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  • Writer's pictureElliot Riley

Intern Trip 2022: Musée Mécanique

Every day technology in entertainment advances and becomes more mainstream, and the media becomes more hellbent against it. Every second passing, new messages incurring wrath against video games and children's entertainment are spread. There are many reasons– beliefs in worsening eyesight, creation of bad attitudes, nostalgia for sports, and exposure to violence. Slander against games and technology in the hands of children is often given under the assumption that they kill social ability.

Interactive technology is social by nature and often made to be shared with others. This is exemplified by multiplayer settings, online groups dedicated to bonding over games, and a good old-fashioned game arcade.

Arcades are less prevalent today. Sure, they're still around– in pizza places, bowling alleys, and similar establishments– but those are all there as side attractions, not as the actual point of the visit.

This year, my fellow interns and I got to visit one of the closest things left to a traditional game arcade; Musée Mécanique. Musée Mécanique is a for-profit interactive mechanical museum owned and run by Dan Zelinsky. It's located at Pier 45 of San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, and the first museum, we, Monterey County Agricultural and Rural Life Museum high school interns, toured on our 2022 trip.

Edward Galland Zelinsky (1922-2004), Dan Zelinsky's late father, began this collection at age eleven. Beginning with the purchase of a Penny skill game, and going on to discover slot machines, devices, and games growing in size, value, and age. By the time his collection was famous, he was known to not sell but he had a willingness to trade products. A large number of trades were between him and George Whitney Sr., who was the source of many pianos, music boxes, and steam-powered motorcycle that have become well-loved, fame riddled attractions.

Today it is one of the world's largest privately owned collections. Orchestrions, coin-operated pianos, antique slot machines, puppet shows, animations, tests of strength, beauty, and fortunes line the walls and fill this space with wonder.

In its entirety, the collection has over 300 items, but only 200 are housed in a public location. Admittance is free and open daily, from 10 AM to 8 PM. With these facts in place, the museum receives more than 100,000 visitors a year.

While admittance is free, if you plan on enjoying yourself, you will need to bring as many quarters as you can get your hands on. All of the attractions require coin payment to use. As these items all have a touch of history and most have outlived several eras, food, drink, and private events are not allowed on the premises, and maintenance and restorations are regular.

The machines require constant maintenance, and several have gone through serious restorative measures. Keeping this in mind, there are strict policies against food, beverages, and any parties or events. The extra care certainly pays off, as all machines function perfectly– despite the variety in ages; as there are both modern devices and items collected from the 19th century housed here.

The modern era games were a welcome source of entertainment– the other interns and I engaged in foosball and air hockey, pinball machines and fortune tellers, and all kinds of arcade masterpieces I had previously only played on my Atari. When walking through entertainment history, you can't help but indulge in the familiar.

This, however, does not apply only to modern inventions. Laffing Sal, a 1930s carnival animatronic woman with uncannily human laughter, has many variants in different locations around the country. Before this visit, all of us interns had seen the one at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, it was much smaller and way less maintained. Despite reading her info card and studying the character's face, I had never actually witnessed or listened to the character in motion before San Francisco. She was certainly a shock to behold, being the first sight in the museum and hearing how her laughter echoed.

Sal was not the only thing we listened to or watched– we explored mechanical puppet shows, music-playing machines, and touch-based games. My personal favorite was the click-based boxing game, though I will admit to a bit of horrified delight at the recreation of the french guillotine and its startling execution.

Naturally, a group of teenagers unleashed in San Francisco took interest in games rating our attractiveness, kissing abilities, physical strength, sports abilities, and entirely unnecessary personal judgments.

I think the most daunting was the arm wrestling machine, and as I am sure Tyler agrees– we underestimated it.

Being able to explore interactive games and setups, and take a step into the development of this aspect of entertainment, was honestly magical. I do feel, however, that the experience could not have been a fraction as lovely without company as excited as myself. These types of machines were made with friendship and delight in numbers in mind, and it was nice to know that those intentions carry on successfully in the modern day.

"I'd really love to bring the interactiveness other museums have back to MCARLM, personal storytelling and humor played a big role in making these exhibits interesting to me, and I feel like kids would be more interested in local history if presented in a dynamic way."

-Elliot Riley

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