We experienced a true national treasure yesterday during a brief jaunt to Asbury Park, New Jersey. On the aptly named Ocean Avenue (which runs roughly north and south just inland from the beach) resides the Silverball Museum and Pinball Hall of Fame.
The name might make one think this establishment leans to the stuffy side—a museum for pinball, really? What, are the machines protected by velvet ropes with electronic alarms at the ready should anyone reach across?
They are not. Instead, the Silverball is filled with literally dozens of vintage pinball machines (and a dozen or more early video arcade games, for good measure) from the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, all there for the playing after you pay a very reasonable entry fee at the door. No quarters needed—just hit the “new game” button and you’re ready to go. It’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet for pinball buffs.
Naturally, we were drawn to the oldest of the machines—surely you’re not surprised to hear that—and the granddaddy of them all was Knockout, a machine that debuted in 1950. Not only did it feature the typical flippers, bumpers, bells and lights, but if you hit the right doodad at the right time (we never did figure out exactly how it happened), a pair of tiny tin pugilists duke it out in a ring right there in the middle of all the pinball action (there’s a referee there, too, to make sure the Marquess of Queensberry Rules rules are observed).
Other games from the 1950s that we took a crack at included Hawaiian Beauty (1954), Lightning Ball (1959) and Rocket (1959).
But our most thrilling moment of the afternoon was when we came across El Dorado, a game we spent hours (and untold quarters) playing in college (it was the lone pinball machine in our dorm center). We were convinced back in the day that it was a really old game, but no, it turns out it was only two or three years old at the time, having debuted in 1975. After more than 35 years, encountering this game again was like reuniting with a dear old friend.
If you find yourself within an hour’s drive of Asbury Park—heck, within two or three hours’ drive—and you have even a passing interest in vintage pinball machines, you owe it to yourself to spend the afternoon at the Silverball. Believe us, you will thank us for the recommendation.