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  1. Visual Arts

Museums preserve pinball for the ages

Caleb Hausman, of Tarpon Springs, left, and Bence Shockey, of Palm Harbor, play the coin-op Track and Field on Thursday (6/16/16) at Replay Amusement Museum, 119 Tarpon Ave. in Tarpon Springs.
Published Jun. 22, 2016

Whether you are a pinball wizard or mere gaming mortal, you can relive the days of your misspent youth at two Tarpon Springs museums.

•The Replay Amusement Museum, 119 E Tarpon Ave. in Tarpon Springs

Here, a historic district storefront has been converted into a gallery filled with more than 100 vintage pinball machines and arcade games like Old Chicago, Twilight Zone, Funhouse and Ms. Pac-Man.

Leave your pocket change at home. These former quarter-eaters are now set to free play. There is a play-all-day admission of $13 for adults and $7 for children 7 to 12 years. Children 6 and under are free with a paying adult.

Without a doubt, the machines of yesteryear have an allure to them that no smartphone app or home gaming system does. Their blinking multicolor lights, fantasy artwork, and sounds of dings, beeps and musical flourishes beckon you to put the silver balls in play.

The collection includes the newly released Ghostbusters pinball machine and Atari's Hercules, "the biggest pinball machine ever made," according to owner, Brian Cheaney, 37.

Cheaney and his wife, Becky, own SonicPrint, a printing company with offices in Tarpon Springs and Tampa. He credits the success of his print business for allowing them to amass these machines, which typically cost thousands each.

After they filled up their home, and the homes of friends and family with their growing collection, they decided the next best step was to create their own museum. Replay opened in October 2014.

"These machines don't really exist in the wild anymore," he said. "We wanted to have a place where people can come and remember the thrill of these games and to preserve them for future generations."

Once ubiquitous in bars and bowling alleys across the nation, pinball and arcade games more or less went silent in the 1990s with the arrival of home-based video games. Along the way, many eventually ended up in landfills or in the hands of private collectors.

Now, just like vinyl records, the machines are making a multigenerational comeback with nostalgic grandparents and parents anxious to show the younger generation just what it was like to pull a plunger and whack a pinball. Museums like the Cheaneys' are starting to pop up all over the U.S.

"Games are such an integral part of our lives," Cheaney said. "It's nice to show kids where it all started."

•Youth Gone Wild: The History and Art of Pinball, an exhibit at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art

In the mid-20th century arcade games were considered corruptive tools that robbed youth of their coins and innocence. Across the nation, politicians and police banned, confiscated and destroyed them.

Learn more about the prohibition period and the arcade era (1970s to 1990s) at this companion exhibit on display through Sept. 18 at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art. Teaming up with the Replay Amusement Museum, the LRMA offers a look at the history and artwork behind the games.

The display includes a 1931, coin-operated Baffle Ball game by Gottlieb and Co., which helped launch the pinball industry. There are some working pinball machines in the Interactive Gallery that patrons are free to play, including the best-selling pinball machine of all time, the Addams Family.

Reach Terri Bryce Reeves at treeves@tampabay.rr.com.

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