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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Pinball Blizzard: 1954

Pinball Blizzard: 1954

Phenix City, Alabama, circa 1954. "Russell County building and pinball machines." Evidently the aftermath of a vice cleanup in a town known for its corruption. 4x5 acetate negative from the News Archive. View full size.

On Shorpy:
Today's Top 5

An appropriate sensational subtitle -

Pinball Penitentiary !

Interesting history

Interesting story here with close up of the pinball machines

Confiscated cars?

I see several vehicles also among the gaming equipment, all older models dating from the 1930s and 1940s. Crime may sometimes pay, but apparently not too well.

Army Towns

As Army towns go, I think Phenix City is the standard by which all others were judged. However, Leesville, Louisiana, home of Fort Polk, could be a runner-up as well. One account describing the place shortly after the post was opened in 1941 reads as follows:

"Leesville...was notorious to the troops for several things...its filth, vice and avarice. A small, dying lumber town in 1940, Leesville skyrocketed to opulence and sloth as the thousands of troops poured in. Other communities in the area conducted themselves with some semblance of restraint and decency. Officials and merchants of Leesville operated on one rule: Get it fast and big."

I suppose the same could be said for any small town in the early 40s that suddenly woke up to a huge army camp in its backyard...coming out of the Depression, the townspeople had no money, and the soldiers did, and many of the locals took it upon themselves to separate the soldiers and their money, as quickly as possible, by whatever means necessary.

Into the Chattahoochee

When they finally cleaned up Phenix City, they bulldozed many of the gambling houses into the Chattahoochee River. Every now and then a fisherman still pulls a slot machine out of the river bed.

Sorry to go all architectural

Those are the largest jalousie windows I've ever seen.

A different kind of pinball

These probably were gambling pinball machines, not today's fun arcade games. This type of gambling via pinball machine was somewhat condoned in Tennessee through the 1970's although the business hosting the machine wouldn't pay out a win if the wrong people were around. The wrong people usually meant a known police officer or an officer in uniform.

I cannot vouch for Alabama but they were commonplace in establishments throughout the mid-South in the 1960s and '70s in bars, VFW halls, and restaurants and included switches to move columns or rows to better line up the spent balls. The player tried to line up according to the wins listed on the table or special lines on the back glass. Winning combinations, when payouts were possible, would usually garner ten to twenty dollars for five in a row or fifty dollars for a more complex pattern.

I first played this type of machine as a young boy in Springfield, Tennessee in a diner. I had no idea what the machine was doing and since I was under 18 I couldn't be paid or any wins. Two quarters into the play I determined the pinball game wasn't any fun and I returned to the family at the table. After Tennessee finally banned the games and raided establishments to eliminate them completely they were replaced in those same establishments with more sophisticated and smaller video poker machines.

[Contemporary accounts mention both "pinball with payoff" and the standard arcade-style game. Below, excerpts from "The Tragedy and the Triumph of Phenix City, Alabama", an attorney general's report and a list of Phenix City establishments off limits to soldiers at Fort Benning. - Dave]

The Phenix City Story

Shot on location there.


It appears as though the top of the fence is electrified, based on the white tips on the support brackets, which suggest ceramic insulators.

Concertina Wire?

Good gawd -- what else were they keeping from the public there?

Plutonium, gold bars, crates of Thomson machine guns?
For a small town public works building, a bit overkill?

[Keeping people out is not the reason for the fence. - Dave]

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