ST. LOUIS -- Bruce Pluckhahn says there's a little bit of bowling in everyone.
'Ever since the cavemen, we've been throwing things at each other or at something,' says Pluckhahn, curator of the National Bowling Hall of Fame and Museum. 'It's always been a game for everyone, a sport of the people, from the rich to just the average person.'
The Hall of Fame, 10 years in the planning, will open its doors today and officials expect the museum to draw 200,000 visitors a year. It will have on display everything from a 1739 tapestry depicting bowling and a collection of French bowling pins dating back more than 200 years, to actual bowling lanes and the latest in videodiscs where visitors can ask bowling greats questions and hear their replys.
The museum is a 50,000-square foot, three-level, $7.2 million structure sitting on a triangle of land across the street from Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis. Bowling greats Don Carter, Andy Varipapa and Bill Lillard are just a few of those expected to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Pluckhahn says more than nine million people a year roll a bowling ball at 10 pins in organized leagues throughout the country. More than 75 million people bowl once or twice a year.
'Those numbers are pretty impressive,' he says with a smile.
Making St. Louis the home of the Hall of Fame was no surprise to Pluckhahn, a former public relations man for the American Bowling Congress in Milwaukee. When the idea for the museum surfaced, Pluckhahn was made the project director.
Letters sent to various cities seeking takers drew 35 responses. A committee narrowed the list to eight, then to three -- Akron and Canton, Ohio, and St. Louis.
St. Louis won out by one vote, possibly because it is a city rich in bowling tradition not only in the quality of its professionals such as Earl Anthony, Don Carter, Nelson Burton Sr. and Jr. and Dick Weber. The Women's International Bowling Congress also was founded in the city.
As far as what to put in it, Pluckhahn took care of that.
'I've been involved in bowling for 30 years,' he says. 'I've done a lot of research and, you know, it's always interesting. I'm a great junk collector -- what some might call a pack rat.
'But what's going to surprise a lot of people is the socio-economic involvement of bowling with the history of people.'
Pluckhahn says the sport dates back to 5200 B.C. Wall drawings depicting bowling were found in a royal Egyptian tomb and a re-creation of that is in the museum.
Bowling was chronicled as a religious ceremony. Martin Luther was a bowler, as was Henry VIII. All are depicted in the museum.
Visitors also can see a display on pinboys, a behind-the-scenes look at a television bowling production, murals commemorating members of the Hall of Fame and the bowling ball Allie Brandt used to roll an 886 series, the highest scored recognized by the ABC.
There also is a section listing everyone who has bowled a sanctioned 300 game, and the Busch Theater, which will show a 17-minute film about the sport.
The Anheuser-Busch brewery donated $500,000 for the hall, and Coca-Cola gave $300,000. Bowling manufacturers Brunswick and AMF also added $100,000 each.
Pluckhahn says the most popular feature could be the four bowling lanes where visitors can roll a few frames. The vintage 1924 lanes are unusual because they are 55 boards wide. Modern lanes are 39 to 42 boards wide.
Visitors also will be able to bowl on the most modern lane made by AMF.
'I have a strange feeling the old ones are going to be more popular,' predicts Pluckhahn.
'Bowling is still a very popular sport,' he says, 'and there's so much competition for the entertainment dollar. But bowling has been so representative over the seasons.
'I think you could spend a lot of time in here.'