I arrived at The National Pinball Museum at 2:35pm. I had a little trouble finding it at first since it is not actually IN Power Plant Live as their website states, but around the corner from it.
The building itself is very narrow, wedged between two bars. The sign above the door still reads “The Chocolate Factory,” but there is a small printed sign on the window with the museum’s name and hours on it.
The first thing you notice upon entering isn’t the tables painted like “bumpers” or the framed news clippings on the wall – it’s the noise. The incessant racket of banging, beeping and assorted other sound effects that you would expect at a video arcade. You can’t hear it from the outside due to the ambient din of city traffic.
The first floor houses the museum store, a timeline showing the founding and closing of various pinball machine manufacturers and a permanent gallery showing its early history from roots in an 1877 French billiards game known as “Bagatelle,” the wooden barroom games of the 1900s and a collection of several (non-playable) machines showing the evolution of the current game over the past century.
As mentioned above, the 2nd floor is their main gallery level with 41 machines ranging from relatively simple designs from the 1920s to “golden age of pinball” of the late-40s-60s as well as a collection of more recent models (1980s-late-90s). There is no attempt to organize the machines by age or manufacturer, nor any attempt at context beyond two pieces of wall text.
I’m not normally a fan of pinball, but I swiped my play card in one of the machines anyway… and nothing happened. Then as I went to try again, a worker comes by, rolls his eyes and presses the “start” button on the front of the machine. I thought I heard him mumble something about me as he walked away, but it was impossible to tell with the noise level on that level.
I lost relatively quickly, and then tried other machines with similar results. I left the museum with a massive migraine and full hour of playtime remaining on my card. I head over to the Barnes & Noble at the “other” Power Plant complex, hoping to relax with a magazine and small coffee before heading off for my next destination with a slightly lessened headache.
I got to the Maryland Science Center about 10 minutes before my movie was to begin. I was hoping for their “Fridays After 5” promotion, but the film, The Secret of Life on Earth, began at 5pm. The movie itself was often pretty to look at, but I got the distinct feeling most of it was stock footage; the narration by Patrick Stewart was excellent, even if the script he was reading from dumbed down and painfully generic.
Thankfully, the film is only 38 minutes long and I made my way back to the circulator. The next bus screen on the sign read “16 minutes” and I was starting to get cold so I decided to find something to eat in the PPL complex and take the subway back to Bolton Hill.