The People’s Playground is flipping out!
A vintage pinball arcade is rolling into the Coney Island Museum and Freak Bar this weekend! Flipper fanatics can test their skill on 10 of the old-school arcade games — but the machines, each decorated with images of sideshow performers of the past, are works of art that should be admired as well as played, said an organizer of the pinball gallery.
“The point is to be a living museum,” said Dick Zigun, sideshow impresario and head of Coney Island USA. “We are dedicated to curating selections based on the art, the theme — we want them to not only be seen as fun and games, but as art.”
For the next year, six Coney-themed games will dazzle silver ball players at the Coney Island Museum, while another four occupy the Freak Bar downstairs. Each of the 1970s and ’80s-era gizmos was chosen to complement the Sodom by the Sea setting. For instance, the “Mystic” game is painted with fortune tellers, levitating women, and a shackled Harry Houdini — who used to perform at Coney. Another game celebrates the daredevil motorcycle stuntman Evel Knievel, while the “Old Coney Island” device features a beach bombshell, a Ferris wheel, and plenty of excited visitors to the People’s Playground.
The pinball machines all come from the collection of one silver ball aficionado, who got the ball rolling after spotting an “Old Coney Island” machine stationed in the Coney Island Museum.
“I remember playing it and it just brought it all back. I started collecting a few and then it just snowballed,” said Mill Basin resident Dennis Catylfumo, who repairs games at El Dorado Arcade.
Catylfumo began collecting and repairing vintage pinball machines, and partnered with the museum so that the public could appreciate the authentic, old-school devices.
“I asked a co-worker if he liked pinball, and he said, ‘Oh yeah, I have a pinball app.’ Those are the kind of reasons that make me want to share it with the masses,” he said. “It’s real, something you can feel. And now there’s an interest for it again.”
The elevation of pinball as art marks quite a change for the machines, which were once outlawed in New York City. In the early 1940s, pinball was considered a form of gambling, and the machines were regarded as insidious nickel stealers that unfairly gobbled up kids’ lunch money. In 1942, mayor Fiorello La Guardia banned the games, raiding candy stores, bars, and theme parks for the contraband devices and destroying them in dramatic fashion — with a sledgehammer.
But pinball made a comeback in the ’70s and now supple-wristed ball bashers hunt for the vintage games.
“It’s the triumph of youngsters, full of terrible American habits, pursuing their own way,” said Zigun.
If the machines strike it big with beach-goers, the museum hopes to spice up the selection with a few more games and to host a tournament for pinball wizards to duke it out.
Play ball at the Coney Island Museum [1208 Surf Ave. at W. 12th Street in Coney Island, (718) 372-5159, www.coney