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Pinball machine museum going full tilt in Pawtucket

On the Rhode Island Report podcast, the Electromagnetic Pinball Museum co-founders talk about the history, science, and design of pinball machines — and rocking out while playing the Rush machine

Pinball machines bounce back in Pawtucket
WATCH: Edward Fitzpatrick, reporter and host of the ‘Rhode Island Report’ podcast, explains how the museum goes way beyond gaming.

PAWTUCKET, R.I. — It all started, Michael Pare said, when he bought an Addams Family pinball machine for the apartment he shared with friends.

“An Addams Family has been in every pizza parlor since 1992,” Pare said. “It’s the second most popular machine [of] all time and it’s the number one best seller, so I had to pick it up. It was just calling me.”

But soon, he and his friends were bringing home more pinball machines.

“And before you know it, this hobby had gone completely off the rails,” Pare said. “We had no more places for friends to sit. We had Thanksgiving dinner, served on a pinball machine called the Black Hole because it was the widest thing in the house, and it was the only place that the four of us could stand around to eat.”

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Eventually, that passion turned into the Electromagnetic Museum and Restoration, in Pawtucket. And on this week’s Rhode Island Report podcast, co-founders Pare, Emily Rose, and Joe Paquin provided a tour, explaining that they have filled an old warehouse with 105 pinball machines, plus other arcade games, in less than three years. They also explained how their nonprofit is educating people about the history, science, and design of pinball machines.

The founders of the Electromagnetic Pinball Museum, from left to right, are Michael Pare, Emily Rose, and Joe Paquin.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Their collection includes wooden machines, dating back to 1947, that come with metal cigarette holders. “Because back in the ‘50s, everybody had a mixed drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other,” Paquin said. “So you put your cigarette down here, hopefully and play some pinball.”

A 1947 pinball machine, next to the Coke machine, is among the wooden older models found at the Electromagnetic Pinball Museum and Restoration in Pawtucket, R.I.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

And the collection includes new machines, such as one that plays full-length songs by the Canadian rock band Rush. “It’s a limited edition,” Pare said. “To have this out on the floor, you’ve got to be somewhat crazy.”

Players can plug headphones right into the machine and rock out to Geddy Lee. “You can turn it up until your ears bleed,” he said. “And I suggest you do.”

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Visitors to the museum can play all day for $10. While they could probably charge twice as much, Rose said they’re not in it to make money — they’re more interested in spreading the love of pinball.

A detail of one of the pinball machines at the Electromagnetic Pinball Museum and Restoration in Pawtucket.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

“They’re games, they’re fun, they’re meant to be played,” Rose said. “And you can’t get good at pinball if you’re pumping in dollars, pumping in money, pumping in quarters.”

She said a large group of people living in group homes came in recently.

“At the end of the day, we were all like looking at each other,” Rose said. “We were tired because it was unexpected, and we usually plan for staff. But we looked at each other and we were like, ‘This is why we do it.’ Just to see the reactions on their face.”

To get the latest episode each week, follow Rhode Island Report podcast on Apple Podcasts and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him @FitzProv.