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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
I work from my home most days and I have an IP Phone on my laptop that communicates with our Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system back at our physical office. Anyway the telephone rang — well I’m not sure those are even the right words anymore; let me try again — so the laptop opened a popup screen in front of me displaying the ANI of an unfamiliar NPA-NXX. Alright, once more using English this time: so the Caller ID displayed an unfamiliar telephone area code and exchange.
Just scratch that whole first paragraph. I got a phone call from someone in Bowling Green, Virginia. "Gee," I thought, "I wonder if the place was named for an actual bowling green." It appears that it was although it took me awhile to meander back to the point.
Admittedly I knew very little about the sport of Bowls or Lawn Bowls other than it had an ancient origin. In its modern incarnation, it involves players rolling balls towards a smaller ball called the "jack." Each ball from a player (or team) placed closer to the jack than all balls from another player receives a point. It gets considerably more complicated from there although that’s the essence. Bowls has little similarity to bowling in a bowling alley except they both involve rolling a ball with precision. However, the only salient point that 12MC readers need to remember for the moment is that bowls has been played traditionally on a "green," a designated area of closely-cropped grass.
My mind jumped to a recent trip to Kentucky where my path brought me close to another Bowling Green. It may be the largest and best known instance with a couple of hundred thousand residents in its larger metropolitan area. Where was its ancestral bowling green, though?
Bowling Green, Kentucky does not have a sanctioned bowling green today. Paradoxically the bowling green that provided inspiration may not have existed anywhere nearby at all. The city itself explained that the name came from "Bowling Green Square in New York City" as a result of events that took place there during the American Revolution.
Competing theories existed. Robert M. Rennick, a chairman of the Kentucky Geographic Names Committee offered alternate points of view in How Did Kentucky’s Bowling Green Get Its Name? (1997). He discussed and largely dismissed several explanations including a supposed nearby bowling green used by an early settler as well as the possible conveyance of name from other Bowling Green towns in Virginia and elsewhere. He concluded that, "in short, we really do not know how Bowling Green, Kentucky, got its name."
I decided to examine the story behind the New York City occurrence. Bowling Green Park had been a public property since 1686 and became the city’s first park in 1733, complete with a bowling green among its original amenities. The park still exists today at the southern tip of Manhattan and is the home of the famous Charging Bull statue often used by news media to represent Wall Street (street view). You’d probably recognize the image instantly. The Bull even has its own website.
A site I’ve enjoyed over the years, Forgotten New York, also noted that Bowling Green Park was the home of the Pietro Alberti monument. He wasn’t exactly a household name although he did hold the distinction of becoming the very first of probably millions of Italians to live in New York City. He arrived in 1635.
More germane to the story and with potential connections to Kentucky’s Bowling Green were events that took place immediately after the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence to residents of New York in 1776. Bowling Green Park had already become a lightning rod for discontent because of a large statue of King George III that had been erected there. Colonial rulers had to construct a cast-iron fence around the park perimeter to discourage vandalism — the same fence that circles the park today. Continental soldiers and local citizens stormed the park, pulled down the statue and destroyed it immediately. The story of their open defiance spread quickly throughout the colonies.
Finally I returned to the Bowling Green that began this entire conversation, the one in Virginia. It’s the seat of government in Caroline County although the name predated the town, coming from the The Bowling Green plantation located nearby (map and photos). Major Thomas Hoomes donated land to form the town in 1803. The town then took the name of his estate, Bowling Green and his estate became the Old Mansion.
Hoomes’ plantation may have included a bowling green on the large lawn, a theory advanced in its National Register of Historic Places nomination form — it definitely had one of the first horse tracks in America so it didn’t lack for patrician flourishes — although the nomination did not include detailed source information. There was also a legend that it may have derived from something even earlier, Hoomes’ supposed ancestral home in England called Bolling Green.
My research of primary documents revealed the following: The property was named “The Bowling Green” — it was never named “Bolling Green.” There is no genealogical evidence that the Hoomes family even owned an ancestral home in England called “Bolling Green.” Architectural and landscape historians believe it was named “The Bowling Green” after the two-acre green sward in front of the manor house.
My mind fixates on patterns and I’ve noticed a number of unusual sport coincidences in recent days. It started with an acquaintance who mentioned that she was tired of Reno, Nevada and didn’t want to go back there again this year. I knew she wasn’t much of a gambler so I wondered why she would go to Reno in the first place.
Well, she explained, she participates in bowling tournaments throughout the United States. The National Bowling Stadium puts Reno at the epicenter of that universe.
National Bowling Stadium? There’s a stadium for bowling? Indeed, and it’s quite impressive: 78 lanes; 363,000 square feet; space for 1,100 spectators and a giant geodesic dome creating a recognizable landmark throughout the city. The Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority says:
Bowling is kind of a big deal in Reno. While most cities have bowling centers, we have a stadium. That’s right – a stadium. The only facility of its kind in the world, the National Bowling Stadium (referred to as the ‘Taj Mahal of Tenpins’ by The Los Angeles Times) is dedicated to the classic sport of bowling. Living up to its name, the Stadium was elegantly designed with the tournament bowler in mind.
This is clearly not a baseball field. It is dedicated solely to cricket, which seems to be an unusual choice for North Carolina. Likewise, that would probably be true for just about any place in the United States.
Cricket arrived in recent decades as part of the cultural identity of immigrants primarily from South Asia. It may not have created a critical mass yet, although it continues to grow and spread steadily. Leagues sprout and thrive wherever Cricket-loving people settle. The North Carolina concentration permeates throughout the Triangle through organizations such as the Mid-Atlantic Cricket Conference and the Carolina Cricket League.
Perhaps this should be expected with the steady stream of highly-educated South Asians attracted to the many fine universities and research facilities nearby. There are actually several Cricket fields in the area. It was simply a coincidence I first encountered Hobson, home of the High Point Cricket Club.
The growth is by no means confined to the mid-Atlantic. It is a much more widespread phenomenon flying largely beneath the radar.
I have to admit that Curling confounds me. I guess one has to grow-up watching rocks slid across sheets of ice while men sweep brooms furiously to alter trajectories, to truly appreciate this cerebral sport. When I think of Curling, places in Canada and far-northern parts of the U.S. like the Dakotas, Minnesota or Wisconsin come to mind.
I discovered this through the USA Curling website — "one of the fastest growing sports in the United States." This led to an interactive map of all Curling clubs throughout the nation. There is a surprising quantity of clubs extending deep into the south, although the Coral Springs instance falls the furthest from the intuitive range.
This 10-team league plays at the Saveology Iceplex, which also doubles as the practice facility for the Florida Panthers ice hockey team. Also notice, totally unrelated, how starkly the Everglades begins just west of the facility. This hardly looks like the snow belt.
Are there instances of other unusually located sports facilities? I mean, more unusual than say, an American Football field in Europe or golf in Greenland. I’d love to discover more.
The folks at Google Sightseeing offered me an opportunity for a guest post based on something we discussed recently on the 12MC, resulting in the article Pigtail Auto Loops. Those of you who contributed in the comments of the original discussion will notice your online name included in the footnote. Thanks again to all!