The priest waves his crucifix through the air, administering last rites, as the guillotine lops off the head of the condemned and the curtain falls on the “French Execution”, one of more than 200 antique coin-operated amusements that comprise Musee Mecanique, tucked away amidst the touristy bustle of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.
The French aren’t the only ones in the Musee’s phantasmagorical collection that show Grand Theft Auto how it’s done; there’s also an “English Execution”. Indeed, violent and nefarious scenes pervade these machines, some of which date back to the 19th century. One could easily picture a young Thomas De Quincey dropping coins in the “Opium Den”. Elsewhere, the shifty-eyed “Flasher” earns his moniker while “Laffing Sal” and “Jolly Jack” manically yuk it up against the strains of a century-old Wurlitzer Orchestrion.
Musee Mecanique’s founder, the late Edward Zelinsky, began collecting his automatons and amusements in the early 1930s. Today, Zelinsky’s family maintains his legacy in both form and function. Incredibly, all of the arcade’s machines are kept in their original working condition, so bring your pocket change; prices range from one cent to one dollar (most fall in the 25 and 50-cent brackets). Admission to Musee Mecanique is free.
Taylor Street at Fisherman’s Wharf (Pier 45)
San Francisco, CA 94133
P: (415) 346-2000
Monday – Friday: 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Saturday – Sunday: 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Holidays: 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.