In her memoir, Canal Zone Daughter, Judy Haisten describes her childhood memories of exploiting movie theater seats for their “steelies”:
“Broken seats were common because of the ‘steelies’ – steel ball-bearings that would come out of the seat mechanism if you knew how to get one. The steelie was a hot commodity. We played marbles every day at school and nothing, I mean nothing, beat having a steelie in a marble collection.
…The best way to get a steelie was from a movie-theater seat. First you had to find an unbroken seat. Next, you had to bounce hard in the seat, over and over, just right until the seat broke and the ball-bearing fell out. Then you had to move fast to catch that tiny steel ball before it rolled down the theater floor.
With a wooden floor, everyone else in the theater also heard the steelie rolling and tried to grab it. No one would waste an opportunity to get a precious steelie. The little ball rolling down the floor was free game – until it was in someone’s hands.”
Haisten’s memories are from Gamboa Movie Theater – did you retrieve steelies from other movie theaters as well? Besides movie theater seats, how would you get steelies? Why were they so significant in playing marbles? What memories do you have about finding or playing with steelies?
Movie program sheet, Balboa and Coco Solo Theaters, February 1978