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Bowling Hall of Fame packs up its pins

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: November 3, 2008 - Ray Bluth and his "little black book" are parting company.

John Archibald's deathless prose will rest in peace at a new location.

And St. Louis, which some considered the center of the bowling universe, is about to become just another ten-pin outpost in the galaxy of alleys.

All this upheaval begins Nov. 8 when the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame, a fixture in downtown St. Louis since 1984, closes its doors to the public for the last time in the Gateway City. The facility then will begin packing its treasure trove of historic bowling shirts, balls, pins and other memorabilia for a move to a new address in Arlington, Texas.

Never one of the city's top-drawing tourist attractions, the museum announced in June that it had accepted an offer to share a building with two other bowling organizations in the Dallas suburb.

Bluth and Archibald are just two of more than a dozen current or former St. Louisans who are represented in one of the museum's three major halls of fame: Professional Bowlers Association, American Bowling Congress and Women's International Bowling Congress, which was founded in St. Louis in 1916. (The latter two have since merged to become the United States Bowling Congress.)

Other names that once allowed St. Louis to boast of being king of kegling include Dick and Pete Weber, Nelson Burton Sr. and Jr., Don Carter, Tom Hennessey, Dennis Sweeney and Cone Hermann.

"It's a little disappointing to see it go," said Bluth, 80, a member of the famed Budweiser bowling team of the 1950s and member of the ABC Hall of Fame. "It was here for so many years, and it was particularly fitting for it to come here. But it never drew well. I imagine it will do better attracting people in Texas."

Bluth, along with Weber, Carter, Hennessey and Pat Patterson formed the Budweiser team that in 1958 rolled a legendary 3858 score that stood as an ABC record for more than 30 years. That event is chronicled in the museum. But Bluth probably is noted as much for another exhibit, his "little black book." An artifact of bowling's barnstorming days, the book features Bluth's detailed notes on lane conditions and bowling alleys all across the United States. The book goes to Texas; Bluth stays.

"I still have some notes," Bluth insists, then quickly dismisses their value now.

"The game has changed, the balls, the lanes, the big hooks that bowlers throw," Bluth said. "You couldn't do that in the old days. Now, the pins don't have a chance."

Archibald, a former St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports writer, was elected to both the ABC and PBA halls of fame for his coverage of the sport. He wrote many of the biographical sketches that accompany plaques and pictures of the hall of fame members.

"I was told my words would be here a long time after I'm dead," Archibald, 83, joked. "Now they're tearing it all down and taking it to Texas. So much for posterity."

In retrospect, Archibald believes the first sign of the end for the St. Louis museum came a few years ago when officials decided to scale back a large exhibit of colorful and humorous bowling shirts, which to some bowlers are like feathers to a peacock.

"They never should have taken down the old bowling shirts," Archibald recalled. "They must have had 100 shirts from all over the country. They were so typical of what bowling is all about.

"My favorite was one from a team sponsored by a Cleveland undertaker. It had an arm gripping a bowling ball hanging out of a coffin."

Jerry Baltz, executive director of the museum, isn't sure whether local bowling enthusiasts will storm the door for one last look.

"It's hard to predict," he said. "We've had an uptick in attendance the last few weeks. But this is the offseason for tourists."

Bluth and Archibald will be dropping by. One more time for old time's sake.

Ray Jordan is a freelance journalist and a bowler.

The basics

The International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame

  • Where: 111 Stadium Plaza Drive, across from Busch Stadium
  • When: Thursday, Friday, Saturday (Nov. 6-8). 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • How much: $7.50 for adults, $7 for seniors, $6 for  under 16.
  • More info: 314-231-6340; www.bowlingmuseum.com

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