A Duckpin Mystery

October 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

I recently had the privilege of speaking at a dinner honoring volunteers who are currently serviacquisitionduck pin bowlingng at the Dana-Thomas
House. Many old friends greeted me and several reminded me that I have not added to this blog recently. I realized that although I have neglected this project, Susan continues to be a central part of my life. I have prepared power point presentations this fall for 3 different groups. Two of the presentations are directly related to Susan, and the one I presented to the volunteers recounted stories about those who collected artifacts for the house over the years.

One of the stories I shared in that presentation was the 1990’s odyssey of the late Ed Schultz and Mary Ann Langston as they sought 1900 era duckpins and balls for the renovated duckpin alley in the Dana-Thomas House. During that quest, Mary Ann uncovered a mystery that remains to be solved.

Mary Ann compiled a brief history of duckpin bowling from a 1969 publication entitled The Book of Duckpin Bowling by Henry Fankhauser and Frank Micalizzi. Here is her summary of events in the early history of the game:

John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson, members of the original Baltimore Orioles minor league club, owned Diamond Alleys, a bowling alley in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1900 Frank VanSant, manager of Diamond Alleys, arranged with wood-turner John Dettmar to take a set of old battered and headless tenpins and make them over into “little pins.” When avid duck hunters Robinson and McGraw saw the little pins fly, they remarked that the pins looked like a flock of flying ducks. Bill Clark, a sportswriter for the Baltimore Morning Sun, wrote an article on the new game and called them duckpins. The name stuck. In 1901 and 1902, duckpin bowling occurred only in the summer in Baltimore. In 1903 several duckpin leagues were organized in Baltimore for the winter season. In 1904 the game spread to Washington, D.C., and leagues were organized.

The question that Mary Ann poses is: Since the game was just evolving in Baltimore at the time Frank Lloyd Wright was designing the house in Springfield, how did the Chicago architect know about it? Mary Ann and I would welcome any facts or theories that might shed some light on this mystery.

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