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 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–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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Every trip seemed to end too quickly. We soon hit the final leg of our northern West Virginia odyssey and headed home. Two uncaptured counties remained on the itinerary, Taylor and Tucker. They formed doughnut holes on my map and they needed to be removed. Oh, how I hated those little white splotches. That completely irrational itch directed my motivation during the waning hours.
This also set a course for an amazing array of roadside attractions and geo-oddities. They clustered near a spot where West Virginia met the southwestern corner of Maryland’s westernmost county. That would be the "Middle of Nowhere" in layman’s terms.
Our Lady of the Pines Catholic Church sat just south of Silver Lake, West Virginia (map). Who could possibly pass up an opportunity to see the "Smallest Church in 48 States?" Lots of people probably, although not me and not on this day. I’ve always been a sucker for oddball attractions.
It definitely fit the definition of small, measuring only 12 by 24 feet (3.6 X 7.3 metres). The interior made room for about a dozen parishioners plus an officiant. It even featured a complete Stations of the Cross with each station separated by barely a few inches. The caretakers deserved credit for creating an inspirational space on such a tiny scale.
I wondered about the 48 states. A plaque on an exterior wall provided a possible explanation: Mr. and Mrs. P. L. Milkint dedicated Our Lady of the Pines to the memory of their parents in 1958. That predated statehood for Alaska and Hawaii so maybe they never updated their claim when the number of states changed. Did it hold water? Not even close. Many houses of worship made similar boasts and several existed within smaller footprints. Nonetheless, it was a very small church in a gorgeous setting along our direct path and certainly deserved a stop.
Smallest Mailing Office?
Besides, Our Lady of Pines features a bonus attraction. Just behind it stood the "World’s Smallest Mailing Office." I went inside. It featured a service window and a number of personal mailboxes, a mail slot and everything else one would expected in a post office all stuffed into a compact space (photo). However, it didn’t register as the smallest postal facility even in the United States. That honor fell to Ochopee, Florida as described in an earlier Twelve Mile Circle article, Going Postal.
I think Mr. and Mrs. P. L. Milkint simply liked to build miniature structures. I could appreciate that. People might not stop if the sign simply said "smallish church and post office."
Less than a mile farther south on US Route 219, the highway shoulder widened where a sign marked a trailhead. We were in West Virginia, however the trail lead to the Maryland highpoint at Hoye-Crest, 3,360 feet (1,020 m). Oddly, the greatest elevation in Maryland could be approached best from a neighboring state. The path followed old logging roads across private property to the top of Backbone Mountain, then followed the ridge into Maryland to the highpoint (map). It wasn’t particularly arduous, rising about 700 vertical feet (215 m) over the mile-long trek. I prefer drive-up highpoints because I’m lazy and even so I didn’t have any trouble with this one.
Backbone Mountain hid a couple of additional features worth noting. The Eastern Continental Divide ran directly along the ridge. A glass of water poured there would flow either towards the Youghiogheny River and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico or towards the North Branch of the Potomac River and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean. Also the border between West Virginia and Maryland bisected the ridge so we visited Border Marker No. 3 along the trail (photo).
I still didn’t count myself as an official Highpointer although I’ve managed to visit a few of the easier ones. The list at this point included Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia.
Just a few miles farther south down the road appeared the entrance to Fairfax Stone State Park. King Charles II bestowed a substantial land grant reaching out to here in 1649. He defined a western boundary running from the headwaters of the Potomac River to the headwaters of the Rappahannock River in what was then the colony of Virginia. Nobody bothered to survey the line for another century because of its extreme isolation. Eventually ownership passed to Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax, who decided to mark his domain in 1746. He commissioned Peter Jefferson, father of future president Thomas Jefferson, to set a line between those points.
Jefferson’s marker on the North Branch of the Potomac came to be known as the Fairfax Stone, the source of the Potomac watershed. Later, others determined that the South Branch was actually the true source of the river although boundaries were already set by then. The Fairfax Stone remained (and still remains) the key marker. The state of West Virginia called it "as near as anything to being a cornerstone of the entire state."
The Fairfax Stone also figured prominently in a US Supreme Court case, Maryland v. West Virginia 217 U.S. 1 (1910). It defined the longitudinal separation between the states. Ironically the stone — actually a replacement because vandals destroyed the original — no longer touched Maryland. The North Branch took a brief western jog at the stone. Maryland began about a mile farther north after the court decision, where the river curved back to the east and crossed the appropriate line of longitude (map). It still marked the Grant, Preston, Tucker County tripoint in West Virginia, though.
A Growing Appreciation
Before I started counting counties in earnest I’d only been to the outskirts of West Virginia along with a couple of whitewater rafting trips. Since then I’ve completed four specific trips nibbling away at places I’d not yet visited. I’ve come to enjoy the state’s mountainous terrain, hidden corners and gracious people. More than anything, these trips allowed me to look past hillbilly stereotypes to appreciate the state on its own merits. That’s what traveling is all about. I do plan to continue returning to West Virginia even after I finish the final swatch and capture its remaining counties.