I was turning twelve when the 1964 New York World’s Fair came to Flushing. It was a couple of hours away from where I lived and its combination of spectacle and education. I loved it.
The fair was an attempt to repeat the success of the 1939 New York World’s Fair, but it ran into a snag. The Bureau of International Expositions (BIE) had rules as to what could be termed a “World’s Fair,” and the New York one broke several of them, so the fair was not officially sanctioned, and its members were told not to take part. But New York went ahead anyway, and used exhibits from corporations and from countries that were not BIE members.
Back then, I didn’t pay much attention to the politics (though I did know it wasn’t official). It was a World’s Fair as far as I was concerned, and I loved it.
Twelve wasn’t considered too young to be on your own, so several times I wandered the grounds on my own.
Some of the things that still stay in my mind.
- The Vatican Pavilion. One of the must-see items of the fair, since they brought Michelangelo's Pieta to the US for the first time. In order to accommodate the crowds, you stood on a conveyor belt that rushed you past the statue in about 30 seconds. The statue was behind a glass wall with a blue background. I remember being vaguely disappointed by it.
- General Electric. A favorite, partially because my father sold GE appliances and TVs. “The Carousel of Progress” was the big draw, showing how electricity had changed everyday life. A similar exhibit was set up in Disney World,* with one essential difference: in the World’s Fair, the audience moved on a carousel around the exhibits in the center. Nowadays, the audience remains in one place while the center turns. That was a big disappointment when I saw the exhibit in Disney World.
- The Ford Motor Company. It had a “Magic Skyway” ride, where you got into an actual Ford convertible and saw models of history from prehistoric times to the future of 2000. I remember the cars more than I do the rides.
- General Motors. Their answer was “Futurama.” Their moving chairs were no match for Ford’s cars, but their vision of the future in the 21st century was just what my science-fiction loving heart desired.
- Pepsi Pavilion. Loosed “It’s a Small World After All” on the world. I found it cloying even back then.
- Equitable Life.(above) Not much there except for a giant readout showing the current population of the US. For some reason, I found that fascinating.
- New York State Pavilion. I liked the fact that they showed my (rather small) home town on a giant map of the city. It had three observation towers, who are best known today as a plot element of Men in Black.
- Belgian Pavilion I didn’t spend much time here, but it was famous for introducing American to Belgian Waffles and for the fact that it was so delayed that it wasn’t completed until the final day of the first season of the fair.
- Tad’s Steak House. One of the restaurants at the fair. Hardly the best, but quite a bargain – a steak dinner for $1.29! You got what now I’d call an indifferent grilled steak, baked potatoes, and garlic bread. All during my youth, a trip to NYC included at stop at Tad’s.
I probably went five or six times; toward the end, the novelty had worn off. My mother, who had been to the New York World’s Fair in 1939 said that this was nowhere near as good, but I thought it was great.
Of course, it came to and end. Most of the pavilions were taken down (I had thought that was a waste, though it seems none were built to last more than a few years, anyway). The two that remained were New York and the Unisphere, the symbol of the Fair.
Still, it gave me many happy memories.
*Disney had created many of the rides at the fair.