Asbury Park Adventure: Silverball Museum!

Ever since I was a young boy, I played the silver ball. From Staten Island down to, well, Staten Island, I must've played them all. At least, all the ones that were in the back of Jim Hanley's on New Dorp Lane.

That's not true, I played them in other places, but Jim Hanley's comic shop is where I played about 90% of the ones I played, growing up. Played played played played. Played?

But the first time I remember playing one of the "new-fangled" styles of tables - with an LCD screen and voices and what-not - was at "South Beach Rides". (My my, this is turning out to be quite the Staten Island retro shout-out post, isn't it?!)

Really named "Beachland Amusements" (but ev'ryone called it South Beach Rides - because we Staten Islanders like to call things what they are. "Rides? At South Beach? Call 'em 'SOUTH BEACH RIDES' FUH GAWD'S SAKES!"), South Beach Rides is a whole blog post of it's own, some day. What you need to know is that 1) it was a kiddie-ride amusement park located near South Beach on Staten Island 2) it had a large arcade where the older / tough kids hung out 3) it is now an old folk's home.

Photo Credit: Forgotten New York

In 1992 we went there, I think, because younger cousins were visiting, but I'm not exactly sure. I was too old for the kiddie rides, but I still felt too young to brave the gangs of dangerous 18-year olds in the arcade. I remember thinking, "Look, Jeff. If things get bad, just find a kindly woman with a child. She'll look after you, because of her mothering instinct." I was 15.

Since watching cousins enjoy rides was not fun, I decided to go for it. (Well, it was either bravery or maybe it started to rain, so I was forced to seek shelter ... history is unclear.) Inside the arcade area I found ... The Addams Family pinball table. My life was never the same again.

Well, my life was very much the same, it just now included a fondness for pinball.

THE POINT of all this is to set the stage for why I convinced a bunch of my friends to drive to Asbury Park, this summer: So I could play some pinball at the Silverball Museum!

It looks like this:

So you have to keep your eyes peeled for the sign outside:

In my excitement to get there, I almost blasted right past it. Thankfully, my calmer friends are also more eagle-eyed than I am and they were like, "Hey! Stupid! You walked right by it!" Then they gave me a swirly. Truth: My friends are nothing like that in real life. I made up these jerks for the sake of a cheap gag. (Though, it's interesting to note that when I can use my imagination to come up with any kind of friends I want, I make them be huge dicks? Evaluate that, Freud!)

Upon entering, everyone is personally greeted by Elvis:

Why? I don't know. Maybe that taped-on piece of paper reveals something about the reason, but I didn't read it. Plus: Everyone WILL stop and take a picture with Elvis. This is just something humans do. (I will not share those photos.)

More about that piece of paper, though: Most of the tables had such a piece of paper taped to them. Some had historical facts, others had tangential trivia related to the subject of the table. I didn't completely read any of them, though, because I was paying by the hour and I didn't want to waste my time reading, when there were balls to pin.

The way it works is that you pay for time, not by game. All the tables are set to Free Play, so after plunking down your fee ($7.50 for a 1/2 hour, $10 for an hour, or $20 for an all-day pass) all you have to do is belly-up to a table and press "start". It's heaven. We all opted for the 1-hour pass, which seemed like enough time, but immediately felt like it wasn't enough. Certainly too short for reading! Take that Mrs. Bland! (My 7th grade english teacher.)


SO MANY TABLES! Ok. What makes this a "museum" and not just an "arcade"? Well, the fact that they have over 200 tables dating all the way back to 1931. Tables that they endeavor to keep in perfect working condition, so that all may enjoy the history of pinball. "It's about preserving our American pinball heritage" is how I'd put it, if I were writing this for an in-flight magazine.

Located right on the Asbury Park boardwalk, this museum was right in the way of Hurricane Sandy. It sustained some damage during the storm, but not as much as it could have, since pinball machines all stand on legs that elevate them about two feet off the ground! Most of the water flowed right under them ... and into the basement, where it WRECKED the electrical system. They were able to reopen only two months later in December!

I'm the first to admit that I didn't do a GREAT job at taking a complete series of pictures. "Complete coverage" wasn't an option. As I said, we only paid for an hour's worth of time and the clock was ticking! Every picture I snapped was one less chance at Multiball. Instead, I opted for snaps of tables I loved playing or art I found fascinating.

What follows are the older tables. Probably not dating as far back as the 30's, but they certainly lack the digital-ness that most of us took for granted, growing up. These were always the kind of tables you found in the "arcade" room of, say, a weird upstate New York dude ranch. Wait, I take that back, these are older than that. I know I just negated that last paragraph, but I'm leaving it in.



Yes, that middle one is an Elton John table called Capt. Fantastic!

I'd almost consider getting that robot holding a girl as a tattoo. People would assume I wanted a boss pin-up style tat, but deep down, only I'D know it was for the robot. 

Yep, it's commemorating the orbiting space station! These days, people would complain about how NASA's pinball budget is too excessive, even though it's a FRACTION of what the government spends on military pinball machines. Topical....


Kiss. Playboy. Ali. Pinball has always tapped into the zeitgeist. I didn't play these tables, just admired them from afar.


Now we've started to enter the slightly more modern age of pinball - where the play-field starts to get crowded up with gimmicks and gags and fun elements. For instance, "Fun House" has a ventriloquist dummy that mocks you ... until you shut his fat mouth with a silver ball. POW!

It's one of the few "transitional" (from digital elements to full-blown LCD interactive displays) tables that I love playing. This one and Bride of Pin Bot - which they did not have. Boo.

Then I found something which was designed to appeal directly to me. Rather, 15-year-old me. [Also: Current-model me, since my tastes have not changed much, really.]

A FREAKING DOCTOR WHO TABLE! I'd never before seen or known about this table. I almost couldn't believe it existed. It's like 15-year-old me had a dream that came to life.

Part of the action is to get your balls into this "Time Expander" feature on the table. If you do, it rises up. Hit the exposed bumpers enough, and it rises again, revealing three tiny Daleks! It starts shouting "EXTERMINATE!" at you and you're in heaven. Then your ball drains and the game is over, because you're terrible at pinball, even though you love it.

The Master does not approve of your tilting. (And bless them for using Roger Delgado!)

The top had this caged Dalek. I was too involved in keeping my game alive that I didn't notice if it moved or blinked or anything.


My freshman year dorm at college had Indiana Jones in the game room. Most quarters I found myself with found their way into that machine. My parents will be pleased to know that I never spent any of their money on beer, but probably a little too much on this game. Thankfully, I was only in that dorm for one year, so it's not that bad.

Theatre of Magic is a table I only know from the Pinball Arcade app (who strives to recreate olde tables in digital form - and does it well!) It plays just as fun in real life as it does in the digital one.

The middle one is Scared Stiff, featuring Elvira, Mistress of the Night. Another one I know from the Pinball Arcade app, it's one of my favorites to play, as I'm REALLY good at it. Not so much in real life. Does it require a close-up of the backing art? Sure!

Twilight Zone was a table I would play all the time in Jim Hanley's Universe - the comic book store located a few blocks from where I went to high school and where I spent way too much time. Other tables I played there included Street Fighter II and Jurassic Park - neither of which were at the Silverball Museum, sadly.

Attack From Mars is possibly my hands-down favorite table of all time. It's another college-experience memory, since it was the table located in the just-off-campus bar that used to host all-ages ska shows. When I wasn't skanking to Skavoovie And The Epitones, I was dropping quarters in this machine. Others loved that bar because of their liberal views on "carding" and what constituted "underage drinking". I loved it because you could make the tiny rubber martians on the table freak out and dance around and "destroy" the UFO.

The Silverball even had the one that started my love affair: Addams Family!

The top, back-board art.

The clever "you're safe" light.

And ... those are the only two pictures I took of the Table That Started It All? I am the WORST travel-log-er in the entire travel-verse. (Note: Typical of ME, I didn't LOVE this table. Childhood: crushed.)

And then my hour was over. The time flew by! 60 minutes was certainly not long enough to enjoy the place as I wanted to. Further, each table that could be set was set to play five balls. This was good and bad. Good in that you can play a long time on each table; bad in that I only had an hour in which to play as many tables as I could - I can't waste time playing all five!

Towards the end, I found myself panicking - literally standing in one place, feeling like I was being tugged in multiple directions like a cartoon - wondering which table to play next and which table I'd regret not playing. It's a special type of person who sees all the wondrous things in one room and thinks, "Shit. That's too much!"

So I'll be going back - I HAVE to go back - there were just too many tables I didn't try!

And you should too: Try and carve out a good time to have your friends drive your car-less ass down-the-shore to play some ball! SILVER Ball! Silverball MUSEUM!

Grade: Must See

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