I wasn’t around to attend the dazzling New York World’s Fair that was held at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in 1964 so a week ago when I saw a poster announcing a festival on Sunday to celebrate its 50th anniversary, I knew exactly where I’d be.
Flushing Meadows Corona Park was the site of both the 1939 and 1964 New York World’s Fairs, which celebrated art, culture, technology, the Space Age, transportation and American ingenuity. (Space was clearly on the minds of the organizers as old photos of the Fair show several futuristic displays. One poster I saw claimed to have “seen the future.”)
Today, the park is more recognizable as the home of tennis in New York. Flushing Meadows (isn’t that just the best place name you’ve ever heard?) is also a popular weekend destination for Queens residents and on that sun drenched Sunday, the perfect place to be.
I was pretty excited as the Number 7 train pulled closer to Flushing Meadows and I could see the Unisphere, the 12-story high stainless steel replica of the globe, the symbol of the Fair, peeking out above the trees.
Following the directions I had gotten from Hopstop, I got off at the 111 Street Station and checked with the attendant to make sure I was at the closest entrance to the sprawling 1,255-acre park. Pointing, he told me follow 111 Street for five blocks and I’d see it. When I descended the stairs from the elevated station, I double-checked with two police officers at street level to make sure I was heading in the right direction.
As I walked towards the park, it struck me that I had seen more posters in subway stations in Manhattan than I’d seen at 111th Street. Except for police officers who were manning the intersections along the street, nothing else advertised the festival.
One Hundred and Eleventh Street skirts part of one end of the Park and it took about 15 minutes from the subway station to the Festival, which was sponsored by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.
By the time I got there, a little after 1:30 p.m., the place was humming with people who were checking out the vintage car display, including a Mustang, which was at the World’s Fair. (Somehow, I didn’t get a photo of the Mustang. I’m not sure if this was the same one that the Ford Motor Company unveiled at the Fair.) The cars were all in mint condition as if each had just rolled off the showroom floor.
The star of the show was the Batmobile. It occupied its own space away from the vintage cars and was cordoned off by red coiled wire which was just as well because, I’m sure people would want to sit in it and have their photo taken.
The second New York World’s Fair opened on April 22, 1964 and ran until October 18, 1964. It had as its theme, Peace Through Understanding. Opening exactly five months to the date President John Kennedy was assassinated, it was, I’m sure a huge morale booster. It resumed from April 21 to October 17, 1965.
The Fair attracted more than 50 million people who visited pavilions showcasing the best from each state and several countries including Mexico, Japan, Pakistan, Philippines, Vatican City, Austria, Sweden and Spain.
At the Vatican Pavilion, they saw Michelangelo’s Pietà. Ford introduced the Mustang, Bell showed off its videophone and IBM gave demonstrations of what computers could do. Visitors also sampled foods, like Belgian waffles and shish kebabs, which were introduced at the Fair. There were rides for children, futuristic displays and sculptures commissioned especially for the Fair.
When I showed a co-worker some of my cell phone photos, her eyes lit up. “I’d never seen anything like it,” she gushed. “It was all space-agey and just out of this world fantastic. If you’ve been to Disney, you’ll have an idea of what the Fair was really like.”
Walt Disney had a huge impact on the Fair, designing several shows and introducing the song, It’s a Small World, in tribute to the world’s children.
The posters and the slogans that advertised the Fair spoke of a future of ground breaking technological innovations. In some instances, I’m thinking now of the videophone that Bell showed off, they were spot on. The technology was revolutionary for its time but it’s difficult not to compare it with what we have now.
Generally speaking, the festival felt flat to me. I realized later that a part of me was expecting it to capture the feeling of the Fair – the excitement, the sense of wonder I imagine people felt them. But honestly, it would have been impossible to do. An event as monumental as the New York World’s Fair can probably never be duplicated and now feels redundant – especially when we have Disney as a fixture in our lives.
Other activities celebrating the anniversary of the 1964 New York World’s Fair will take place through October. Check out this link for details and photos from the Fair.