© 2024 WVIK
Listen at 90.3 FM and 98.3 FM in the Quad Cities, 95.9 FM in Dubuque, or on the WVIK app!
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Remembering the owner of the world's largest arcade who died earlier this month


All right, let's take a couple minutes now to appreciate a man who appreciated good, simple fun. In 1952, Bob Lawton opened Funspot - what the Guinness Book of World Records called the world's largest penny arcade, a kind of indoor amusement park on the New Hampshire seashore. For the seven decades that followed, you could pretty well count on running into Lawton at Funspot right up until his death earlier this month at the age of 90. New Hampshire Public Radio's Todd Bookman has this remembrance.

TODD BOOKMAN, BYLINE: The story goes that Bob Lawton borrowed 750 bucks from his grandma to build a mini-golf course in Laconia, N.H. Today, Funspot is more than 77,000 square feet of joysticks, flippers, plungers and tokens.

MARC TATHAM: It's big. That's for sure.

BOOKMAN: This is Marc Tatham. He's worked here for 18 years.

TATHAM: We have a bunch of different things, you know, from games to a restaurant to bowling. I mean, we have a little bit of everything.

BOOKMAN: Tatham says Bob Lawton never ran out of ideas for how to improve Funspot. He was always adding games and modernizing the layout. And throughout, Lawton was there, handing out free tokens to kids. That generosity earned him a nickname.

TOM BORISO: He was like Walt Disney of the North Country. One of a kind - that's all I can say, one of a kind.

BOOKMAN: That's Tom Boriso, an old friend of Lawton's. Only truly lucky people have their wake at an arcade, but that's where Lawton's friends are most comfortable. Billy Mitchell says his life was changed right here.

BILLY MITCHELL: Because of Bob Lawton, because of Funspot, I was given the opportunity to be here and to play Pac-Man and do history's first perfect score ever.

BOOKMAN: In 1999, during a tournament, Mitchell did to Pac-Man what nobody had ever done before, with Bob Lawton cheering in the background.


MITCHELL: They say fun and laughter add years to your life. There's a lot of people in the world who are going to live to a ripe old age because of Bob.

BOOKMAN: But Lawton also had a serious side. His daughter Sandra says that in 1969, while serving in the New Hampshire State Legislature, Lawton pushed through a bill that added New Hampshire's famously unambiguous state motto to the license plate.

SANDRA: People all over the world know what the live-free-or-die state is by the license plates, you know?

BOOKMAN: But the thing that made Lawton proudest was meeting generations of kids. Stephanie Tice is a family friend.

STEPHANIE TICE: I have so many great memories being here growing up, literally just running around the building and seeing my son run around like I did (crying). It's been the place to just come and have fun.


BOOKMAN: A game of pinball may last a few minutes, but Funspot seems eternal. Despite Bob's death, the Lawton family is keeping the arcade open.

For NPR News, I'm Todd Bookman.


MARTIN: Hey, we just want to take a minute and say thanks. We so appreciate you listening to MORNING EDITION right here on your local member station. The conversations we have don't have to stop right here. You can follow them along on social media. You can find us on Twitter. Steve is @nprinskeep. Noel is @noelking. A is @amartinezla. And I'm @rachelnpr.

(SOUNDBITE OF 8-BIT MISFITS' "FOREVER YOUNG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.