The Silverball Pinball Museum Is My Everything
May 30 2013
The boardwalk outside Silverball Museum.
Pinball is pretty much all I care about. I make art and I write and I have friends and blah blah blah, but it's all just a means to get quarters and play pinball.
The best place to play pinball on the East Coast is the Silverball Museum in Asbury, New Jersey. The entrance fees vary, but for $20 you can stay all day and play every machine they have, all of which are free once you’re inside. The photos sprinkled throughout this blog post are pictures of some of my favorite games at the museum.
Pinball is a beautiful game that was originally like pachinko, in that it was used for gambling as well as recreational purposes. Much like today, pinball players of yore would pull back a spring-loaded plunger and shoot a metal ball through a playfield covered in pins and hope that the ball hit some targets. Eventually someone made a machine with six flippers, adding a stronger element of skill to the game. Not long after that, someone else decided to keep the flippers but simplify the operation by controlling all of them with just two buttons, and that's how modern pinball was born.
Pinball machines are sort of like video arcade games but much more unique. The production run of an average machine usually ranges between 500 and 10,000. They also contain miles and miles of wire, which is neither here nor there, but pretty neat nonetheless. They are hand-constructed and almost all of them are collectors’ items.
There's also something about pinball that's a lot like boning. The game is physical—you shove and push the machine in an attempt to control the ball. There's a move called the bang-back where you hit the machine with your hip to keep the ball from draining, and another where you kick the leg of the thing just like it likes it. Your crotch is also level with the machine, if you're an adult of average height.
Anyway, the Silverball contains about 200 machines, many of which are very rare. The museum is right on the boardwalk, so when Hurricane Sandy hit it was thoroughly fucked up.
After searching for news of how the Silverball had fared I found this image. It's not as upsetting as the news about people who lost their lives or homes, but it bummed me out nonetheless. Luckily, somehow they managed to get the museum repaired and open again within a couple months.
I interviewed the owner, Rob Ilvento, about the museum and here that is.
VICE: Do you remember the first pinball machine you played?
Rob: My father bought one called Dixieland when I was nine years old and I’ve loved them ever since.
When did you become fixated with pinball?
At around the time I got my first 20 I thought it would be great to archive that part of Americana history. It’s taken years, but now the collection includes over 600 machines.
Did you consider any other names for the museum before settling on Silverball?
Silverball was the only name I considered. It just had a good ring to it.
What is it about pinball that makes it so great? Do you think the value of the machines lies more in their playability, or their beauty as objects?
It’s man against machine. It requires hand-eye coordination, as well as different rules for each unit. I think the beauty lies in that, as well as how they tell the American story in an interactive piece of art.
I know this is a little Sophie’s Choice-y, but if you had to pick one favorite machine, which would it be?
The electro-mechanical Evel Knievel game. I played it a lot growing up. It’s got a great American theme.
Which machine was the hardest to find or are you still looking for one that you can’t find?
The hardest to find is a wood rail Mermaid. I am still looking for a great one.
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