Commentary

Pinball Museum is packed with history

Originally Published: December 23, 2011
By Dave Seminara | Special to Page 2

Where can you see La Guardia kicking a pinball machine, the Queen of England in a bikini and Ted Nugent's autograph on a pinball machine?

Take a walk near Baltimore's Inner Harbor in January and you'll find a collection of bells and whistles gussied up with impressions of some of history's not-so-finest moments.

David Silverman has amassed what is believed to be the biggest collection of pinball machines in the United States. His 900-plus piece pinball collection will be on display beginning Jan. 14 at the National Pinball Museum.

All thanks to his wife.

Mimi, Silverman's wife, gave him a directive some 10 years ago -- get the pinball machines out of the house.

Silverman did, but continued buying more; so many, in fact, that he had to construct seven outbuildings in his backyard to house them.

"My wife is from California and every time she'd go home to see her folks, I'd build another building in the yard," said Silverman, 63, a Bronx-born landscape architect and former community college art professor.

In 2003, he opened an informal pinball salon, where "pinheads" gathered in his backyard on Saturday afternoons. As time went on, Silverman decided to go a step further. He opened a museum in a Georgetown mall in Dec. 2010. But he lost his lease after nine months.

Silverman's new museum is not the only one -- smaller museums in Asbury Park, N.J., and Alameda, Calif., also exist. But his new digs feature 12,000 square feet of pinball machines and memorabilia.

Among the memorabilia is a mural of the depression-era mayor of New York City, Fiorello La Guardia, kicking over a pinball machine in an act against gambling.

"La Guardia knew nothing about pinball," Silverman said. "I have the same machine he's kicking over right here and you can see that it isn't even one of the gambling machines."

The collection also includes a host of borderline, blatantly offensive, politically incorrect period pieces including machines with a likeness of Queen Elizabeth II in a bikini, a "Minstrel Man" game with men dancing in blackface, a game devoted to men dressed in drag, and plenty of machines adorned with buxom women. There's also a Silverman favorite -- a Ted Nugent game with a cartoonish likeness of the singer and the real singer's autograph.

"Collecting these games is an obsession," said Silverman, who's been known to drive halfway across the country on a moment's notice to buy a game. "All the time and money I've spent on this game, I guess you could say pinball has made me insane."

New technology has made pinball machines nearly as obsolete as ice cream fountains and penny candy, but two new companies, including Jersey Jack Pinball, may be on the forefront of a renaissance. Jersey Jack will release the "Wizard of Oz" pinball machine in March.

"We've sold more than 1,000 Wizard of Oz pinball machines without anyone seeing them or playing them, so if that's not a pinball resurgence I don't know what is," says the company's founder, Jack Guarnieri. He said the new game, which sells for $7,500, will use LCD screens, stereo sound, movie clips, live mechanical action, and animation never used in pinball before.

Silverman's face lights up like a kid's at Christmas at the mention of the new Wizard of Oz game.

"I'm hoping my wife's going to let me keep it inside our house," he said.

Don't bet on it.

Dave Seminara is a freelance writer for Sports Media Exchange, a national freelance writing network.

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