timer whose Dad was in the business forever.” He added, “Someone should really take these and keep them original as they are. I’m sure they just don’t make ‘em like this anymore. I have a feeling it might take some time on eBay because of the price, but then again it only takes one person.”

ducks textAlthough the price is indeed on the high side—$2,900 or best offer, I find it laudable that the seller is trying to preserve a piece of Vermont fair history. It’s sad when artifacts such as old carousels and old photo albums get broken up and sold piecemeal to collectors. When that happens, the items lose their historical context and become curiosities set adrift in the world. We’re pretty sure the kids who played Old Doc’s Game at the state fair will miss this gaggle of ducks.

cat rack The seller is also offering Old Doc’s Cat Rack, a ball game which is sometimes called a Punk or Doll Rack. The game includes 28 vintage punks, the original throwing balls, and the original stick joint and canvas tops and sidewalls. Says the seller, “This is the complete package as it’s been set up at the fair since the early 1900s.”

Update, December 3, 2011…

In 2009. ATZ wrote about this eBay auction of a complete cat rack as well as a duck pond, stick joints and all, which belonged to an old-timer whose father had been in the business forever. The seller tried to preserve these pieces of Vermont fair history and offered the games in their entirety for many months on eBay, but no buyers came forward. The dolls were (and some of them still are) being sold separately for $150-$175 and the antique stick joint is now available for a mere $249!

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Shoot out the Star--Players Wanted! Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Shoot out the Star--Players Wanted! October 30, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Following the fortunes of Shoot out the Star on Stillwell Ave is one of my Coney Island obsessions. On Friday afternoon, the day before Halloween, I wasn’t surprised to see the metal gate rolled up and the shooting gallery open for business. CB, who runs the game for Slim, has been known to stay open long after Coney’s rides and most other games close around Columbus Day. On Friday he wasn’t looking any farther ahead than the next couple of days. We spent a good half hour cutting up jackpots about Coney Island present and future. Every time someone walked by, we’d stop talking and CB would call them in to play. “Shoot out the Star! $2.00 for 100 shots!”

Located in the Henderson Building on Stillwell across the street from Nathan’s, Shoot out the Star has a prime location. In the summer, people pour out of the subway terminal on the way to the beach and Boardwalk and many stop to play. At this time of year the stream of people has slowed to a trickle of tourists with cameras and Nathan’s coffee cups in hand. When nobody but nobody would stop to Shoot out the Star, ATZ chimed in: “This is the last game open in all of Coney Island! This is your very last chance to play!” We should add—last chance till Palm Sunday 2010, when Coney Island’s rides and attractions, including the Cyclone and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, reopen and the crowds return.

Coney ISland's Shoot out the Star, July 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Coney Island's Shoot out the Star, July 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Shoot out the Star’s iconic signage is the work of Dreamland Artists Club founder Steve Powers, who also did the Cyclone seats and the Bump Your Ass Off signs on the Eldorado Bumper Cars and the delightfully quirky stairway at the Coney Island Museum. Last December, Thor Equities put up a huge “Space for Lease” banner on the Henderson Building that dwarfed Shoot out the Star. The banners went up on Thor’s properties throughout Coney Island days before Christmas, prompting the NY Post to call Sitt “the Grinch Who Stole Coney Island.” News quickly spread that Thor CEO Joe Sitt was asking triple the rent for the 2009 season. Thor’s henchmen accompanied the uniformed security guards who cut off the locks and put up no trespassing signs. They told the shooting gallery operator and the souvenir stand guy next door, who were still open, that they were “trespassing” and threw them out. Commenters on the Coney Island USA message board referred to it as “Eviction, Sitt Style.”

New Year's Day 2009: No Trespassing Signs on Shoot Out the Star. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

New Year's Day 2009: No Trespassing Signs on Shoot Out the Star. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Shoot out the Star managed to reopen this summer, but its future is precarious. The Thor Equities-owned Henderson Building occupies a lot that has been rezoned for a high rise hotel. The “Space for Lease” banner still looms over Stillwell, a symbol of Thor’s power over Coney Island. Over the summer, I had the opportunity to work a game a few blocks east on Jones Walk, which I like to call the midway of midways. Unlike the ever-changing traveling midways of my carny childhood, “the Walk” is a permanent part of the landscape, street sign and all. As someone who learned to call the people in working my parents’ games and later went on the road on my own, I have a deep attachment to the business. I worry about the future of independently operated games in the newly rezoned Coney Island.

Lettering on Thor Equities banner Dwarfs Shoot out the Star.  Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Lettering on Thor Equities banner Dwarfs Shoot out the Star. January 1, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

When talk turns to acreage for rides and amusements, I doubt anyone gives a thought to the water race games and the shooting galleries except the owners and operators of those games. Will midway games get squeezed out by retail, restaurants and hotels, with an token arcade thrown in to say hey, we got hundreds of games?

The City recently closed on the property on the east side of Jones Walk in a deal that was first announced in October 2008. The Economic Development Corporation’s original press release says, “Under the terms of the purchase agreement, the Ward family, the oldest, continuous landowner in Coney Island, has agreed to have NYCEDC acquire roughly one acre of land for $11 million.” Now the City is the new landlord of the game booths on the east side of the midway of midways. Will the operators, many of whom have been part of Coney Island for decades, be grandfathered in? Or will the have to jump through the hoops of the City’s bureaucracy to remain in the new Coney Island?

100 Shots $2.00. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

100 Shots $2.00. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Shoot out the Star, Stillwell at the Bowery, Coney Island
If you come to Coney Island for a Nathan’s hot dog, a stroll along the Boardwalk or to see the Parachute Jump–Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower, please support independent amusements by playing the only game you’re likely to find open this time of year: Shoot out the Star

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When I was the littlest carny kid, my job was picking up darts and replacing busted balloons in Mom’s dart game. My parents paid me 25 cents a night and all the pennies. Pretty soon I was working with my Dad in his Spot Game. Is it any wonder that in Coney Island my camera and I gravitate to the carnival games? Here are some of my midway faves from this season…

Target the Coney Island Cat in Jimmys Balloon Dart on the Bowery. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Target the Coney Island Cat in Jimmy's Balloon Dart on the Bowery. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Target the Cat’s human is Manny Cohen, owner of the Coney Island Arcade. The (now) world famous Coney Island cat’s territory is the Bowery between 12th Street and Jones Walk, especially Jimmy’s Balloon Dart. Last month I wrote about Target and his shy sister Targeretty here.

Boy wins his first prize of the season at Water Race Game on Jones Walk, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Boy wins his first prize of the season at Water Race Game on Jones Walk, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Coney Islands Jimmy Prince plays Skin the Wire on Jones Walk. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Coney Island's Jimmy Prince plays Skin the Wire on Jones Walk. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

After his first day as “Distinguished Historian” at the Coney Island History Project, Jimmy Prince tried his luck at Benny’s Skin the Wire game on Jones Walk. As one of Benny’s agents likes to say, “A very challenging game, like Operation.” Or as Benny likes to say “You’se can do it!” or “Win a Calipoli!” Only one person has ever asked “What’s a Calipoli?” Benny replied, “I have no idea.” You can win a big piece of plush, a Betty Boop doll, a digital camera, or anything else on display. Except Chuckles. The animatronic clown is NOT a prize. But go right ahead and take his photo.

Krazy Kans, Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Krazy Kans, Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Recession Buster: 100 Shots for $2.00 on Coney Island's Opening Day. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Recession Buster: 100 Shots for $2.00 on Coney Island's Opening Day. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Half of the photos in this album were taken on Palm Sunday, opening day of the 2009 season. Only 22 more days left to go!

The next shot was taken on the Fourth of July. My fave photos of Shoot the Freak never show the freak. I remember seeing Shoot the Freak before it ever arrived in Coney Island. The game was originally at the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy. It wasn’t until the game was brought to Coney Island that it became world famous.

Shoot the Freak on Fourth of July, Coney Island Boardwalk. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Shoot the Freak on Fourth of July, Coney Island Boardwalk. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Spin-N-Win at Eldorado Arcade, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Spin-N-Win at Eldorado Arcade, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Trade Up in Dreamland. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Trade Up in Dreamland. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

November 5, 2009: Museum Piece or Obsolete? Old Carnival Games, Stick Joints on eBay

November 3, 2009: Coney Island’s Shoot Out the Star Still Open… Players Wanted!

September 24, 2009: Photo Album: Coney Islanders and Carnies at San Gennaro

June 22, 2009: A Judge’s Photo Album of the 2009 Coney Island Mermaid Parade

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