In the National Parks: Where the Buffalo Roam

Yellowstone National Park — Montana, Wyoming, Idaho

Bison in Yellowstone Park

Well not exactly buffalo. The American bison was one of the many things that the Europeans who came to this country misidentified. Today, Yellowstone hosts the largest bison population in America. There are about 4,800 bison in the park, for the most part roaming freely. The majority of them are in the Lamar Valley where these photos were taken.

Herd of American bison

Bison family

Bison in Yellowstone Park

Bison family

More Yellowstone wildlife

Baby elk at Mammoth Hot Springs

This young elk is trying to figure out the signs in Mammoth Hot Springs Village.

Adult elk at Mammoth Hot Springs

While mama keeps a wary eye on me

Yellowstone pronghorn


Yellow-bellied marmots

These yellow-bellied marmots have made a home for themselves under a Yellowstone Park outhouse.

Osprey nest

This osprey nest is in the Yellowstone Canyon area

The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in nearby West Yellowstone, Mont., is a non-profit that hosts rescued animals that are no longer capable of living in the wild. Some came from Yellowstone and some from other national parks. Here are some of the center’s inhabitants.

Grizzly bear

Grizzly bear

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Guns in America: Prominent Americans Shooting Each Other Up

In 1804 the vice president of the United States shot and killed one of the founding fathers and the former secretary of the treasury in a duel. Gun violence, something that would continue to plague our society some 200+ years later, was already taking its toll on this young nation.

Site of Hamilton-Burr duel

Hamilton statue at the site of the Weehawken Dueling Grounds.

The conflict between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton had been going on for years. In 1804, Burr, with his VP term expiring and with the knowledge that Jefferson would drop him from the ticket, ran for governor of New York State. A third party quoted Hamilton in some scathing criticism of Burr that demeaned his character. Burr demanded an apology. He didn’t get one. So he delivered the challenge. Hamilton, though a self-styled opponent of dueling, accepted nonetheless because he feared the consequences to his future and reputation were he to refuse.

Weehawken Dueling Grounds rock where Hamilton laid his head.

Hamilton laid his head upon this rock after being shot in Burr duel.

So they headed out to the dueling grounds in Weehawken, N.J., with their seconds, their pistols and their adherence to the Code Duello, the rules of dueling. Each fired a shot. It has been widely speculated that Hamilton intentionally fired over Burr’s head. We’ll never know for sure whether he intentionally “wasted” his shot because Burr didn‘t waste his.

Many in America had grown weary of this means of dispute resolution and Hamilton’s death came as a shock. A jury in Bergen County, N.J., indicted Burr for murder but the charges were thrown out by the N.J. Supreme Court. Many urged lawmakers to ban the practice, but in fact dueling was already illegal in both New York and New Jersey. The reason they chose to square off in Weehawken is because New Jersey was perceived to be lax in enforcement. The duel ended Burr’s political career although he did serve out his term as vice president. It also represented something of a turning point in that the practice began to decline in the northeast. Not so the south. That region of the country, which to this day supports unlimited private ownership of guns, continued to be the setting for numerous duels up until at least the Civil War.

Plaque at Weehawken Dueling Grounds

Burr and Hamilton were not the only prominent American leaders to kill or be killed in a duel. There were senators, congressmen, military leaders, and then there was Andrew Jackson. Jackson boasted that he had been in 14 duels. Some historians have pegged that number at 2. Ah, but we live at a time when presidential braggadocio seems the norm. His most famous duel occurred in 1806 against Charles Dickinson.

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson

Dickinson was a lawyer, horse breeder and like Jackson, a plantation owner. Despite his young age, 26, he had already participated in numerous duels. The fact that he was still alive suggested he was good at it. What motivated these two men to risk their lives? It all started with a dispute over a bet on a horse race. Their animosity bubbled over from there. Dickinson called Jackson’s wife a bigamist. (Her first marriage had not been dissolved yet when she married Jackson.) Then he published a statement in the Nashville Review calling Jackson a “worthless scoundrel, a poltroon and a coward.” (I’m good with the scoundrel bit.) Jackson made the challenge, Dickinson accepted and off they went.

Dueling was also outlawed in Tennessee, so this one was moved to Kentucky. As per the rules Dickinson took the first shot and lodged a bullet in Jackson’s chest, damaging a rib or two but missing his heart. Jackson then cocked his gun and misfired. If you were to play by the rules the duel should have ended there. But Jackson re-cocked his gun and shot Dickinson fatally. Jackson’s behavior was widely disparaged and seen as cheating. Twenty years later he was elected to the first of two terms as president.

Button Gwinnett

Button Gwinnett

Button Gwinnett is primarily noted in American history as one of Georgia’s signers of the Declaration of Independence. The British born Gwinnett was something of a failure as a merchant and as a planter. Yet he turned out to be a successful local politician. He rose to a position in the Georgia Provincial Congress where his chief rival was Lachlan McIntosh, Scottish American Revolutionary War veteran who was a landowner and slaveholder. By 1877 Gwinnett had become president of Georgia filling the vacant position after his predecessor had passed away. McIntosh meanwhile had become a brigadier general in the continental army, a position Gwinnett had also sought. As head of the Georgia Provisional Congress Gwinnett ordered McIntosh to lead an invasion of East Florida, which at the time was controlled by England. It failed. They blamed each other and when McIntosh publicly pronounced Gwinnett a “scoundrel and lying rascal” the challenge was on.

The duel took place at a Georgia plantation. Each took a shot. Each was hit. Gwinnett died. McIntosh lived.

Henry Clay

Henry Clay

One of the more ridiculous episodes occurred in 1826 involving secretary of state and presidential hopeful Henry Clay, who described himself as an opponent of duels, and Virginia Senator John Randolph. It all started with a speech on the Senate floor in which Randolph referred to President Adams and Clay as “a puritan with the blackleg.” I have no clue what that means but it is apparently highly insulting because after some debate about whether Senate rules prohibited challenging Senators for comments made on the Senate floor, Clay did indeed issue the challenge and Randolph accepted. Virginia was another state where dueling was illegal, but our lawmakers and cabinet members paid that no mind and squared off there anyway. Randolph rationalized that he wouldn’t be breaking any law since he had no intention of hitting Clay. Each fired one shot and the only victim was Randolph’s jacket. They set up for another round. Randolph hired in the air. Clay put his gun away. Game, set, match. They lived happily ever after.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

One 19th century American president who you might not expect to have been found on the dueling grounds is Abraham Lincoln. Yet a young Lincoln, who was simply a country lawyer in 1842, ended up in a dispute with the Illinois state auditor James Shields related to the bankruptcy of the Illinois State Bank. Lincoln wrote a letter under a pseudonym that was published in the Sangamo Journal attacking both Shields’ actions relating to the bankruptcy and his character. Shields squeezed the publisher for the identity of the author and when he found out demanded a retraction from Lincoln. Upon being refused he issued the challenge and Lincoln accepted.

Illinois was yet another state where dueling was illegal so they headed off to Missouri. Both of these men had seconds who were determined to keep their charges alive. While both showed up at Bloody Island, Mo., at the appointed date and time, a negotiated settlement kept an actual duel from taking place, one that might well have altered the course of American history.

Mark Twain

Samuel Clemens

If you think Lincoln an unlikely duel participant, consider Mark Twain. The story of Mark Twain’s duel has been told by Twain himself. His real name was Samuel Clemens and early in his career Clemens worked as a journalist for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper in Virginia City, Nev. (Nevada, by the way, also outlawed dueling.) The Enterprise’s main competitor was the Virginia City Union owned by James Laird. Clemens wrote a story which he claimed that he never intended to publish that, among other things, accused the Union of reneging on a pledge to support a Civil War charity. When Baird called Clemens a liar, Clemens issued the challenge and Laird accepted.

So Clemens and Laird show up at the dueling grounds and Clemens admits to his second Steve Gillis that he didn’t know how to fire a gun accurately. By way of demonstration, Gillis takes the gun, fires a shot at a bird and beheads it. Laird drops by, sees the dead bird and asks who fired that shot. Gillis assures it was Clemens and elaborates on his client’s marksmanship. Laird gets the idea. He apologizes and the duel is over before it began. At least that’s how Mark Twain told the story.


Posted in guns, History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Guns in America: The Americanization of the Duel

When the first European explorers found their way to these shores they brought the first firearms to a gun-free society. When the first colonists settled in, they imported another piece of European culture, a rather definitive dispute resolution practice known as dueling.

The duel goes back to medieval times. It was a sort of primitive alternative to courts. In the Middle Ages they believed God would decide who was right and that his opinion would be represented by the winner of the man-to-man combat. Originally duels were fought with swords and in the earliest versions if the loser came out alive he’d be executed anyway.

By the 17th and 18th century, the nature of dueling evolved and became a aristocratic exercise based on honor. There were specific rules about who challenges who, who picks the weapons, how the process would unfold and when it had reached a satisfactory conclusion. It was not necessarily fatal. Some historians claim a fatality rate of only about 20%. And as pistols began to take the place of swords in the 1800’s their cumbersomeness and lack of accuracy made them far less lethal than you would expect.

dueling pistolsDid dueling catch on in America? The first colonists came to these shores in 1619. By 1620, their Plymouth colony had seen its first duel. Like so many of the customs we imported from Europe, dueling in the new world would eventually take on a distinctly American style.

  1. The democratization of dueling

That first duel in the Plymouth colony was between Edward Lester and Edward Doty. What was totally unique about their duel is that they were both servants. They chose to settle their dispute with a sword fight. Each received a non-deadly wound and they called it a day. But the Plymouth colony didn’t let it go at that. They were sentenced to be tied together hand and foot for 24 hours without food or water. Partly at the behest of their master, they were released after an hour.

One should no overstate the egalitarianism of American dueling. There were no farmworkers or laborers challenging their bosses. It was still the domain of the moneyed classes but rather than being all about landed and hereditary aristocracy, the participants in American duels were often politicians, lawyers and even journalists.

2. The duel as public policy debate.

In Europe most duels were either about a woman or some personal affront that the haughty offended gentleman considered a challenge to his honor. In America the challenge to a duel often came as a result of a perceived insult hurled as part of a public policy debate. This is of course the country where one of our founding fathers was gunned down in a duel with a sitting vice president. Senators were known to turn to the pistol and hurl a challenge across the aisle. Duels were held over the issue of slavery. Newspaper editors saw this a way to settle disputes with their rivals. And since the politicians and lawyers who were active duelists were public personas, their challenges and responses were often made very publicly, even published in local newspapers like some sort of legal ad.

3. Making our own rules.

The go to guide for dueling was written by a group of Irishmen in 1777. Known as Code Duello, it was also called the 26 commandments. It starts out thus: “Rule 1. The first offense requires the first apology, though the retort may have been more offensive than the insult. Example: A tells B he is impertinent, etc. B retorts that he lies; yet A must make the first apology because he gave the first offense, and then (after one fire) B may explain away the retort by a subsequent apology.” Huh??

We as Americans like to make our own rules. So we did exactly that. In 1838 “The Code of Honor” was published by John Lyde Wilson, the former governor of South Carolina. Wilson’s guide, published at a  time when dueling was starting to decline, offered extensive advice as well as rules for both the combatants and their seconds. He even touches on the appropriate demeanor: “The principals are to be respectful in meeting, and neither by look or expression irritate each other. They are to be wholly passive, being entirely under the guidance of their seconds.“  Wholly passive that is, until you plug your opponent with a bullet. Just no trash talk!

4. Posting

Another American addition to the dueling process was “posting.” This was primarily done in the Southern states and was intended to humiliate the challenged gentleman who passed up on the opportunity to duel. It involved a written a statement with the person’s name, identifying him as a coward, and posting that statement for public perusal or publishing it in a newspaper. The fear of posting no doubt led some to head to the dueling grounds who were otherwise not so anxious to do so.

gunslinger   5. The quick draw duel

Perhaps the most uniquely American iteration of the duel was the quick draw duel. A product of the Western frontier this is just a straight out gunfight. No rules, no seconds, no negotiations, nor processes. Just stand face to face and whoever draws their six-shooter the fastest and gets in the first accurate shot lives to see another day.

Dueling was essentially illegal throughout most of the world and had been for centuries. As early as the 13th century the Roman Catholic Church had taken a position in opposition to dueling. In France, one of the most active dueling countries in Europe, King Louis XIII outlawed the practice in 1626 and that’s been the law of the land ever since. Yet between 1685 and 1716 there were 10,000 duels in France.

In the U.S., Benjamin Franklin was an opponent of dueling. He wrote:  “How can such miserable Sinners as we are entertain so much Pride, as to conceit that every Offence against our imagined Honour merits Death?” George Washington was not a fan either, though for more practical reasons, as he could not afford to lose his soldiers to duels.

By the beginning of the 19th century and after the national shock of the Hamilton-Burr duel, the practice started to decline in the north. Not so the south where dueling continued to be a common occurrence until mid-century. In 1839, after another congressman was killed in a duel, the practice was outlawed in Washington D.C. Not in Maryland though and Bladensburg Dueling Grounds in Comar Manor, Md., hosted many duels between Washington based pols.

Some 18 states had outlawed the practice by the middle of the 19th century. But it was likely less the law that brought an end to dueling as much as it was the Civil War, the widespread bloodshed experienced throughout the country and the breakdown of southern plantation society.


In next week’s post I’ll take a look at some of the prominent 19th century Americans who shot each other up at the dueling grounds.

Posted in guns, History | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Guns in America: Who Fired the First Shot?

Americans are armed to the teeth. And I’m not just talking about the military. It has been estimated that while 4 percent of the world’s population lives in the U.S., we own 42% of the world’s privately owned firearms. Not coincidentally, mass shootings occur here at a rate that is 11 times higher than any other developed country.

There are 265 million firearms in America and half of those are owned by just 3% of the population. The degenerates who have been shooting up our churches, out schools, our nightclubs and concert venues usually have one thing in common. They’ve accumulated a personal arsenal.

It has even gotten to the point where other countries are warning their citizens about traveling to the United States because of the preponderance of gun violence. Those countries include Canada, New Zealand, China, the Bahamas and the United Arab Emirates. Yet we have a government that refuses to adopt any level of gun control no matter how many of our children get slaughtered in their classrooms. How did we grow into a society committed to lethal weapons?. Where did it start? Who fired the first shot?

colonial era musket

The idea that Columbus discovered America has been widely disputed. But you could make a claim for Columbus’ party as being the first to use a firearm in America. Apparently as his armada of three ships approached the New World a cannon was fired from the Pinta to announce the sighting of land. This practice was somewhat common among the European adventurers who landed on our shores, not always for the sake of the public service announcement but also to instill the fear of God in the natives.

The Spanish conquistadores tramped about the New World armed. As Ponce De Leon wound his way through Florida is his misguided mission to find the fountain of youth, he was accompanied by arquebusiers. They were foot soldiers who hauled around a sort of portable cannon called an arquebus. As a firearm it wasn’t very practical, being heavy and requiring a lighted wick to fire, but it sure as hell could scare the crap out of any poor soul who had never experienced the sound of a firearm.

The first guns to take up permanent residence in the U.S. came aboard the Mayflower in 1520. While I don’t consider the NRA to be a credible source about most things, they may be right about the Italian made musket that they house in their museum of guns which they call the Mayflower Gun.

colonial musket and hatWhile our vision of the early American settler might involve a guy toting a musket around on his shoulder, that notion was challenged by Michael Bellesiles, a former professor of history at Emory University.  In his book, Arming America: The Origins of National Gun Culture, he claimed that individual gun ownership was not that common among colonials, noting that the muskets of the time were not that useful for either personal defense or for hunting. His research purported to have found that between 1763 and 1790, only 13 percent of men in New England and Pennsylvania owned guns and that half of those guns were useless.

Bellesiles argued instead that America’s love affair with guns occurred in the latter half of the 19th century with the romanticizing of the cowboy and the popularity of wild west shows with the likes of Wild Bill Hickok and Annie Oakley. Bellesiles work set off a furious debate in historical circles as he was attacked by, among others, the same gun touters in the NRA who continue to attack and discred anyone who seeks to limit gun ownership. Other historians did indeed find errors in his work and Columbia University withdrew the Bancroft history prize that it had awarded to the book. Bellesiles himself has never backed off of his conclusions.

The first Europeans who came to this country found a gun-free society. So it is easy to jump to the conclusion that the native population of America was victimized by the gun-toting explorers and settlers who arrived from Europe. But it was the diseases that the Europeans brought with them, more so than the guns, that were devastating to a native population that had no immunity to Old World ailments. The American Indians did enact some small revenge by providing some European adventurers with a particularly virulent strain of syphilis that they brought back home with them.

David J. Silverman, a professor of history at George Washington University and author of Thundersticks: Firearms and the Violent Transformation of Native America, suggests that Native Americans were among the early adopters of gun culture in America. “Indians were generally awestruck when they first experienced the firing of a gun. But it took little time for them to grow accustomed to the sound and flash, and to learn the practical applications of this tool. They traded for firearms in large quantities and used them in warfare and hunting because they recognized that guns were superior to the bow and arrow especially for setting ambushes, besieging fortified settlements and hunting deer.”

He describes a competitive gun market in early colonial America with different tribes competing to participate in the gun trade and some Old World entrepreneurs competing to take advantage of this new-found bull market. Silverman even suggests that Native Americans played a role in bringing gun violence to American society claiming that Indian gunmen terrorized some regions.

So while no one is exactly sure where to find the foundation for the gun-infested society we are now living with, one thing is clear. The issue of private ownership of guns has long been a contentious and divisive issue in the U.S.


In next week’s post I’ll look at how Americans embraced the European custom of dueling and then remade it in our own image.


Posted in guns, History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

A Few Curious Bits of Baseball History

baseball exhibit at Denver Museum

Play Ball exhibit at History Colorado Center, Denver, featuring the Marshall Fogel collection of baseball artifacts.

In an era before multi-year, multi-million contracts, ballplayers were happy to get endorsements, for just about anything.

Nellie Fox endorses chewing tobacco

Dizzy Dean cereal ad


Evolution of the glove


Colorado baseball then


Denver baseball team's bear mascot

Opening day 1923 and the Denver Bears are led onto the field by their mascot

Colorado baseball now

Rockies opening day ticket

Ticket to the first Colorado Rockies game in 1993

Coors Field wall photo

Coors Field, Denver opened in 1995

Colorado Rockies star players

Rockies jerseys

Breaking barriers

1934 Kansas City Monarchs

In 1934, at a time when baseball was completely segregated the Denver Post tournament invited the all-black Kansas City Monarchs to play the white House of David team

Bayly-Underhill co-ed baseball team

The Bayly-Underhill company sponsored a co-ed baseball team circa 1910-1915

New York baseball before MLB’s Manifest Destiny


New York Giants 1911 championship trophy

New York Giants 1911 championship trophy

Posted in Baseball, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Take Me Out to the Ball Game


Citi Field

Take me out to the ball game

The seventh inning stretch

Take me out to the crowd

New York Mets game at Citi Field

Buy me some peanuts and an over-priced hat

New York Yankees merchandise

I don’t care if I never get back

Willets Point station after a Mets game

Let me root, root, root for the home team

Rooting for the home team at Yogi Berra Stadium

If they don’t win it’s a shame

TD Bank Ballpark scoreboard

For it’s ONE

a swinging strike


Palisades Credit Union Park scoreboard

THREE strikes

Strike three looking

You’re out!

Strike three

At the old ball game

game over

(Photos taken at Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y.; TD Bank Ballpark, Bridgewater, N.J.; Citi Field, Queens, N.Y.; Yogi Berra Stadium, Little Falls, N.J.; and Palisades Credit Union Park, Pomona, N.Y.)

Posted in Baseball, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

14 Reasons to Love Minor League Baseball

Somerset Patriots baseball game

1. You can enjoy a game with your dog.


2. You can sit here and not spend a nickel more than the guy sitting in the far corner of left field.

The first row at Arm & Hammer Park

3. It’s easier to come up with a ball.

Catching a foul ball

4. The Mascots

Mascots wrestle at TD Bank Ballpark

Sparkee and Slider are two of the three Somerset Patriots mascots. The third is a guy who parades around in a revolutionary war uniform and calls himself General Admission.

5. It keeps the dream alive.

Former major leaguker Endy Chavez

Endy Chavez played for nine different major league teams over a 13-year period. He is widely beloved by New York Mets fans for a game-saving catch he made against the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series. At age 40, he is patrolling right field for the Somerset Patriots.


Former major league pitcher Matt Latos

Matt Latos pitched for nine different teams during an 8-year major league career. During that time he complied a 71-59 won-loss record. He’s giving it one last shot as a closer for New Jersey Jackals,






6. You don’t have to be a major client of Morgan Stanley to sit in a luxury box.

Watching the Rockland Boulders from a luxury box.

7. If your kids couldn’t care less about the game they can do stuff like this.

8. You can stretch out.

There's lots of space at Palisades Credit Union Park

9. Where else can you see sack races these days.

Between innings at the Somerset Patriots game

10. Bat dogs

Rookie, the Trenton Thunder's bat dog

Rookie is the third generation of golden retrievers to serve at bat dog for the Trenton Thunder, following in the pawsteps of his legendary grandfather Chase.

11. You never know what tonight might be.

Somerset Patriots promotional events

12. The YMCA song never gets old.

Rockland Boulders fans do the YMCA

13. You don’t have to drink Bud or Bud Light

Where to get a beer at a Rockland Boulders game

14. The food.



Photos are from

Palisades Credit Union Park, Pomona, N.Y., home of the Rockland Boulders

TD Bank Ballpark, Bridgewater, N.J., home of the Somerset Patriots

Arm & Hammer Stadium, Trenton, N.J., home of the Trenton Thunder

Yogi Berra Stadium, Little Falls, N.J., home of the New Jersey Jackals

Skylands Stadium, Augusta, N.J., home of the Sussex County Miners







Posted in Baseball, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

TILT! The History of Pinball

Pinball machines at the Silverball Museum in Asbury Park

The pinball machine as we know it was not invented as much as it was an evolution of earlier games. The father of the pinball machine was the French game Bagatelle, a game played on a tabletop with marbles. It is believed that the game was first introduced in the United States by French soldiers who were fighting in the War of Independence. The term “pinball” was not used until 1936, but the evolution of the pinball machine started long before than.

In 1871, a Cincinnati inventor named Montague Redgrove won a patent for a spring-based ball shooter that would become the standard way that balls were launched on pinball machines for decades thereafter. The first coin operated machine debuted in 1889. Innovations came fast and furious in the 1930s after the introduction of two enormously popular games, Gottlieb’s Baffle Ball and Bally’s Ballyhoo. In 1933 the first machine utilizing electricity was introduced. One year later saw the advent of the automatic scoring system. And in 1935 Harry Williams created the first tilt mechanism. Prior to that time you moved the ball around the table by shaking, bumping or banging on the machine. (Something I continued to try to do as a teenager in 60’s.)

An example of an early flipper pinball machine.

Gottlieb’s 1950 Knockdown, an example of one of the early flipper machines. Look at the space between those flippers!

1950's Gottlieb pinball machine

5 balls/5 cents. The going rate in the 1950’s. Hawaiian Beauty is a 1954 Gottlieb machine.

Hayburners by Williams

Williams’ 1951 Hayburners is another example of an early flipper machine. Note the reverse flippers.

Pinball scoring record holders

Pinball emerged as a popular pastime in the 1930’s. It was a cheap form of amusement in a country suffering from the Depression. Production of pinball machines slowed during World War II as most of the country’s manufacturing capabilities were focused on the war effort. Interest in pinball spiked in the post war period.

The authorities were not necessarily enamored with this new amusement. In fact some cities, including America’s three largest, banned the pinball machine as a gambling device. While modern day machines reward outstanding performance with free games, during the early years of pinball, prizes, including perhaps a beer or a pack of cigarettes, were awarded by the machines’ host. In the 30’s you might find a pinball machine in a bar, but also in a drugstore, barber shop or gas station.

Fiorello LaGaurdia, mayor of New York City from 1935 to 1944, claimed that pinball “robbed” schoolchildren of the nickels and dimes that they should have used for lunch money. There were also suggestions of mafia involvement. LaGuardia’s enforcers raided pinball halls, seized machines and destroyed them.

What really changed pinball as an entertainment was the invention of the flipper in 1947 by Gottlieb. It was first introduced on the Humpty Dumpty machine. The new flipper machines gave rise to what has been called the Golden Age of Pinball, from 1948 to 1958. The flipper also paved the way for legalization in those areas where the game was prohibited. With the use of the flipper, the argument went, pinball became a game of skill rather than a game of chance. Even so, legalization did not happen in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles until the 1970’s.

There was another new wave of more sophisticated machines in the 1970’s with the advent of the solid state electronic machine. But by the 1980’s, pinball began to decline as the machines began to give way to video games.

1974 pinball machine at the Silverball Museum

1974 Gottlieb Top Card

1975 pinball machine at the Silverball Museum

1975 Gottlieb Fast Draw

Wide-body pinball machine at Silverball Museum

Gottlieb 1980 Roller Disco, an example of a “wide-body” machine,.

Pin Bot pinball machine at Silverball Museum

Williams 1986 Pin Bot

Three manufacturers, Gottlieb, Bally and Williams, were responsible for most of the country’s popular and innovative pinball machines.

Gottlieb Manufacturing was established by David Gottlieb in 1927. He introduced the first widely popular pinball machine, Baffle Ball, in 1930. It is Gottlieb that produced the innovation that changed the history of pinball, the flipper, in 1947. A few years later they produced the first multiplayer machine, Super Jumbo.

Gottlieb was purchased by Columbia Pictures in 1976. Columbia was later purchased by Coca-Cola and Gottlieb, after being renamed Mylstar Electronics, was closed down in 1984

Gottlieb’s Baffle Ball machine was surpassed in popularity only by Ballyhoo. It is that machine which gave Bally Manufacturing its name when it was founded in 1932. Bally’s contribution to the evolution of pinball included the first multi-ball machine, Balls-A-Poppin, in 1956.  The company went into the casino business in the 1970’s. It began operating casinos and amusement parks (purchased Six Flags) and changed its name in 1992 to Bally Entertainment. Williams acquired the pinball division in 1988.

It was Harry Williams who invented the tilt mechanism and introduced it on a machine called Advance in 1935. Eight years later Williams founded the Williams Manufacturing Company. It was acquired by Seeburg, a jukebox manufacturer, in 1964 and renamed Williams Electronics Manufacturing Division. It was sold when Seeburg went bankrupt. It became a public company in 1987 and acquired Bally pinball. The merged entity also made video games and slot machines. The pinball division was closed in 1999. It is Williams that produced the Addams Family, the most popular pinball machine ever, selling more than 20,000 units.

By the turn of the century, only one pinball manufacturer was left standing. Stern Pinball of Chicago, which was founded in 1999, remains in business. Its market has changed so that a substantial part of its business is home sales. There are also a couple small manufacturers that have sprung up in recent years.

Ball shooter for Indiana Jones pinball machine

Williams’ 1993 Indiana Jones machine added some firepower to the ball shooter. Indiana Jones also included video clips

World Cup pinball machines

Williams 1994 World Cup. (The going price is now 50 cents.)

1997 pinball machine at the Silverball Museum

Bally’s 1997 Circus Voltaire was a product of the merged Bally’s-Williams company.

All photos are from the Silverball Museum on the boardwalk in Asbury Park, N.J.

Pinball arcade and museum on the boardwalk in Asbury Park


Posted in History, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

217 Steps and an Oceanfront View

The Barnegat Lighthouse, Barnegat Light, N.J.

Lighthouse on Long Beach Island

The first Barnegat Lighthouse was built in 1835 at the northern tip of Long Beach Island on an appropriation of $6,000 from the U.S. Congress. Standing at 40 feet tall and without a blinking light it was ineffective in reducing shipwrecks.

Barnegat Lightouse creator

Lt. George G. Meade of the Army Bureau of Topographical Engineers drew up the plans to replace the original lighthouse and based on his recommendation it was approved by Congress. The structure that still exists today originally was lit in 1859. This one is 175 feet high and initally its light could be seen for 19 nautical miles.

Lighthouse stair count

stairway to the top of Barnegat Lighthouse

Barnegat State Park beach and jetties

The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1927 and turned over to the state of New Jersey. It is now the centerpiece of a state park. Through donations from local residents, jetties were built to protect the structure form the encroaching sea.

Jetty protecting the Barnegat Lighthouse

It was once again through the contributions of local residents, including the Barnegat Light Fraternal Order of Police, that a new lens was purchased and the lighthouse was reactivated in 2009. The light from the new lens can by seen from 22 nautical miles. It is in operation daily from dusk to dawn. The lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Barnegat Lighthouse sign

Barnegat Lighthouse

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Housing Policy and Segregation: New Jersey, a Case Study

New Jersey is a deep blue state. If you walk down the street here carrying a gun, you’ll likely get arrested. We support public education and net neutrality. We have no interest is seeing oil drillers offshore our beaches. We like Planned Parenthood and hate ICE. We celebrate our diversity. And yet New Jersey is one of the most segregated states in the country. 

Mt. Laurel is a 40,000+ population suburb of Philadelphia. Per the 2010 census it is 80% white and median household income is about $85,000.  In the 1960’s, Mt. Laurel was in the midst of a transition from a rural community to a suburb populated mostly by new single-family homes. Some of the town’s poorer, and mostly African-American residents, were displaced to make way for the new developments. When the township turned down a request to build three dozen affordable apartments for displaced residents, they soon ended up in court.  The case went all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court which ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and specifically prohibited exclusionary zoning. It was a precedent setting decision and the first of its kind in the nation. 

Morris Township is a 22,000 population town in Northern New Jersey. It is 85% white and has a median household income of $132k. Last month, more than 40 years after the Mt. Laurel ruling, the township committee squeaked through a resolution by a vote of 3-2 that would finally result in the municipality meeting a court approved deadline to provide a plan for affordable housing. They did so at a tumultuous meeting amidst the protests of residents who complained about additional traffic and lower housing values.  

Ultimately segregation is a product of racism and xenophobia. But it has been enabled by housing policy and its implementation. 

Housing segregation in the northeast and in other more densely populated and industrialized areas of the country really took off during the period following World War II. The combination of economic prosperity, low-cost mortgages available to veterans and a baby boom produced a flurry of construction of single-family homes. And federal housing policy quite specifically and intentionally made sure that the housing boom resulted in planting white people in the suburbs. Developers could only get Federal Housing Administration guaranteed mortgages if they agreed to neither sell nor rent to African-Americans. The FHA policy was not to provide loans to developers in minority neighborhoods. At the same time mortgage lenders adopted the practice of “redlining” keeping blacks from buying in white neighborhoods. Meanwhile the low-income housing projects that received federal funding were primarily built in majority non-white neighborhoods. 

low income housing

(image by Charles Deluvio)

By the time of the 1975 Mt. Laurel ruling these specifically racist federal policies had generally been corrected even if more subtle variations continued in place. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited these practices and called for equal housing opportunities regardless of race, religion or national origin. But while the courts, the federal and most state legislatures have continued to support equal housing opportunity, none of this has really resulted in diversity of housing types in most communities nor has it eliminated segregation in states like New Jersey. The commitment has not been universally shared by lenders, builders and realtors.  Nor have local officials and the people whose job it is to enforce these policies done so in good faith. 

Following the initial court ruling, Mt. Laurel did set up some zoning for affordable housing. Some of the land was in an industrial park and some was wetland. So the town again ended up in court and again it lost. A second Mt. Laurel court decision in 1983 clearly established what became known as the Mt. Laurel Doctrine, that each municipality must provide for its fair share of affordable housing.  

The second Mt. Laurel ruling was followed by New Jersey’s own Fair Housing Act in 1985. That legislation created a state agency, the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) which was charged with overseeing municipal efforts to zone for a diversity of housing and to establish quotas for each town.  It never did. The council was suspended in 2010 by New Jersey’s then GOP Governor Chris Christie. The ball was effectively passed back to the courts. While the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that Christie did not have the authority to disband the agency, by 2015 it ruled instead that municipalities could petition the lower courts to have their fair housing plans approved. Some have, some haven’t. 

The most recent court initiative came in a case involving two more affluent New Jersey communities, Princeton and West Windsor. In March of this year a Mercer County Superior Court judge set a specific number of affordable housing units for each of these towns, a number that was higher than what either of the townships had argued for. The judge’s ruling established guidelines for the 100+ towns that still haven’t produced an approved Mt. Laurel plan. 

identical houses

(Image by Blake Wheeler)

What all of this shows is that neither court rulings nor legislation builds housing. Most towns only came up with a plan when required to do so. And many of those that did still have little to show except a plan. There is little chance that the Fair Housing Act of 1968 will be enforced in any way by the likes of Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions or Ben Carson. So as we approach the 50th anniversary of the first Mt. Laurel ruling, I can’t see that the doctrine established by the court has come anywhere near achieving what it was intended to do. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments