It is generally accepted that duckpin bowling originated in Baltimore in 1900. There are references to it as far back as 1892 in the Boston Globe, claiming the sport to be of New England birth. Personally, I prefer the Maryland version, attributing it to the efforts of John McGraw the famous New York “Baseball” Giants Hall of Fame manager and Wilbert Robinson, the Hall of Fame catcher who played for two Baltimore Orioles teams; from 1890 – 1899 (the National League team that folded after 1899), and the 1901-02 Orioles of the American League, who moved to New York City in 1903 to become the Yankees. That’s right, those Yankees.

Growing up in Maryland with duckpins was terrific. During my formative years (the 60s) the sport was in its heyday. My best friend’s dad coached our team and Saturdays were anxiously anticipated. I couldn’t wait to get to the lanes for the bowling (but really for the French fries). Bowling Alley fries were the best. That was when they cooked them in real fat, not this sissy trans-fat-less stuff we use today. Grease, salt and ketchup . . . . mmmmm, the best. We were active kids, not slothy adults, so the cholesterol didn’t clog our arteries. In my adult years I bowled with a fellow who drenched his French fries in mustard. If we wanted to snatch a fry or two while he was on the lane bowling, we had to eat them with the yellow stuff. I guess his intent was to thwart our thievery of his snack. It worked. Or maybe he just liked them with mustard. On our team, he was the only one.

During the 1960s there were Fair Lanes alleys all over Maryland, and several independent lanes, as well. The sport was going strong. I bowled on leagues in Suitland, Forestville (Parkland), Queenstown, Hyattsville (Prince George’s Plaza), Marlow Heights, Catonsville (Westview), Laurel (with mustard guy), Silver Spring (White Oak), Riverdale (Rinaldi), Wheaton (Glenmont), College Park, and probably a couple of places I’ve forgotten.

The good thing about duckpin bowling is anybody can do it. The balls are small, weighing from 2 to a maximum of 3.75 lbs. But don’t get the impression it is easier than ten pins, because it’s not. You can throw the ball right down the middle and “chop” for just two pins. No one has ever bowled a perfect 300 game in duckpins, but in ten pins it is a frequent occurrence. Many ten pin bowlers think they’re “tough guys” because they can roll the heavy ball down the lanes. They ain’t so tough when ending up with two pins for a whole frame because the first ball chopped, and the next two were rolled through the hole. I guess they really don’t appreciate the challenge and precision necessary to be a good duck pinner, so they make fun of it.

With the game disappearing, there won’t be as many opportunities to test their skill as in the past. The executive director of the National Duckpin Bowling Congress said in 2016 that there were 41 congress-certified duckpin bowling alleys, down from nearly 450 in 1963. The biggest factor in the decline was the demise in 1973 of the only company manufacturing automatic pinsetters (one source says it was 1969).

Ken Sherman invented the automatic pinsetter for duckpins in 1954, but refused to sell the rights to Brunswick because he didn’t want to leave New England. Shortly thereafter, AMF developed a pinsetter for ten pins, and eventually the device became the preferred equipment due to their willingness to expand and Sherman’s desire to stay at home. His company didn’t survive, and today Fair Lanes establishments are named AMF.

After enlisting in the Air Force in 1969, I came back to Maryland in 1973, but didn’t join a league until 1980. Then I bowled for a few more years and stopped in 1987. I still had the itch, so in 1992 I organized a tournament for my employer, which included 40 teams, with 5 bowlers each from companies with whom we did business. Two hundred people participated during the middle of February to have a grand time of socializing and duckpin bowling. It was required that each team have at least two females, so those participating would have to allow the clerical employees (peasants) to take the afternoon off to bowl. Otherwise, they would just send the males, who usually golfed and found other ways to waste their afternoons while the peons did the work.

After five tournaments I left the company, but the event survives to this day. We gave trophies for 1st, 2nd, 3rd and Last Place finishers. That’s all fine and dandy, but my preferred awards were for Best Team Name and Best Bowling Attire. My favorite team name and attire (designed by my son) is in the picture to the left.

Many of you reading this participated in one or more of those tournaments. Most of the pictures from the 1996 Awards Ceremony are posted in the sidebar link “5th Annual CIC Tournament Pictures,” which is under the “Duckpin Bowling” category. Take a peek and you may find yourself or someone you know. Don’t be alarmed by how much older and fatter you look today. It’s always fun to see what used to be.

If you have not bowled duckpins in the past (or even if you have), find an alley and have a good time. Take the kids. Most centers will put down gutter bumpers, so the ball stays on the lane, and the child feels like a star. Spend a few minutes clicking on the links (particularly the videos) in the sidebar under “About Duckpin Bowling.” You might want to check out Robin’s Web, a site devoted to the sport.

It won’t be long before duckpins are completely gone. The equipment can’t last forever.

Roll one for the Gipper.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

13 thoughts on “Maryland’s Dying Sport . . . On a Morphine Drip

  1. I frequented the Marlow Heights Fairlanes bowling alley from 1967 until the end of 1973. Though I wasn’t there for the bowling, I still enjoyed hanging out to play pin ball (the old kind, 5 balls for a quarter), and having a steak & cheese, hot french fries, and cherry coke (coke with the cherry syrup added in by the soda jerk). That bowling alley is still open.


  2. I caught candle pins on TV a couple of weekends ago. Google is your friend.

    I’d never heard of either one, though I used to 10-pin on a regular basis.

    Don’t get a lot of candle or duck pin bowling in California.


  3. I bowled every Saturday morning while a member of the Forestville Boys Club. We bowled in Suitland and I can remember walking down that long flight of stairs to the allies where you quickly stared hearing the clanging and busting of pins. I still have the many patches I won for “7-10 split” “three strikes in a row” “the 300 club” and so on. Wish I still had that cool shirt! Thanks for bringing back some neat memories of those times!


  4. Yea gads…I am the worst bowler! My balls go all over the place (thank goodness I am not a man…I can say that!)

    Plus, I have never liked the idea of wearing shoes after someone else. YUCK…

    I do know that now I can get cocktails there…so…I might try it again.

    But, I have never been able to do the math with bowling.

    If I ever come Baltimore way…I will check out the DuckPin.

    See ‘ya in the funny papers,
    ~The Baby Boomer Queen~


  5. If they had Real Duck Bowling it might get me interested. . . .

    Seriously, would I really roll a gynormous ball at duckies??? No, but it would be a lot more entertaining – ya gotta figure after the first ball the ducks would get a clue and start hauling tail (get it – tail?) all over the bowling alley, then people would be pitching balls all over the place, mayhem would ensue and all of a sudden bowling is fun again!

    Yeah, ok, I like hockey too and I used to be quite fond of roller derby.


  6. I used to bowl at the Duck pin lanes in Suitland, then go next door and race Go-Carts. In fact I took my daughter bowling there when she was about twelve. The Suiland Bowl is still open today.


  7. I bowl in the Saturday Night Fever League at the Glen Burnie Bowling Center. What a negative article. I believe there will be duckpin bowling alleys in the Baltimore area for the next 50 years at least.


  8. Starting sometime in elementary school, ending before entering 10th grade, me
    and my pals bowled every Saturday morning in Suitland. This was during
    the 60s. Mom would drop us off early in the morning, and we’d have three games, cokes, and french fries to look forward to. Afterwards, the same group of kids, and others, would meet at the end zone at McManara(sp?) High School to play touch football for several hours. Those were happy days indeed. About 10 years ago, maybe more, as a lark, we dropped by the lanes and were surprised to see the place was still opened and in great shape. For a few years, the return visit became
    a year-end holiday tradition.


  9. I really miss duckpins…

    My wife, Lorelei Ames won a B tournament…

    I came in third in a B tournement.

    I have bowled 2 202 games (but my best average was 119…)

    I have bowled in a lot of houses in Ct that no longer exist.

    My son, Fred Ames, is better then me but he dosen’t bowl now…

    Swede Lavers was a friend of me and my son…

    Getting too old…

    I remember watching duckpins on TV in the 60s…

    I was taught to bowl by Andy Varipapa, but that is another story…

    Such is life, I miss duckpins…


  10. Marie and henry kaufmann know Kathy Boswell. She bowled in Norfolk Virginia in the 80’s and 90’s. Now she has moved to Connecticut (so i have been told). She was one of my best friends in Norfolk, Va. If anyone knows her whereabouts contact my email at


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