“I’d whip that ‘cannonball’ down the lane and watch the pins explode like they were thunderstruck. It was noisy and it was fast”
Unless you lived in or visited the New England region, then you probably haven’t experienced ‘candlepin bowling’. It was game for all ages to enjoy, even a young, skinny kid like me could have fun with bowling down candlepins, and I did, lots of it.
The game was unique to the northeast region and into Canada. A bowler had three chances to knock down ten tall, tapered wooden ‘pins’ with a four or five inch ball that you cradled in the palm of your hand, then rocketed it down the oiled hardwood. The knocked down pins, deadwood they were called, were left where they lay to be used to deflect and knock down other standing pins on the second and third roll, before a new group of pins was reset.
New England ingenuity has given much to the world that improved the quality of life. or just made it more fun. From earmuffs* to snow shovels*, ballpoint pens* to disposable razors*, basketball* to wooden golf tees*, and the indispensable microwave oven*, to name a few. Yankee know-how also brought us this game of ‘candlepin bowling’. While other inventions spread worldwide, candlepin bowling’s popularity was never too far beyond the border of these six northeast states.
The balls were solid, no holes. Youngsters didn’t need big muscles to lift them but strength certainly helped propel them down the lane. The pins were fifteen inches tall, or so, and symmetrical. The good bowlers could whip that sphere down the lane with a ferocity that would make your head spin, and the pins would scatter every which way. Strikes were rare and the recreational bowler generally scored under a hundred for a game, ten frames, but the better bowlers were above a hundred.
There may be a few candlepin ‘houses’ left, but as Ten Pin’ bowling took hold in New England, the ‘small’ game began to fade. It was a bigger thrill to get more strikes, more spares and more scoring with the bigger ball and fatter pins and more bowlers flocked to the new game.
While driving through a Massachusetts town a few years ago, I passed a candlepin bowling house. Instantly, it was the late fifties, early sixties and I could hear the balls whizzing and the candlepins ‘flying’ . I should have stopped to roll a game, but I had a schedule to meet. Nevertheless, the moment recalled for me wonderful memories of bowling the small ball and tall pins in my home town of Worcester, the birthplace of candlepin bowling**.
Like the giant brick mills that lined the New England waterways, candlepin bowling faded into obscurity except for a few die-hard centers. Nowadays, it’s part of a New Englander’s nostalgia.
The circus is gone. Baseball, arguably, is no longer the National Pastime and fewer folks attend church on Sunday. Change happens…
I should have stopped…
* New England Today, Living – Yankee Magazine Jan 22, 2018
*** revised 2/8/18