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From pinball machines to Seabee history, R.I.’s lesser-known museums contain surprises

On the Rhode Island Report podcast, Jim Karpeichik, co-producer of “Treasures Inside the Museum” on Rhode Island PBS, talks about what he’s seen in more than 40 local museums

Jim Karpeichik, right, co-producer of "Treasures Inside the Museum" on Rhode Island PBS, talked to Boston Globe reporter Edward Fitzpatrick during the Rhode Island Report podcast.Carlos Muñoz

PROVIDENCE — Given recent downpours, it’s not hard to imagine being in Rhode Island on a rainy summer day, and if you can’t hit the beach, you could duck into one of the many museums in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts.

Jim Karpeichik, co-producer of “Treasures Inside the Museum” on Rhode Island PBS, has been to more than 40 of them. And on the Rhode Island Report podcast, he talks about museums ranging from the Electromagnetic Pinball Museum in Pawtucket to the Seabee Museum in North Kingstown.

Karpeichik, who spent years as a television cameraman at WJAR and other stations, said he often returned from shoots at local sites and would say, “You’ll never guess what we saw today.”


“I think that there are places that people in Rhode Island and people who visit Rhode Island drive by on a regular basis and have no idea,” he said. “They have an assumption about what might be in a certain museum, but they really don’t know what’s inside there. And that museum will probably not only meet but exceed their expectations if they would take a minute to stop and take a look.”

For example, a lot of people are unaware that the Electromagnetic Pinball Museum operates out of an old mill building on Main Street in Pawtucket, just off Route 95.

“It’s right here in our backyard,” Karpeichik said. “They celebrate the history of pinball. A lot of people, for example, don’t know that at one time it was considered gambling and those machines were illegal until somebody finally proved to people in power that those machines needed skill in order to play.”

And, he said, “One of the unique things about this place is you can really play any of the pinball machines that are there and set up.”


Another example is the Seabee Museum, located in Davisville, the location of the original US Navy Seabee base.

“You drive down Route 4 and you see that sign that says SeaBee Museum, but you never think to stop in,” Karpeichik said. “Maybe you’ve been to Quonset Point, maybe you’ve seen that big giant Seabee that is the logo of the Seabees.”

He explained that the Seabee logo was designed by a North Providence resident, Frank Iafrate, who was in the SeaBees. “He was invited to submit a logo or patch that they would use in the military branch,” he said. “He created that and it was approved in Washington and became their logo.”

The logo depicts a big bee in a sailor cap holding a hammer, a wrench, and a machine gun. “They were a construction battalion — CB,” Karpeichik explained. “But they were also fighting. They had to fight off enemies, sometimes while they were building a runway someplace on an island in the Pacific.”

While many people associate them with World War II, the Seabees are still in operation today, he said. “It’s a great museum, and there’s a lot of surprises there, too.”

On the podcast, Karpeichik talked about other local museums, including Slater Mill, in Pawtucket, and the Newport Car Museum, in Portsmouth.

To get the latest episode each week, follow Rhode Island Report podcast on Apple Podcasts and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him @FitzProv.