Each year since reopening in 1988, Sharon Hein has taken in about $700 at her booth during the weeklong Glen Burnie Carnival -- not a tremendous amount until you consider that it's all in pennies.
That's70,000 coins, 1,400 rolls a year. We're talking heavy.
Hein runs the penny-pitching booth, a popular draw and a family favorite at the carnival, which opens Friday. It's a simple game of skill. The object is to land a penny on a plate set on top of a pool ofwater. If the penny misses the plate or falls off, the player loses.The game goes on for as long as the player has the patience and the pennies.
"A few times a night, a kid has to go through and pick out the pennies . . . I think they're fed through a machine that countsand rolls them later," Hein said.
Over the decades, not much has changed at the penny pitch booth. The pool is the original, the boothunaltered and the rules the same. The only difference -- born out ofeconomic necessity -- is the prize.
Hein, 38, is an inventory controller at Hein Bros. Casual Furniture Gallery in Glen Burnie. In operating the booth, she is
continuing a family tradition of volunteerism begun by her grandfather, Charles "Buck" Hein, in the 1930s. He opened the stand and ran it until he died in 1967.
The tradition continued with Sharon Hein's uncle, Carl "Murph" Hein Jr., president of Hein Bros. Inc., who operated the stand through the early 1980s.
"We used to give out these Mickey Mouse balloons with big ears and feet, and Mickey Mouse was a franchise of Walt Disney, so we had to pay extra for the balloons. We tried other things, but people wanted the balloons," said the elder Hein, who is 64. "We tried charging a nickel, but the silver metal would just stick to the plates, and everyone won."
Eventually the balloons became expensive, and when profitsdropped, penny pitching was dropped as well.
For tradition's sake, the attraction was resurrected with Sharon Hein in the booth when the Glen Burnie Improvement Association celebrated its centennial in 1988.
"A lot of people liked (the booth), and (the association) came back to Hein Bros. They call us every year to do it, but we're not there to make a big profit," Hein said.
"Now we give out Hawaiian leis instead of the balloons," she said. "Of course, I liked the balloons better."
Through the decades, members of the Hein clan have worked at the booth alongside employees of Hein Bros. Inc.
"You're giving something back to the community," Hein said. The profits from the carnival go to the GBIA, which in turn donates money to local sports, culture and civic groups, as well as such charities as North Arundel Hospital and the Red Cross.
The Heins, like several other Glen Burnie families, are carnival fixtures.
For the families, the carnival has been a source of camaraderie and the bonds have continued through the years.
"It's Glen Burnie's biggest event of the year. What do I like most? Seeing the people that you haven't seen all year," Hein said, laughing. "What's nice is that it's your local people doing it."
The booth, which sits amid other booths and a maelstrom of spinning lights, roaring motors and constantly shifting throngs ofpeople, serves as a good vantage point to observe human nature. CarlHein Jr. remembers a popular ritual.
"You had a lot of men comingfrom the services who would play all night. They'd pitch coin after coin and finally get on the plate and not know what to do with the balloon. They'd end up giving the balloon to some girl walking around the grounds," he said, smiling.
Sharon Hein recalled times when so many people were throwing pennies that when one landed on the plate it was hard to tell who had tossed the winning coin.
"We just gave them all prizes," she said with a shrug.
Hein said the attraction is most popular late in the evening, when carnival-goers have finished all the rides and have had their fill ofcotton candy, hot dogs and soda. The booth provides a haven for those who wish to get rid of their excess change.
"We're busy all night long, but we get busiest toward the end of the night," she said, guessing that people want a souvenir of the good times they had at the carnival.
Hein said that in today's onslaught of video games and other expensive sports and pastimes, the booth opens a window on the past, when a penny was worth something.
"You throw your pennies and when one gets in, you get aprize," she said.
"And most people walk away with a prize."