The aroma of spices and sauces never imagined, the sight of a giant stainless steel sphere, dozens of multi-colored flags, and the booming voices of men calling the passing audience to experience a new age of advancement…all my senses were enlivened as we stepped out of the cab in Queen’s, NY that hot summer afternoon.
It was the dawn of the space age and the theme of the World’s Fair was,”Peace Through Understanding” dedicated to “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe”. The visual expression of that theme was represented by the Unisphere surrounded by fountains and presided over by those 80 flags of the participating states and nations. I was in awe as we walked that road toward the sparkling silver orb.
The day felt even warmer than its 85 degrees amid the throngs of people
moving from one pavillion to another. None of us minded, though. We were held spellbound at the sight of futuristic structures everywhere we looked. Most of the United States were represented and many world nations. We three girls, at 9, 12, and 18 with our only ‘fair’ experience being the New York State Fair in our hometown, had difficulty containing our excitement for the rides and exhibits we were about to see.
Robert Moses, dubbed Master Builder, oversaw the massive reclamation project of draining the Queens, NY marshland and cleaning up the garbage dump that it had become and, built Flushing Meadows Park, the site of the 1939-40 World’s Fair. Moses planned a grand park as a center of attraction for the people of the area. The 1939 World’s Fair turned out to be a financial failure, which left no funds for Moses to complete his project. The 1964-65 World’s Fair was his opportunity to finish what he began so many years before.
In order to earn enough profit to complete the park, it was necessary to run
the fair for two years. In addition they felt they had to charge site rental fees to anyone who wished to construct a pavillion. The Bureau of International Expositions (BIE), the international body headquartered in Paris that sanctions world’s fairs, refused to sanction the New York World’s Fair. The rule stated that an international exposition could run for one six-month period only in any given country within a ten-year period, and no rent could be charged to exhibitors. Seattle’s Fair in 1962 had already been sanctioned.
Moses decided to forego being sanctioned by the BIE, which meant many
larger nations would not participate and risk conflict with the BIE. That left a host of smaller nations available to participate such as: Denmark, Austria, Sweden, Mexico, Spain, Japan, Plillipines, Thailand, Greece, Belgium, Pakistan, Africa, Vatican City and more.
What do I remember most fondly about the New York World’s Fair? I felt like a princess with my first taste of Belgian waffles, the newest sensation, topped with real whipped cream and fresh strawberries. I remember riding through the General Electric “Progressland” where the audience seated in a revolving auditorium viewed an audio-animatronic presentation of the progress of electricity in homes. The highlight of the exhibit was a brief plasma “explosion” of controlled nuclear fusion. The loud crack that was produced made all the moms jump and the kids scream! Disney’s “Ford Magic Skyway,” used Ford cars, in an early prototype of what was later the PeopleMover ride system used in Disney World, to move the audience through scenes featuring life-sized audio-animatronic dinosaurs and cavemen. Needless to say, the Skyway was my favorite ride. Then, of course, there was It’s a Small World with it’s song that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since…”It’s a small world, after all. It’s a small world after all…”
Exhausted and exhiliarated at the end of the day, we left the Fair for dinner. Mom flagged down a Hansom Cab and we rode all the way to Manhattan to Mamma Leone’s Italian Ristorante on 48th Street. We descended the old stone steps to the dining room where we were seated at a corner table. The waiter took our order, which, I’m sure, was simply spaghetti. For a young lady of nearly 12, it was a gourmet delicacy that I enjoyed as we dined under a canopy of plastic grapes and leaves by the light of a single candle dripping wax on its wine bottle holder wrapped with raffia. Dessert was spumoni ice cream, a first for me, a scrumptious blend of creamy vanilla, strawberry and pistachio flavors with almonds. We hailed an ordinary yellow cab for the trip to our hotel where I experienced my first down-filled comforter. Unfortunately, it was too warm to snuggle under it. I dreamed of the day’s adventures and looked forward to the train ride home.
That weekend in New York City was a thrill for my senses and elevated my mother to the status of “Queen” among moms. While we were away, she treated all of us girls as young women, not children. Then
b ragging to telling my friends about my travels and showing off them my lovely souvenier miniature Unisphere made me feel so grown up. I came home realizing the world did not only consist of what I saw daily in my neighborhood, but was a vast place with people of all races and customs…and really good food! I knew I wanted to learn more about those fascinating countries of which I’d only had a tiny glimpse. More importantly, I had my back-to-school ‘What I Did on Summer Vacation’ report nailed!
I saw so much more, but that’s best left for another time. I will say that the
Unisphere still stands in Flushing Meadows Park. You may remember it appeared in the movie Men in Black. The park is heavily used by the residents for walking and recreation.
Disney World and Universal Studios were influenced by the exhibits at the fair. It’s a Small World is an attraction at Disney World and Walt Disney used many of the techniques from the Fair to create the Pirates of the Carribean attraction, among others. Universal Studios has its own Unisphere and the Men in Black: Alien Attack attraction is based on a fictional World’s Fair pavillion.
If you were able to attend the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, or maybe the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, I’d love to hear about your memories and what you learned from it.
If it all took place before your were old enough to go, I’m so sorry you missed it, but I’d love to hear about your best travel experience as a child!
You know I love hearing from you and anxiously await your comments!