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One Cent Wonders at the Spring Lake Arcade

by John Kiernan

Long before the flashy video arcade burst into existence, its predecessor, the penny arcade, was offering cheap thrills at a fraction of the cost.  It may be a dying breed, but there are stragglers still hanging on at places like Spring Lake Arcade in Burrillville. Located right on the beach, the arcade offers a cool escape after a day of swimming and sunbathing. The arcade has been around since 1930, considered by some to be the oldest penny arcade in America.

Forget about your modern worries for a while and head on over to where a couple dollars in change can keep you entertained for the afternoon. Whether you’ve got a tight budget or are rolling in quarters, there’s a game there for everyone.

For the Penny Pinchers

So you’ve only got pennies? No worries, it isn’t called a penny arcade for nothing.

Those not in the know would be shocked to learn that there are a number of peep shows at the Spring Lake Arcade. But far from being an activity for lecherous adults, a “peep show” at a penny arcade was originally nothing more than an exhibition of harmless pictures viewed through a small hole. Some of the viewing machines (as they’re alternatively called) allow you to peer into a battered box and see illuminated images for only a penny. Although it’s actually a nickel “The House of Freaks” is one of the stranger machines. Filled with pictures of folks like the Dog-Faced Man and the Sponge Man, it may not be politically correct, but it definitely isn’t perverted.

If peep shows aren’t your thing, skip it and head over to the love testers. Discover what your romantic nature is, although you should be prepared for the consequences of that knowledge. Unfortunately, my sister and her boyfriend were judged “Loveless” and “A Good Liar” respectively.

Should you feel the need to punish your SO for their romantic flaws, why not give them a little shock? The shock machine offers to give you a jolt that should do the trick. Drop in a penny and grasp the metal knob. The machine hums ominously and delivers the mildest of tingling sensations that may or may not just be your imagination.

For the Nickel n’ Dimers

A step above pennies, nickels and dimes can get you a bit more than pictures and zaps.

A tragic scene that every child has experienced:  A metal claw descends, wide open, and drops down on its plush prey. With the grip strength of an infant, the claw closes and rises as the target slips from its clumsy grasp. But this is not the case with Spring Lake’s Merchantman Crane. The game is chock-full of essentials like Tootsie rolls and Dum Dum lollipops and nearly every try yields at least one or two pieces of candy. Plus, for only 10 cents, it’s a steal.

Now that you’re fueled with candy, it’s time to test your strength! There are a couple options to choose from, although if you’re feeling extravagant you can try both for a total of twenty cents. My personal favorite is the Ball Lift Grip Strength Tester (I like to show off, I admit it).  A powerful squeeze of the handle lifts a heavy iron ball to various levels, each earning you a different title. My feeble sister was only able to get to “Flapper” (which is one level below “Woman”) while I somehow managed to get “Champion” and actually temporarily broke the machine in the process (what a brute).

Once the testosterone is pumping from all those feats of strength, check out the shooting galleries.  Take aim at ducks, cats and ghoulish clowns alike and knock them down with a satisfying ping. Leave no one standing and wrack up as many points as you can.

For the High Rollers

Drop a couple of quarters and experience a higher class of games.

Crossy Road–you’ve played it on your phone but now it’s time to move to the big screen. Pilot your jumpy chicken across busy roads, train tracks and rapid rivers. Challenge a friend if you’re feeling competitive and see who can out hop the other without dying violently.

Maybe you took a break from the arcade for a bit to chow down on a corn dog at the snack stand. Now is the time to dance off those calories! Head over to the Dance Dance Revolution and rhythmically leap around to your heart’s content. If you feel lonely on the dance floor, grab a partner and force them to shuffle awkwardly with you to pulsing Japanese renditions of golden oldies.

After a memorable day of waterside fun and games, you’ll want to take a minute at the photo booth to get a sepia-toned strip of pictures to remember the day by. It may seem lavish to spend a dollar, but it’s well worth the memento.

If you’d like to visit, Spring Lake Beach and Arcade are located at 50 Old Hillside Drive in Glendale RI.

The entrance fee is $2.50 for Burrillville residents and $5.00 for non-residents. And don’t forget your change!


3 thoughts on “One Cent Wonders at the Spring Lake Arcade
  1. Jeanne

    I grew up going to Spring Lake. I loved the huge metal slide and of course the arcade. It was so much fun going in and playing all the old games. Last year I took my family and it was the first time in many years that I have been. It was so nostalgic going into that arcade and playing those same games again. I’m so happy they have survived all these years. My kids had so much fun and want to go back.

  2. Fran Candelmo Dolan

    I spent summers here. Met my first love. My parents were the Cushmens Bakery delivery people at Spring Lake. I love the “rocks” where friends would meet. I love the Gayhans and had a best friend Ann Marie Gay. My sister dated Rene Gay for some time. Wonderful memories. Loved the beach, diving off the dock, the arcade and what was the place to eat on the beach….???? Mehan?

    1. Lucy Nielsen

      I lived next door to Dr. Guay…from 1947 to 1963…Lucille (Lucy) Chauvin… The house on the corner that had a tree growing through the front porch….sat on the rocks with the kids at the bus stop!


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