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Commentary: Bowling Hall of Fame seemed unused, lonely

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: November 5, 2008 - I have bowled in Switzerland. I have bowled on upstairs lanes. I have bowled in black light. I have bowled at Missouri's largest alley. I own my deceased grandmother's 35-year-old monogrammed ball complete with faux-leather carrying case. I once scored a 246 at the age of 18. I grew up in a town with more bowling alleys than movie theaters, coffee shops and KFC's.

And yet, still, I am not one much for bowling.

But once news broke that St. Louis' International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame was moving to the world-renowned Arlington, Texas, my interest was suddenly piqued.

I visited the museum for the first time on the second to last Sunday of its existence in St. Louis. The Rams were at home and Neil Diamond was playing a concert at Scottrade that night. But, as usual, downtown was dead, save for the six families that wandered the three-story building along with me. I pressed the buttons that played video and audio clips, I read each board of information, and looked at the picture of each hall-of-famer, their brassy faces mounted proudly on wooden plaques.

I learned that bowling has a 5,000-year history and was once banned as late as the 1840s in Connecticut. I learned that the Women's International Bowling Congress began in St. Louis and that there was once a show called "Celebrity Bowling." I learned that human pinsetters were usually rebellious children. I read that St. Charles is home to the only existing alley on which you can play Cocked Hat, a form of bowling that uses three pins rather than 10.

Although the IBMHF has been open since June of 1984, it didn't feel quite broken in. In fact, it looked almost unused. Stale, even. And eerily quiet.

For the two hours I was there, I may have seen 15 people, most of them families, and most of them apparent fans of bowling; people who knew statistics and names and trophy titles and tales of medieval bowling long before their arrival to the museum. I didn't suppose anything had been modified in the 24 years it's been around; but maybe that's because nothing in the bowling world has changed since the mid-'80s.

I thought about my grandma and how much she liked to bowl. I thought of the 1996 release of "Kingpin" and the sport's successive popularity. I thought about Joe Edwards and the vogue ideas he's bestowed on St. Louis with regard to the activity. And, yet, according to the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, the place only received an average 50,000 tourists a year. That number exceeds average single-game attendance at Busch by a mere 3,000. Perhaps the game is dying. But maybe (hopefully) Arlington, Texas, can make up for lost time.

Upon paying my $7.50 entrance fee into the museum, I was given a card that granted me four frames of bowling in the basement lanes (which will not be moved to Arlington). After watching an informative 8-minute film reviewing the world's variations of the sport, I paid $1 to extend my frames to a full game and picked out a worn-in 10-pounder.

Along with my shoes (size 8) the attendant gave me a button that read, "I Bowled a Game at the Hall of Fame." I smiled and promptly placed it on my backpack.

I managed a score of 127.

Sarah Truckey is a freelance writer.