Wizard! featuring Ann Margaret and Capt. Fantastic.
The buzz of a game arcade is simply irresistible! As soon as you enter Electromagnetic Pinball Museum and Restoration, you’re greeted with a friendly smile and offered a free tour. You’ll pass by machines that bling bling, bleep bloop, chime, cheer, and erupt with squealing tires and explosions. Emily Rose, Michael Pare, and Joe Paquin partnered to start this working pinball museum. “It’s classic and modern pinball in a relaxed setting. We have arcade and video games as well,” says Pare.
Work on the museum is being done literally every day. They’ve installed all new electricity, and there will be AC by next year. Rose says, “We’ve been open for about two and a half years, but we’ve been collecting for about a decade. Our machines were found on Craigslist and Facebook mostly, and we did a lot of work on them.” Pare adds, “They come from all over the place! Sometimes people donate the machines to us because we’re a nonprofit. We appreciate three in memoriam. We found two on the side of the road. One was found in a tent on Martha’s Vineyard!”
“Electromagnetic Pinball is the accumulation of several people that have come together and decided to forward the mission of pinball, which is to get people out there playing and get social,” says Pare. “I don’t think you’ll find a friendlier lot of people anywhere on the planet than the pinball community.”
Even if you’re playing solo, you’re in a safe and welcoming environment here. Whether you prefer fast action play with nonstop fun, or you like watching a video before the ball drops into play in between action, they’ve got your machine. Arcade favorites such as air hockey, skee ball, driving and shooting games, and classic Pac-Man keep folks coming back. Pare, who is here working every day and night, still hasn’t taken a paycheck, nor have his partners. “We are a 501 nonprofit foundation. Overnight success takes 10 years. We’ve come from 30 machines to 101 in 28 months.” Their hard work has truly paid off, so to speak. “People say, ‘Oh, that’s a lot of money!’ but I see years and years of our time,” says Rose. “There’s been such a good response, so it’s kind of, you get what you give, and we’ve been giving a lot. We’re really trying to give back.”
What else makes this place so attractive that repeat customers abound? “Pinball changes from game to game to game,” as Pare points out. “You are never going to have the same game twice, no matter how hard you try!” In all, there are now over 300 machines, most of which are working just fine. Updates are done daily to get the others in working order. Although each machine is worthy in its own right, there are certain favorite standouts. “The Star Trek machine has a unique sound card that no other Star Trek machine has,” says Pare. “Anyone can buy an aftermarket one, but it’s hard to find. What makes it unique is that it’s autographed by (the actors who portray) Kirk, Uhura, and Sulu. It’s also signed by Kevin O’Connor, who did the artwork for the pinball machine.” They recently acquired Bubble Magic, a Smart pad much like bubble wrap, only digital! Think of it as an anti-stressor as you hit the bubbles to make them disappear. Younger kids love it.
“We’ve got all sorts of pinball machines from classics like the 1950s wood rails right up to present day and everything in between,” says Paquin. Rose adds, “We started with the Addams Family about ten years ago and the collection has grown steadily ever since. It’s the one that started it all. It’s the one that got the hook in the mouth. Then we got an electromechanical next and it kind of all clicked. So we kept buying pinball. And then I guess a hobby turned into addiction, turned into a disease. You catch the pinball bug, and that’s it.”
“We just got back from Pintastic,” says Rose, which is an annual game room expo. “We were offered many things but bought one thing—a Rush limited edition pinball machine from 2022, only owned by one owner. We’re very lucky to have it. It’s in free play, which is like putting a pricey piece of art out for everyone to touch. That’s what we do. It’s one of the top-tier you can get. It’s an LE, very few made, Supercircuits edition. Most people don’t put them out.” The Rush machine features video of the iconic rock band performing as you do your thing. There are only one thousand of these Rush machines in the world.
My personal favorite is the Led Zeppelin machine, with all the familiar lights, bells, and whistles updated with the latest technology. “Steve Ritchie designed it,” explains Rose. “There are over one thousand in the works. They’re still making them.” For you rock and roll enthusiasts, there’s an impressive Aerosmith machine as well.
As for the Pintastic expo, they offer tournaments, bands, and over 300 machines, all open to the public. It’ll be coming up again in April in Marlborough, MA. “Magnificent Danger is a brass band that plays video game themes. They visit the shop often,” says Pare. Also, if you have caught the aforementioned pinball bug yourself, you can join the NE Pinball League. They meet every Tuesday at 7pm. It’s free for first timers, and you don’t have to just participate at this location to be in it. Visit nepl.org for more info on that.
Paquin, a former high school physics teacher, says, “I do everything Emily and Michael don’t. Chef, cook, and bottle washer. I make sure the vehicles are running. Michael and Emily are the little angels on my shoulders saying ‘buy this, buy that,’ and I figure out where the money comes from. I handle the logistics, the details.” He adds, “We get a lot of field trips here. We had two groups of 30 third-graders.” One can only imagine the extent of wear and tear with that many youngins pounding on the flippers. “We did a summer camp that was absolutely fabulous. Looking forward to doing that again next year,” says Paquin. “We had four different sessions and they were packed! Very popular. The kids got some history, some physics, mechanics and a lot of playtime and socializing.” They advertised the summer camp sessions a few months in advance, open to kids age 10–15. “We’re thinking of offering memberships, individual and family,” adds Paquin.
“There were a ton of homemade pinball machines built by high school kids somewhere in MA,” says Paquin of one large acquisition. “We’re going to be donating them soon. I’ve never seen prototypes looking so neat! We were just amazed with the programming, playfield, and aesthetics.” He goes on to explain, “Some are on loan. The students can visit their machine any time they want, and while they’re here, they can play anything they want.” Rose adds, “Many people keep their machines here. Our friend Lin keeps three of his here — the one-of-a-kind Haunted Cruise, Frozen, and The Magic Forest. He builds them by hand pretty much top to bottom. He made the cabinets, and designed the boards, which are called Linball.” Of course these machines can take a lot of abuse with so many people coming in to play. “The wear and tear can be quite consuming, sharing it and caring for it,” says Rose. It’s a labor of love for these partners though. “I’m a pinball fanatic first and foremost. It’s been my life. Everyone here has had their life saved by pinball. I’m the 90s pinhead. Joe is mostly 50s–60s, and Mike is mostly the 80s pinhead. We all have sets we love.”
The budding enterprise has won Best Pinball Museum by RI Monthly. That’s not to say there’s a ton of competition; it means they are impressive and doing great things for the state. They’ve also received a commendation from the RI State Legislature. Paquin says, “They like what we’re doing for education. It also helps tourism.”
It’s true, you can play all you want for just $10 all day, with no re-entry fee. “The $10 mostly goes into repair, keeping the lights on and expanding,” says Rose. “There is one tech in-house. Some gets outsourced. Group discounts are available, depending on the wear and tear factor.”
With over 300 machines to choose from, there’s virtually no waiting. Tuesdays are the best night to go if you really want to stretch out. The museum is even available for private parties with three room options. There is a smaller room called the Wood Room as it is all wooden. There’s also a larger party room, the Blue Room, which is 4,500 sq. ft. with another room within it, which is about 800 sq. ft. (Choose one or the other, unless you want both.)
Open 10am–9pm, Tue–Sun. Monday open on certain holidays only. Parking behind building. For more info, visit electromagneticpinballmuseum.com, @electromagneticpinball, or call (401) 743-8067.