Duckpins!

On February 16, 2017 · 7 Comments

An interesting conversation took place on Twitter recently between two regular Twelve Mile Circle readers, @CTMQ and @oxwof. They linked me in at the tail-end of their friendly discussion about two unusual and quite rare variations of Ten-pin bowling: Duckpins and Candlepins. They’d answered most of their questions by the time I arrived on the scene. I still had something to add about Duckpin bowling although it took me a few days to get back to them.

Duckpin Bowling?



I had a vague recollection of playing Duckpins at a friend’s birthday party somewhere in the hazy past. I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old. Maybe I dreamed it. I’m not sure. It always seemed to be a "Maryland Thing." We Virginia folks didn’t like to cross the river into Maryland much except maybe to watch the Orioles play baseball a couple times a summer. I knew Duckpins existed although it always seemed so mysterious.

Duckpin bowling concentrated in the northeastern United States, in places like Maryland of course, and also in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. A few lanes existed as outliers here-and-there in other places as well. Nobody knew how Duckpins began with any degree of certainty. Some sources pegged Massachusetts as its birthplace, and others said Maryland, happening somewhere around 1900. Either way it retained a nostalgic popularity in its tiny enclaves. The sport even supported a governing body, the National Duckpin Bowling Congress.


I’m on the Case



I needed to try Duckpin bowling for myself. Most of the Maryland lanes clustered near Baltimore although a few straggled towards the District of Columbia border. One alley nearly penetrated the Beltway, only about a half-hour drive from my home. That fortunate placement convinced me to drag my wife and my younger son up to Silver Spring, Maryland (map) on a fine Saturday morning, to the White Oak Bowling Lanes. My older son decided he’d rather stay at home and sleep until noon like any other Saturday. His loss.


An Anachronism


Duckpin Bowling

White Oak Lanes described itself as,

… Virtually Unchanged Since It Opened Way Back in 1959. There Are Still No Computers, All Scores Are Kept By Hand. If You Came Here As A Kid And Return As An Adult, It Will Feel Like You Never Left.

Check out the equipment! I think they were entirely serious about the 1959 reference. Nothing seemed to have been swapped-out or replaced in the last half-century. It made sense the more I thought about it. There couldn’t possibly be much of a market for new Duckpin bowling alley equipment anymore. They probably needed to improvise their own parts just to keep those ancient machines running. I noticed that they used an old doorbell ringer as a reset button. That was another interesting feature; nothing on these lanes happened automatically except for the ball return. Players had to get fresh pins after each frame by pressing the reset button. A little marker farther down to the left (along the rail by the balls) said "Deadwood." That cleared away any knocked-over pins remaining on the lane during a player’s turn. Players got up to three balls for each turn — not two — so the deadwood button got some use.


Giving it a Try


Duckpin Bowling

Then I rolled my first Duckpin ball in decades. The lane seemed normal. The balls, however, differed greatly from anything I’d ever experienced in Ten-pin bowling. They fit into the palm of my hand and they didn’t have any finger holes. Also they weighed a lot less, generally between 3 pounds 6 ounces (1.5 kg) to 3 pounds 12 ounces (1.7 kg). My son liked them a lot. He found them much easier to control. Actually we saw a lot of younger kids there, perhaps for the same reason. Duckpin bowling seemed well suited to their little arms and hands.


Those Tiny Pins


Duckpin Bowling

I didn’t have my good camera with me so I took photos with my outdated mobile phone with a lousy zoom. Nonetheless I think the photo gave an appreciation of the pin size. They were a lot smaller and more squat than traditional Ten-pin. Combining small balls with small pins created a devilishly difficult game. I threw a number of balls that would have been easy strikes or spares in Ten-pin that barely knocked anything over. Here, I could throw a ball directly into the middle of the pins and sometimes knock down only one or two of them. Duckpin balls carried significantly less force than Ten-pin balls and the pins didn’t bounce as much. It required much greater precision. That’s why players got three balls per turn, although it didn’t make much of difference for me because I lacked any skills.

Theoretically a player could score 300 points just like in Ten-pin. However, even after more than a century of continuous play, nobody has ever officially bowled a perfect Duckpin game. The highest score ever recorded remained at 279.

The duckpins.com website described an even more rare version called rubber band duckpins found basically only in Québec. A rubber band circled the pin so they bounced more, creating higher scores. I don’t think even that would have helped me.


Keeping Score


Duckpin Bowling

Well, I lost, and I got robbed in the final frame of the second game too. I threw the ball perfectly and it knocked down only a single pin on my final try. Not that I’m bitter.

Keeping score was a little different because of the three balls per turn. Strikes and spares were recorded exactly like Ten-pin. Knocking down all remaining pins on the third turn just counted as ten though, with no bonus. It wasn’t like we had to worry about a lot of strikes and spares.

We’ll probably try it again someday. Actually now I want to try Candlepin bowling. It seems to overlap with Duckpins in parts of Massachusetts and Connecticut. I wondered if there was a place in New England were someone could find Candlepin, Duckpin and Ten-pin bowling all in the same town! That might be my quest the next time I go up there.

Where the Stadium Once Stood

On February 12, 2017 · 11 Comments

I guess the recent Ghost Signs got me thinking about the way things used to be in an earlier age. My memory circled back to a time when professional baseball didn’t exist in Washington, DC and we used to travel to Baltimore to see the Orioles play. This happened a lot when I was a kid, long before the Orioles occupied the beautiful, iconic Camden Yards that so many other ball clubs copied. The Orioles took the field on a much less beautiful and nowhere nearly as iconic Memorial Stadium before that. I even think we saw the Baltimore Colts play (American) football a couple times there too. The Colts left Baltimore in 1983 just to show how far back my mind wandered. What happened to Memorial Stadium after its replacement, I wondered.

Memorial Stadium; Baltimore, Maryland, USA



I drilled into a satellite image and discovered that the old stadium still existed. Well, not really. The city tore it down in 2001. However many fragments remained, spread throughout Baltimore. Its basic shape also remained. A new residential neighborhood occupied much of the land originally part of the Memorial Stadium property. It included a ring-road that approximated the circumference of the stadium itself. Inside that asphalt oval, an open field covered the spot where professional sports teams once played. It offered configurations for baseball, football and soccer.

That made me consider other stadiums wiped from the earth. In many cases new stadiums simply covered the exact footprint occupied by their predecessors. In other instances not a single sign remained at all. However, I enjoyed the ones like Baltimore the most, where people kept their memories alive. Those stadiums continued to exist in an odd ethereal way. The roar of the crowd now silenced, the crack of the bat or the kick of the ball no longer felt, but the stories remained in the landscape.

Some quick searching found several more examples.


Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium; Atlanta, Georgia, USA


Atlanta - Turner Field: Gold Parking Lot - Hank Aaron 715th Home Run Monument
Hank Aaron 715th Home Run Monument. Photo by Wally Gobetz on Flickr (cc)

Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium hosted both the Atlanta Braves of baseball and the Atlanta Falcons of (American) football at various times before a controlled implosion finally took it down in 1997. The brand-new Turner Field rose on an adjacent parcel, and the spot once occupied by Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium became part of its parking lots. The old footprint occupied a large section of the Green Lot (it looked awesome on satellite view). Even more of a bonus, the spot where Hank Aaron hit his historic 715th Home Run continued to be commemorated. Aaron accomplished that feat in 1974, surpassing the lifetime record of Babe Ruth, when Aaron hit a ball over an outfield fence and into the Braves’ bullpen. The memorial in the parking lot replicated the fence and the bullpen at the exact spot where it happened.

I realized that marker made little sense to much of 12MC’s international audience. Just understand that a really great sporting event happened there and its preservation was a nice touch.


Yankee Stadium; The Bronx, New York, USA


Once a ballpark, now just a park.
Once a ballpark, now just a park. Photo by Benjamin Kabak on Flickr (cc)

The New York Yankees baseball team played at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx from 1923 until 2008 (map). The team left for a new Yankee Stadium on an adjacent lot. Then the city demolished the old stadium and created Heritage Field on the same footprint. As the New York Times described it,

… nearly every inch, from the pavement stones underfoot to the three natural grass ball fields, has been elaborately designed to pay homage to the Yankees and their celebrated former home. Even the sod is the same that the Yankees, professional baseball’s biggest spender, chose for their new stadium… Even the old diamond and outfield have been saved, delineated with five-foot-wide swaths of blue polymer fiber stitched into the sod by a Desso Grassmaster machine that had to be shipped over from the Netherlands.

Now amateur and high school baseball clubs from all over the city stand where some of the greatest professionals once played.


Milwaukee County Stadium; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA


Helfaer Field
Helfaer Field. Photo by Rough Tough, Real Stuff on Flickr (cc)

Combine the idea of a parking lot and a small ball field on an original footprint, and that became the fate of Milwaukee County Stadium. Miller Park replaced it in 2000 on an adjacent parcel. Although large surface parking lots grew completely around Miller Park, the former spot of Milwaukee County Stadium became a baseball field. It took the name Helfaer Field with room for 500 spectators in its bleacher seats. People can rent it for "softball, youth baseball, kickball, tailgates, meetings and much more." It looked pretty good on Satellite view sitting there, surrounded by parking lots.


Memorial Stadium; University of Minnesota, USA


2009-0603-01-MN-McNamaraMemorial
McNamara Memorial on Wikimedia Commons (cc)

The Golden Gophers of the University of Minnesota played (American) football at Memorial Stadium in Minneapolis from 1924 to 1981. The stadium became totally obliterated. An alumni center filled its former spot (map). However one vital feature remained, its entry arch, inside of the alumni center. People could still walk through the old entryway, although its passage no longer led to a gridiron. Instead it opened into a large room called the Heritage Gallery, "a multimedia museum … [that] honors the accomplishments of University of Minnesota alumni, faculty, students and staff."


Waverley Park; Mulgrave, Victoria, Australia



I found faded stadium footprints outside of the United States too. A prime example existed in Australia. Waverley Park in Mulgrave, Victoria once hosted up to seventy thousand Australian rules football fans. Concentric ring roads circled the demolished stadium, part of a masterplanned community, with a grassy centerpiece remaining at the spot of the original stadium now serving as a practice facility,

Today, as Hawthorn football players train on the oval, the sound of boots striking balls evokes memories of a sporting past. For some, the ‘Hawks’ are simply part of the scenery, for others they bring new meaning to ‘backyard footy’, with star players running junior clinics for tomorrow’s footy legends. Residents of Oval Front Homes have box seats, cheering on from their balconies during practice matches and training.

The original stadium no longer existed although a grandstand at one end still held room for a couple of thousand spectators.


Cathkin Park; Glasgow, Scotland, UK


Cathkin Park
Cathkin Park. Photo by Tom Brogan on Flickr (cc)

I found a particularly early example in Scotland, a football (soccer) stadium called Cathkin Park in Glasgow. Professional football there dated back to 1884 when the Queen’s Park club called it home. Third Lanark took over in 1903 and remained there for more than sixty years until the team folded.

Sadly there are no fond memories for Third Lanark fans of that era. They were shattered to witness the Cathkin gates being closed for the final time on 30th June 1967.

Much of the stadium was removed as it fell into disrepair (map). However, terraces ringing three sides of the stadium remained in place, as did the old field. The area became a public park and a home field to various amateur and student teams.

Ghost Signs

On February 9, 2017 · 0 Comments

It adorned a cliff on the Maryland side of the Potomac River across from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia (map). I’d seen it dozens of times over the years, a constant presence as I toured the town or rode my bike along the C&O Canal Trail. Its smoothed painted surface cracked over the years, the letters faded, and I never could tell exactly what it said from a distance. I’d seen a Ghost Sign.

Maryland Heights


Harpers Ferry Ghost Sign
Harpers Ferry Ghost Sign. My own photo

This type of advertising used to be quite common as the 19th Century crossed into the 20th. Nobody thought twice about slapping some pigment on a wall, a barn, or in the case of Harpers Ferry, upon nature itself. This unknown author chose a prime spot on an outcrop known as Maryland Heights, scaling down the precarious ledge to apply his commercial message. Back during the Civil War, Union and Confederate forces both occupied the heights at various times, ringing it with artillery. They wanted to control the highest point of elevation above a key town at a major river confluence. An advertiser claimed those same heights a generation later although for a peaceful purpose.

From her house on High Street in 1906, Clara Riley watched as sign painters created a huge advertisement, out of a milk and whitewash mixture, on the side of the mountain. Mrs. Riley remembered the year because she was in labor with her first child while the sign was being painted.

The sign could be seen practically everywhere in Harpers Ferry. More importantly, everyone riding a train on a heavily traveled railroad line saw an advertisement for "Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder" just as they entered a tunnel directly below the sign. That’s what it said, as I learned.


Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder


Mennen's Borated Talcum Toilet Powder, 1898
Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder, 1898
on Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Apparently people in an earlier era liked to purchase a tongue-twister of a product called Borated Talcum Toilet Powder. I think it lost some of the superfluous wording later and simply became Talcum Powder. Meanwhile, the Mennen brand continued to exist, now owned by Colgate-Palmolive. In recent years they made a popular deodorant called Mennen Speed Stick. Then in the early 1990’s they practically sparked an entire musical genre when they marketed a deodorant to teenage girls called Teen Spirit. Smells Like Teen Spirit!


A Ghostly Phenomenon


Butte Ghost Sign VI
Butte Ghost Sign VI. Photo by Rex Brown on Flickr (cc)

Frankly, I hadn’t paid much attention to Ghost Signs. I’m not even sure how the subject popped into my mind for a Twelve Mile Circle article. Other people took it very seriously, though. They fixated on it with the same intensity as my obsession with county counting. I could respect that. After all, these signs became the subject of a popular website, a Twitter account with more than 5,000 followers, and a Flickr group with more than 30,000 images. The popular press also expressed an interest, for example in articles from The Guardian and The Independent. Ghost signs completely eclipsed my humble efforts on 12MC.

Clearly something in those signs sparked such intense devotion. They acted as connections to earlier times, fading a little bit further as each year passed. They were survivors. However, ghost signs also seemed ephemeral, like on any given day someone might return to find their favorite sign gone. A nostalgia formed around them. Some have been fortunate and have been saved from destruction as cherished historical artifacts. Many more will disappear. I know that I’ll keep a better eye out for them now that I’m tuned in to the phenomenon.

For instance, I’ll stay on the lookout for the Lincoln Hotel and Butte Special Beer sign on Park Street (map) if I’m ever in Butte, Montana.


Black Cat


Black Cat, Dingley Road
Black Cat, Dingley Road. Photo by Caroline on Flickr (cc)

The name Sam Roberts came up often as I researched ghost signs. He, apparently, began cataloguing them worldwide about a decade ago from his base in London. Often he listed his favorite example as the sign for Black Cat Cigarettes on London’s Dingley Road (map). Regrettably, he reported the loss of that mural in September 2016, covered up by a new building constructed next to it. Another wonderful ghost sign lost.

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