Notable bowling lanes, museums, history

At the corner of West Lincoln and South 20th streets are two Milwaukee landmarks, one sprawling and dignified, the other tiny and irreverent. Both attest to Wisconsin’s identity.

Forest Home Cemetery is the resting place of the sausage maker Usinger and beer brewer Pabst, actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontane, a handful of governors, numerous other politicians and industrialists.

It is 200 acres and on the National Register of Historic Places. The first body was buried there in 1850.

Across the street, at 2042 W. Lincoln Ave., is Holler House. From its ceiling hang skimpy bras and dusty boxer shorts, many autographed by their former owners. There is a box of hats for customers to wear while they sit at a worn but stately wooden and mirrored bar.

“We have fun here,” says Marcy Skowronski, who has run the place for 50 years. Her inlaws built it.

The outside looks like a home, and a part of it is. It also is a dying breed of neighborhood bar, and in the basement is a bowling alley – one of the two oldest that are sanctioned in the nation. The first pins flew in 1910.

League play on the two-lane alley is over for the season, and it was leisurely play. That’s because pins are set up by hand; Marcy says she bribes her grandson, or other kids down the block, to do the work.

Although the season is over, bowling ball bags remain stacked on wall shelves, next to a few trophies.

And the underwear? First-time women visitors are encouraged to leave a little something behind. What about the guys? “They just watch,” says Marcy, although a few – including seminary students, she says – have made their own donations.

It’s a place typically frequented by those in their 20s to 40s, although “the old people get foolish, too.” For more about Holler House, or to arrange to bowl there, call (414) 264-4440.

“Call a couple of days ahead of time, so we can find a pin setter,” says Marcy.

Want to explore across the street? There are maps for self-guided tours of the cemetery; go to www.foresthomecemetery.com or call (414) 645-2632.

It was a recent trip to St. Louis that brought me, in a round-about way, to Holler House in Milwaukee. While rabid Cardinals’ fans hooted to welcome the return of Mark McGwire at Busch Stadium (to throw out the first pitch, not come out of retirement), I had the adjacent International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame to myself.

This is the attraction that Phil LaPorte of the Wisconsin State Bowling Association, and others, tried so hard to bring to Milwaukee about 20 years ago. He notes that we have more bowlers per capita than any other state.

“That would have looked nice around Miller Park, or even in Madison,” LaPorte says, of the museum. “But we didn’t have a special place for it, back then.”

It is a tremendous tribute that spells out the worldwide interest in bowling, and its long history. Ancient Romans may have bowled. Bowling balls have been made of wood, marble, rubber. It is a sport that has been banned, and one that’s been considered a religious ritual.

Be it called boccie, skittles, loggats, kayles or bowling, the basic premise and enthusiasm have been constant.

Visitors can bowl four free frames on the museum’s lanes. The nation’s great bowlers are honored through plaques, other exhibits and a computer database that is accessible from kiosks.

For more about the St. Louis museum, go to www.bowlingmuseum.com or call (314) 231-6340. Admission also includes the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame, which is a nice tribute all on its own.

The oldest place to bowl in St. Louis also is the oldest that is west of the Mississippi River. Saratoga Lanes has eight lanes and is on the second floor of a modest building that is near both trendy restaurants and vacant warehouse/retail space.

The place opened in 1916 and remains a popular hub for families as well as nightclubbers, depending upon the time of day. Game scoring is done by hand, but pins are reset automatically,

“Everything looks the same except the carpet,” one long-time patron said, during our visit. There is wood paneling on walls, stacks of lockers that are not much larger than computer monitors, bowling balls in bright colors, five pool tables.

My Guy, always the eagle eye, noticed one modern-day contrast: a state-of-the-art juke box, with 140,000 selections that can be downloaded, amidst the retro theme.

“It’ll be wall-to-wall people by 11,” barkeep Julie Campise predicted, on a recent Friday night, while locals and tourists from Illinois bowled. For more about Saratoga Lanes, in the suburb of Maplewood, call (314) 645-5308.

Visiting this friendly place is what made me wonder about the oldest bowling centers in Wisconsin. The Fond du Lac Elks Club, 33 Sheboygan St., a four-lane facility, was certified in 1909, making it the nation’s oldest.

Manager Jeff Barber says a remodeling project there was just completed. Pin setting is automatic, but scoring is not.

To be sanctioned/certified, LaPorte says 40 criteria must be met. That includes lane width and length, bowling pin weight and tilt. For more about bowling leagues in Wisconsin, go to www.wibowl.com. For more about places to bowl, go to www.bowlwi.com.