WILDSAM’S BIG LIST OF THROWBACK FUN
Isle of Palms, 1973. National Archives and Records Administration
Modern times bring many blessings. But most of us do spend too much time minding our screens. When did you last ramble down the ol’ midway? Dabble in oil paints? Master a rare European lawn sport? Some fun survives purely and only in analog form.
No video can replace actually riding the oldest roller coaster. And you can’t win the Figawi sitting at home. [What’s the Figawi? Read on.] Crank the engine, unfold the map and set out for these 25 destinations for old-time action of many descriptions [and none].
Manitou Springs Penny Arcade
Manitou Springs, CO
Prepare for an Old West-style showdown for skeeball bragging rights, in a creaky suite of Main Street rooms packed with vintage tests of skill, gimcracks and fascinations. The line-up of ancient target-practice games means though they’ve got some rides, you need to spend the time practicing your aim.
Butler Pitch and Putt
It would be neat to play Pebble Beach or St. Andrews. But in the meantime, we’ve got Butler, tucked almost secretly into Austin’s core. Two golf lovers built the place, hole by hole, and got it open just in time for 1950s America’s golf-shirt style. Today, smart Austinites have given food and drink a lift and launched fun, sociable leagues, but kept the downhome charm. The metal chute that tracks which group’s up to start is the coolest thing–you’ll just have to see it.
Oaks Park Roller Rink
A barn-like hulk shelters a polished floor, a place to cruise to Portland’s beat since 1905. A mad-science Wurlitzer organ hangs above the floor, installed in 1955, and the atmosphere on a crowded Saturday is pure 1980s grit. What is time but a circle, anyway?
Top: Oaks Park Roller Rink. Bottom: Library of Congress
Pacific Pinball Museum
They had us at the promise of “rare bagatelles.” A rotating playable line-up of about 100 machines draws on a collection of more than 1,000 that spans pinball history. Smart exhibits celebrate the creative minds behind iconic pinball art and design, too. Show up for league night if you want to get serious.
This vintage gathering spot of Detroit’s Belgian community has a proud sports-and-games tradition, including a storied cycling club. [And an incredible beer list.] But the real twinkle in Cadieux’s venerable eye owes to featherbowling, a rare game with a squinty resemblance to horseshoes and bocce but really its own odd thing. Take aim with wooden “balls” that look like cheese wheels. Closest to the feather wins, obviously.
St. Petersburg Shuffle Board Club
St. Petersburg, FL
A game for cruise-ship retirees? Nah. All ages “push the biscuits” at the country's oldest shuffleboard center. Bring a cooler on Fridays to the “St. Pete Shuffle,” and play to a tropical breeze. The club, founded in 1929, helped standardize the game’s rules.
Top: Boston Public Library. Bottom: arrowmont.org
It began as a rural settlement school more than a century ago, and endures as a respected arts center in the shadow of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. More than 130 classes: learn to quilt, make a Windsor chair from a tree, or practice sculpture inspired by place.
The official pastime of shirtsleeve-wearing Italian gentlemen the world over has a thriving home in wine country, with eight lighted courts and fierce league competition. Rival winemakers often clash–with the drinks-and-snacks spreads you might imagine.
Folks first taught sculling here 50 years back; today, it’s a place to learn modern rowing techniques–quickly, in intense novice lessons of just a few hours–but also tap into the age-old pleasure of gliding across a pond. Rent a guideboat or a wherry, or browse used wooden craft and oars.
Left: Massachusetts Office Of Travel & Tourism. Right: Genthe, Arnold, 1869-1942
Hyannis to Nantucket
According to lore, three friends were drinking at Baxter’s in Hyannis when they decided to race to Nantucket to see whose boat was fastest. Later, lost in fog on Nantucket Sound, one sailor exclaimed, “Where the f*** are we?”–with the expletive later elided to the more family-friendly “Figawi.” Thus was born a beloved Memorial Day weekend tradition, kicking off the summer sailing season with camaraderie, good-natured competition, coveted red caps for participants and plenty of partying for sailors and landlubbers alike since 1972.
Night of Destruction
Jackson County Fair, IA
Listen. We are all for quiet time. Long walks on the beach, steam rising from the coffee mug on a frosty forest morning–all of it. But life is big. And sometimes, a night in July rolls around, and it’s simply time for [and we quote]: “The complete annihilation of School Buses, Boats, Appliances and pretty much anything you can put a motor in and crash it!” No state does county fairs quite like Iowa. That is for sure.
Rehoboth Beach, DE
This boardwalk diversion by the Atlantic started up back in 1939. The oldest of its 20 rides date to the ’40s. The family that runs it now took over in 1962. [The Faschnachts: is there a better name for thrill-ride operators?] It’s just one acre, but that’s about what fits in Delaware. No smoking in the Haunted Mansion, and no way you’re getting us on the SuperFlip 360. Okay, once.
Caledonia Forest and Stream Club
St. Johnsbury, VT
If ever an outdoors organization could inspire you to stand up and salute, this is one: since 1910, a force for conservation, community bonds, marksmanship skills, fishing and generally being in tune with the Northeast Kingdom’s woods. Organizers of the Wabanaki Run primitive biathlon [snowshoes, muzzle-loaders].
Clockwise: Susan Werkheiser. Library of Congress. Jeremy Thompson.
First, extra points for old-timey hyphens. This star attraction at Lakemount Park has ripped around its figure-eight track for 121 years, making it by most counts the world’s oldest operational roller coaster. Many rattles, clanks, twists and turns take intrepid passengers from the polished hardwood boarding platform and back again [promise].
U.S. Pond Hockey Championships
Lake Nokomis, MN
For a couple glorious–cold, but glorious–weeks, hockey returns to its primordial outdoor origins and teams of all levels face off to win coveted Golden Shovels and Silver Scoops. We’re slightly scared of the Rink Rat division [over 40, still going hard], but intrigued by the Bender division. [“If you bought skates before your first case of beer, you're not a Bender.”]
Uncover your own treasures, three hours from Vegas: a dollar a pound, on the honor system. Celebrate your finds over burgers at the Dinky Diner.
Acadia National Park, ME
A certain type of adventurer asks, “If there are not rungs and ladders, is it even a trail?” Just over a mile long, the Beehive nonetheless packs a reputation: a bracingly steep granite ascent to one of Acadia’s edge-of-the-Atlantic heights. Rudolf Ernst Brünnow–in his day, a scholar of Asian languages and head of the local trail committee–designed Beehive’s burly iron handholds in the early 1900s.
San Antonio, TX
Lush, tropical vegetation. Stylish, Art Deco-ish modern design vibes. Two courses, one plotted out in 1929, the other in ‘59. Not one wooden windmill, but this is classy mini-golf, see? This aptly named national treasure is on San Antonio’s historic site list.
Lahout’s Ski Shop
A rambling building at the edge of the White Mountains holds the nation’s oldest ski shop [by claim] and an epic family story [for certain]. After World War II, outdoorsy Joe Lahout turned a family sundries and mercantile business dating to the ’20s into a resource for a burgeoning snow culture. [Track down director Nick Martini’s 2015 short film on Joe: four minutes, well worth it.] Today, a source for primo “Live Free Or Die” swag.
American Legion Post 82
Young and old shoulder up to the bar at this East Nashville veteran’s club, where honky tonking happens on the regular. No shortage of only-in-Nashville moments pop up, like when Emmylou, Rodney Crowell and Vince Gill took the stage together, or when Hank Williams Jr. played a fish fry and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys backed him up.
New York, NY
In a better world, every city has a few places like this: a warren of craft and strategy, cozily cluttered, where players sip coffee and match wits daily. In this reality, even New York City just has one: the priceless Chess Forum, centerpiece of a thriving community of live play. All ages. Five bucks to play. Open til midnight–maybe later if the action’s hot.
This festival, now drawing a quarter-million people each summer, has humble roots: It began as a celebration of local potato farmers in the late 19th century. By 1922, it was officially called the Greeley Spud Rodeo. Today, the Greeley Stampede covers all the classics–bronc riding, team roping, stick horse rodeos for kids–over 12 rollicking days.
Ozark Folk Center
Mountain View, AR
Bask in the Ozark mountain sound at this state park, where players come to show their skills on fiddle, banjo, mandolin and dulcimer. Take a lesson on an ancient instrument (all levels welcome) during the annual Dulcimer Jamboree. Between April and October, dozens of artisans demo other craft and culture of this region, giving lessons, too, for ironwork, weaving, stained glass and more.
Brothers Robin and Bill Groff were feeling down on their luck in the early 1980s. Having lost their mining jobs as Moab’s uranium boom era petered out, they turned to bikes, suspecting that the terrain around Moab–particularly a new-ish route called the Slickrock Trail–might prove a draw. Rim Cyclery became the town’s first mountain bike shop, and it’s still got the small-town feel and sturdy expertise that friendly cyclists seek.
Library of Congress
You can’t go to the Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field or Old Comiskey. But you can see glorious Rickwood, a wooden masterpiece opened in 1910, two years before Fenway, the Majors’ oldest yard standing. Once home to the minor-league Barons and the Black Barons, one of the most successful Negro Leagues clubs, Rickwood hosts nostalgic visits and an eclectic line-up of games. Whimsical bush-leaguers Savannah Bananas packed the house in 2022.