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Spring Break: Musee Mecanique

March 15, 2010

While in San Francisco this past week I quite literally stumbled into the Musee Mecanique that is currently housed on Pier 45 in the “Fisherman’s Wharf” area of the Bay. The coolest part about this collection of more than 300 animations, music boxes, and slot machine games is that all the pieces are still working. Collector and owner Edward Galland Zelinksy started collecting arcade games, coin-operated toys and musical machines when he was 11.

The warehouse is free to the public but dollars quickly changed to quarters to be spent when I walked in with my friends. Original “fortune-teller” dolls (like in the movie “BIG”) kinda weirded me out, but they were cool compared to the animatronic man holding a baby with a squeamish face. We put in $.25 hoping for a laugh but it just creepily rocked back and fourth while a whiney cry squealed from the baby’s mouth. Amazing what people paid for back in the day…although some of the inane repetitive gags I find online are just as simplistic.

Our favorites were the original foozeball displays (which needed some adjustments from the all-knowing repairman) and intricate music machines. Every piece had the worn gleam of lost treasure. While the metal decals and occasional flashing lights were effective attention-grabbers, most of the working pieces were really quite basic, but bring in a decent revenue nonetheless. There were people playing (and paying) every time we went back, from young kids to teenagers and grandparents. What was more impressive than the actual items was the entirety of the collection itself, which includes international pieces in addition to the exhibitions specifically related to San Fran cultural history and pastimes.

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