Scientists from the United States spend anywhere from a season to several years conducting research in a small Antarctic outpost. During the austral summer (from September to February), the McMurdo Station is home to around 1,250 people. In the long, dark winters, the population shrinks to 200.

So what do people do here when they”re not working? Despite its remote location, McMurdo nicknamed “Mactown” functions like a little town, complete with a coffee shop, some tiny bars, and a cafeteria that serves as the town”s only restaurant. There was even a bowling alley on the station for a long time.

This was McMurdo”s bowling alley from the outside. It didn”t look like a lot, but it provided some much-needed entertainment for the residents.

This was McMurdo

From 1961 to 2009, the Mactown Lanes provided entertainment to the McMurdo scientists. During its existence, Mactown Lanes was the world”s southernmost bowling alley. By its later years, it was also the only bowling alley in the world without an automatic pinsetting machine. This meant that pinsetters had to be hired to rearrange the pins after every time they were knocked down. These pinsetters usually worked official jobs, but would come down to the two-lane bowling alley for some extra cash and a lot of extra fun.

Games were two dollars. Shoe rental was one dollar.

Here”s what the bowling alley looked like when it was installed in 1961.


The U.S. Navy Seabees held the inauguration, and they even used penguin plushies as pins for the party.

Over time, the bowling alley weathered the harsh elements of the continent, and the lanes became warped. This change called for traditional bowling rules to undergo some revisions. In her description of the bowling alley, former pinsetter and blogger Sandwich Girl says the new rules were half the fun when she worked at the alley in the early 2000s. The other half was the pinsetters” unofficial duties as hecklers and cheerleaders, resulting in a raucous good time. She describes taping funny notes on the balls and sending them back to the players.

A pinsetter resetting the pins. The pinsetters, known affectionately as “pinmonkeys,” perched up on a platform behind the lanes, gathered the pins, and rearranged them in the proper formation for the next turn. No word on what happened to the stuffed penguins.

In case you”re wondering, the stripey socks aren”t just a bold fashion choice — they were actually a safety measure. They allowed bowlers to see the pinsetter when she jumped down behind the lane to reset the pins. Taking a bowling ball to the kneecap is serious business.

The dudes got in on the stripey socks, too.

The ball return was also done manually. We don”t know what”s up with that sandwich-shaped purse, but we”re all about it.

Since the scientists, engineers, and other workers at McMurdo Station worked around the clock, the bowling alley was more or less open at all hours.

However, the other side of being a bowling alley in an Antarctic research facility meant that it wasn”t a priority to keep it in shape. In fact, bowling company Brunswick offered the National Science Foundation — which runs the U.S. Antarctic Program — the option of purchasing the lanes and replacing them with a more modern version. The NSF declined, because they”d have to hire a dedicated bowling lane mechanic. When you”re funding something like McMurdo, you just don”t have time for that.

There was also an old ball polisher at the alley.

Much of the decor was never changed, so there were some awesome vintage gems on display. For instance, the retro stem of this table was where the scores were kept for the entire history of the alley.

Pinsetters at Swimsuit Bowl. Because in Antarctica, when else are you going to wear a swimsuit?

Cosmic bowling nights meant lots of psychedelic lights. This is when the stripey socks really came in handy.

In 2009, Mactown Lanes was finally dismantled after the building suffered structural damage. It was the end of an era, but the memories still exist, and that”s what counts. For its part, McMurdo Station is still going strong, with cargo and personnel going in and out regularly. Scientists still carry out research on energy and the environment, and the station continues to serve as a hub for American activity on the continent.

The McMurdo Station Coffee House, which doubles as a bar. This was once the officers” lounge when the station was run by the Navy.

Here”s an all-terrain vehicle used for transportation. Its official name is Ivan the Terra Bus. Really.

(via Messy Nessy Chic, Sandwich Girl, Wikipedia)

If science is your bag and you”re looking for a real change of scenery, consider doing a stint at McMurdo! They may no longer have a bowling alley, but the station still seems like a well-knit community. If you don”t feel like making the trek, you could also just enjoy one of the most remote and rugged outposts on the planet from the comfort of your much warmer climate.