Tag Archives: Worlds Fair

The Crystal Palace: A new gallery show brings its marvels to life

Bryant Park is a rather remarkable physical space. During the winter it becomes a skating rink and outdoor market, while in the summer, its lawn host hundreds of movie buffs every Monday for the park’s popular outdoor film festival. Its neighbor — the main branch of the New York Public Library — keeps millions of volumes within rooms below the park. And once, long ago, Americans came to this spot to witness the technological marvels of the age.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

The Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations was the first major industrial fair in the United States, showcasing the rising manufacturing prowess of the young country. It was housed in a jewel box of an exhibition center, the extraordinary Crystal Palace, a wonder of glass and steel, modeled after a similar structure in London. When fire eventually took the building in 1858, New York City lost its most valued tourist attraction.

A new show at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery (18 West 86th Street,  just steps from Central Park) reanimates a bit of the Crystal Palace Exhibition, bringing the wonder of visiting this wondrous place to life with displays of original artifacts and an absolutely sensational interactive component.

The gallery features a selection of items both displayed at the fair and used to promote it. Americans were so enthralled by the exhibition that they decorated their homes with promotional items include one example featured in the gallery of an ornate parlor clock affixed with an image of the Crystal Palace. High end tchotchkes, indeed!

The fair displayed fine art and experimental technologies alongside examples of American craftsmanship.  Featured in the gallery are samples of American-made items from the 1850s proudly shown at the fair — porcelain, glassware, furniture, pottery and sculpture.

You’re perhaps used to seeing such items in a museum; the things you’re seeing here, however, weren’t originally displayed for their historical worth. At the opening of the Crystal Palace in 1853, they were literally the embodiment of a growing country.

An early sewing machine from I.M. Singer, 1856. While perhaps it seems almost medieval today, this would have been considered a modern marvel in the 1850s.

 

And here, in this intimate space, there are little delights behind tiny thick curtains — daguerreotypes and photographic salt prints from the fair itself, so delicate that they must be protected from even the gallery’s gentle light.

As always with Bard’s historical exhibitions, they accompany their physical displays with rich, detailed interactive displays and online material.  Take a stroll through the Crystal Palace along a meticulously labeled panorama or click through a replica of a tourist guide suggesting things to do around the city. 

In fact, I would highly suggest getting lost in their digital resources before heading over to see the physical objects. (You’ll be able to play around with them at interactive displays at the exhibit as well.) There are also some engaging audio ‘walking tours’ from three different perspectives of people visiting the fair.

(Personally, I would also recommend listening to our podcast on the Crystal Palace which we recorded exactly two years ago. Putting it all together with the gallery show will the closest thing to boarding a time machine!)

The Bronx World’s Fair of 1918: the failure which became a magical park

Nobody remembers the Bronx World’s Fair of 1918 or, more precisely, the Bronx International Exposition of Science, Arts and Industries. Nor should they really. Modest in scale and only partially completed, the exposition failed to bring the world marvels on the scale of the elevator (from the 1853 Crystal Palace exposition) or the television set (from the 1939-40 World’s Fair in Flushing-Meadows).

It was, in most aspects, a flop. But something very magical — and very nostalgic — arose in its place.

The fair was twenty years in the making, opening on June 29, 1918, two decades after the Bronx had become an official borough of New York. While many areas of the Bronx (as the Annexed District) were already part of New York as early as 1874, it wasn’t until consolidation that Bronx leaders began shaping a new character for this former section of Westchester County.

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But in a sense, the fair was 300 years in the making. It was initially planned as a commemoration of the first European settlement in the Bronx. (NOTE: The park was supposed to open in 1917, although I’m still not sure which measure they’re using to get 1617 as a date of settlement; Jonas Bronck, considered the ‘first’ settler, arrived in 1638.)

The fair was developed on the old grounds of the William Waldorf Astor estate in the neighborhood of West Farms, just to the south of Bronx Park.

From the caption: “Bird’s-Eye View of the Bronx International Exposition Grounds showing the wonderful location in the heart of the great city, and transportation facilities, with railroads, subway and elevated lines, surfactelines and automobile boulevard at the very door.  The Bronx River, providing anchorage for small craft, forms the western boundary  of the exposition grounds.”

Courtesy OutdoorAfro.com
Courtesy OutdoorAfro.com

The fair was meant to “attract foreign trade to this country after the war.”  It was to be a Bronx show-and-tell. “The exposition will bring hundreds of thousands of visitors, who will have the chance to see the Bronx at its very best. There is no reason, it is said, why a certain percentage of those newcomers might not become interested in real estate.” [source]

From a 1917 advertisement in Billboard Maazine attempting to drum up exhibitors.

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Below: Grand plans indeed. What the Bronx fair was supposed to look like.

Courtesy New York Tribune
Courtesy New York Tribune

 

The fair opened almost one month late, having already been delayed a year due to the war. Even still, when it did open, most of its buildings were yet to be completed. Most would never be finished.   “[T]here are only a dozen buildings and a number of concessions including a restaurant, a roller coaster, a centrifugal swing and a nonsense house,” giving it “the impression of a mini-Coney Island.” [source] [source]

Perhaps the most notable structures at the opening were the bathing pavilion, a private club called Circle de Papellon, and “what is said to be the largest salt water surf swimming pool in the world.”

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Over the coming weeks, fair attendees would attend such free attractions as Madame Torelli’s Comedy Circus, the Lunette Sisters aka “the whirling Geisha Girls,” and performances by the world’s greatest high-diver Kearney P. Speedy.  And there was some kind of “monkey cabaret” as well.

One of the Exposition’s most popular attractions was a small submarine called the Holland, the very first commissioned by the United States Navy.

From the Private Collection Of Ric Hedma
From the Private Collection Of Ric Hedman

 

The fair was ‘international’ in the sense that only one country (Brazil) actually showed up to exhibit anything.  After all, it was entirely unrealistic to expect exhibitors while a war was raging in Europe.  By August, the only headlines coming out of the International Exposition were related to swimming and diving. (“HAWAIIANS REPEAT TRIUMPHS IN TANK.”)

Most the fair’s more serious fare took a backseat to the amusements, as this advertisement from September 1918 indicates. The Exhibition Hall was eventually turned into a skating rink. Although one could enjoy cooking demonstrations and a fine exhibition of hardware:

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By the following year, it was decided to just dispense with the serious stuff entirely.  Well before the fair, there had been much talk of turning the Astor property into an amusement park. After the Exposition ended, that finally came to fruition — as Starlight Park.

Thousands of children descended upon Starlight Park during the summer, one of the popular attractions in the Bronx in the 1920s.

Starlight_Park

One of the park’s centerpieces was a giant stadium called the Coliseum which held up to 15,000 people, often there to cheer on New York’s premier soccer team, the New York Giants, who made Starlight their home from 1923 to 1930.

By the 1930s, most of the rides had closed, but the pool was still a popular draw. The park became a magnet for the area’s working class families, who enjoyed sunbathing, picnicking and, if they stayed after dark, moonlight dancing to live big band music. One of the very first Bronx radio stations WKBQ also made Starlight its broadcasting home in 1931.

Sadly, Starlight met with a rather ungracious fate. The park was slowly demolished over the years and by 1940 it was permanently closed, transformed into a city truck facility. A fire in the late 1940s destroyed any remaining vestiges of the park, and its memory was completely wiped away by expanses of the Cross Bronx Expressway.

Today there’s a children’s playground at around the spot of the old exposition called Starlight Park.

Below: Strike up the band! Conductor V. Bavetta provides musical accompaniment to the visitors of Starlight Park

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

 

 

NOTE: Clips of this article originally appeared in my old 2009 post about Starlight Park.

 

 

The 1965 New York World’s Fair: Opening Day

The New York World’s Fair opened for its second and last season on April 21, 1965.  The grand opening the previous year had been rocky indeed — protests, rain, even a parking lot riot.  Thankfully the second season was met with beautiful weather and abundant crowds.  In order to jazz it up a bit — not too much, just enough to increase ticket sales — Robert Moses authorized a host of changes, great and small.  Some of the exciting guest stars and new features that awaited entrants to the 1965 World’s Fair that day included:

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Opening the World’s Fair that day: Mayor Willie Brandt of West Berlin; Robert Moses naturally; Vice President Hubert Humphreys; Chief Justice Earl Warren and New York Mayor Robert Wagner (from NYT file photo)

Vice President Hubert Humphrey took a leisurely stroll through the fair, creating quite a stir. “He’s a walking pavilion,” cracked one observer. His entourage included Chief Justice Earl Warren.  During his visit to the New York State Pavilion, a riot almost ensued.  “Children cried out in terror, parents shouted, toes were trampled, cameras clicked.”

Courtesy Life Magazine
Courtesy Life Magazine

Hall of Presidents: Appropriately, Humphrey’s appearance coincided with the opening of some striking new exhibits within the United States Pavilion (which had opened the previous year) featuring memorabilia from over a dozen American presidents, including original copies of the Bill of Rights, Washington’s inaugural and farewell addresses and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  Meanwhile, a crude Animatronic version of Lincoln continued to greet visitors.

Photo by Bill Cotter/NYT
Photo by Bill Cotter/NYT

Under The Dome: One of the most anticipated new arrivals to the fair was the Winston Churchill Center, a tribute to the former British Prime Minister who had died in January.  “Included in exhibits documenting Sir Winston’s career are some of his own paintings, and photographs of him at various periods in his life. Also on display are a replica of Churchill’s study at Chartwell; models of Blenheim Palace, where he was born, and Bladon churchyard, where he lies buried; and an exhibit of his personal effects, including his desk, which once belonged to Disraeli.”

The dome of this dramatic pavilion would later be used as the Queens Zoo Aviary.

heinz

MORE FOOD: According to the New York Times, “the number of restaurants has been increased from 111 to 198. This means the fair can now serve more than 38,000  person simultaneously, or about 8,000 more than last year. ”  Certainly there was food to be found at the Theater of Food-Festival of Gas Pavilion?

The Gutenberg Bible: If you were craving a more spiritual exhibition, look no further than the latest resident of the Vatican Pavilion, one of six existing copies of the Gutenberg Bible. Also on site: The Pope’s jeweled tiara.  These two items were joining the Pieta, perhaps the most historically significant work of art at the fair.

dino

New Dinosaurs at Sinclair’s Dinoland : And not just any dinosaurs, but automated dinosaurs that could roar. “Last year we were of the school that dinosaurs had no vocal cords,” said the exhibit’s fuddyduddy spokesman. “This year we are in a new school.”

Kiddie Phone Center : As a way to get children excited about using the phone, Bell Telephone opened a Phone Fun Fair featuring a variety of wacky telephone games. “The center has three tot-sized phone booths where a youngster, by dialing, can get a pleasant message from one of six Disney characters, or a commercial message from an operator.” BONUS FUN:  “A voice Mirror lets you hear how you sound on the telephone. Weather-phones allow you to dial Weather Bureau information in selected cities. Quiz games, solar battery display — and much more!”

fiesta

People To People Fiesta: The youth oriented People to People International is a youth outreach non-profit started by President Eisenhower in 1956. “Africa, Asia, Europe, as well as the Americas, are represented in a “village” of kiosks which display and sell a variety of folk art. Admission is charged; proceeds go to a center for world understanding.”   The ‘fiesta’ “will stress folk singing and dancing in the setting of colorful tents.”

Today PTPI takes the World’s Fair’s slogan — Peace Through Understanding — as its own.

(Image courtesy Worlds Fair Community forum.)

mars

MARS! One of the more innovative new exhibits was located in Space Park with a focus on Mariner 4, a spacecraft launched the previous year that would successfully take the first images of Mars. Photos sent by Mariner 4 would be displayed here as they came in on July 14-15. Above: An image of Mars sent by the orbiting spacecraft.

Kensington Runestone: And finally no trip to the fair in 1965 would be complete without a viewing of the mysterious Kensington Runestone, an ancient stone marking found in Minnesota in 1898.  Some believe this to be a link to 14th century Swedish explorers although how it got to Minnesota is anybody’s guess. It was debunked as a hoax in 1910, and yet here it is at the  World’s Fair! It was accompanied, naturally, by the 28-foot-tall Viking that you see below:

viking

Picture courtesy the World’s  Fair Community boards

The religious controversy behind a lonely Roman column just standing around by itself in Flushing Meadows Park

The second oldest manmade object in New York City — outside, that is, not in a museum or private collection — is a solitary little Roman column built in 120 AD for the Temple of Artemis in the ancient city of Jerash.  It once stood among a chorus of ‘whispering columns’, creating an effect in the temple which would magnify the human voice.

So why is it standing all alone in Flushing Meadows Park in Queens?

At right: The column stands alone, with the Unisphere in the background. Courtesy Flickr/Christoslilu

It was a gift of the Kingdom of Jordan for the New York World’s Fair of 1964-65, presented on April 22, 1964, by the young King Hussein to none other than Robert Moses. What did those two have to talk about?

The Jordanian Pavilion at the World’s Fair was a particularly unusual addition to the unofficial (and incomplete) league of nations at the fair. Despite its almost alien appearance — curved and encrusted with gold mosaics — it was one of the most religious buildings there, embodying imagery of both the Christian and Muslim faiths.

Sculptural displays of Stations of the Cross by Antonio Saura decorated the exterior, and bright stained glass windows lit up spectacularly at night.  The Dead Sea Scrolls were displayed alongside a replica of the Dome of the Rock, and visitors could shop at a jewelry bazaar or eat traditional Middle Eastern food in the snack shop.

But despite the many artifacts of great historical provenance, the most controversial thing in this odd building were a set of newly painted murals.

Some Jewish visitors to the pavilion were immediately offended by one particular mural depicting a young refugee expounding in a lengthy text about the Israeli-Palestinian situation at the Jordanian border.  “The strangers, once thought terror’s victims, became terror’s practitioners,” it said, implicating the Israelis (but never mentioning them by name).

“But even now, to protect their gains, illgot, as if the lands were theirs and had the right,” went the mural, “they’re threatening to disturb the Jordan’s course and make the desert bloom with warriors.”

Below:  The controversial Jordanian mural (Courtesy the excellent tribute site NYWF64 )

Organizers at the American-Israeli Pavilion wrote Moses to complain, saying the murals were not in keeping with the fair’s theme of “Peace Through Understanding.”  Moses (pictured below) initially rejected the request, but Mayor Robert Wagner, perhaps in an intentional slight to the former parks commissioner, promised to have the murals removed.

Members of the City Council even proposed a bill forcing the fair to remove the mural.  The Jordanians replied that they would rather close the pavilion than tear down the murals under pressure.  Israeli protesters picketed the pavilion;  at one point, the Jordanian flag was taken and temporarily replaced by the Israeli flag by a protester.

Of course, as a result, the Jordanian Pavilion became hugely popular in the early days of the fair, with thousands of visitors streaming in to see what the fuss was about.

The Isaeli pavilion then unveiled its own mural as a response to the Jordanian mural.  Further lawsuits, even fistfights, ensued over the controversy. In the end, none of the murals were removed.

What got sadly overshadowed in all this, of course, was the Column of Jerash, which could have been made of plaster for all the attention it received.

After the fair ended in 1965, the pavilions were mostly all torn down, but the column stayed behind, making the park its home for several decades now.  Today you can find it near the Unisphere next to a plaque which reads:

THIS COLUMN WAS PRESENTED TO/ THE NEW YORK WORLDS FAIR AND THE CITY OF NEW YORK BY/ HIS MAJESTY KING HUSSEIN / OF THE HASHEMITE KINGDOM OF JORDAN/ ON THE OCCASION / OF JORDAN’S PARTICIPATION IN THE FAIR./ THE COLUMN WAS RECEIVED BY THE HONORABLE ROBERT MOSES, PRESIDENT, / NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR 1964-1965 CORPORATION./ THIS IS ONE OF MANY COLUMNS IN A TEMPLE ERECTED BY THE ROMANS/IN 120 A.D./ THAT STOOD IN THE ROMAN CITY OF JERASH, JORDAN./ THE COLUMNS ARE KNOWN AS THE WHISPERING COLUMNS OF JERASH.

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Okay, so that’s the second oldest large manmade object in New York City?  What’s the oldest?

That’s the subject of our new podcast tomorrow so stay tuned!

New York City and the birth of the television industry, experimental broadcasts from the city’s greatest landmarks


An illustration from Science & Invention, one of Hugo Gernsback’s many technology journals, demonstrating the possibilities of his ‘telephot’ system. (Courtesy The Verge)

PODCAST It’s the beginning of The Bowery Boys Summer TV Mini-Series, three podcasts devoted to New York City’s illustrious history with broadcast television — from Sarnoff to Seinfeld!

 In our first show, we go back to the start of the invention of the television and the city’s role in both the creation of the complicated technology and the early formation of programming.

We begin with the Electro Importing Co. and the imagination of one of the greatest names in science fiction.  Then head into scientific realities — the failures of mechanical televisions and the brutal patent wars between RCA’s David Sarnoff and one of the great inventors of television, Philo Farnsworth.

 In victory, Sarnoff claimed the mantel of ‘father of television’ at the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens.  It’s but one of many great New York City’s beloved landmarks with ties to television’s early history, from the heights of the Empire State Building to even a floor at Wanamaker’s Department Store.

Video telephones in the West Village. Spectacularly strange television displays at Madison Square Garden. News broadcasts in Grand Central Terminal.  And we even go drinking with a few stars at McSorley’s Old Ale House!

ALSO: Why is Greg singing Cole Porter?

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to straight from here:
The Bowery Boys: New York City and the Birth of Television 1909-48

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A couple clarifications: Hugo Gernsback‘s experimental station WRNY at the Hotel Roosevelt operated radio frequencies in 1925 and tried out television broadcasts in August 1928.  I use both dates inter-changeably at one point.

RCA had 13 sets from 4 different models of televisions at their World’s Fair pavilion.  I think Tom said 12 sets. Maybe one of them was that plastic see-thru version (see below)?

David Sarnoff speaking at the 1939 World’s Fair, presenting the ‘debut’ of television. Although, of course, television had been around in some form or another in New York for over ten years by that time.

A diagram from 1928 outlining the mechanical television process, as described in the Hugh Gernsback-owned journal Radio News:

The first televised Major League baseball was broadcast by W2XBS on August 26, 1939, a game at Ebbets Field between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds.  It would also be the first television broadcast of the Dodgers losing a game! (source)

From the Dumont studios in the Wanamaker’s Department Store, 1946 (courtesy Eyes of a Generation):

There are almost no recordings of early American television.  The audio snippet from this week’s show comes from this 1949 RCA promotional video:

 

“Designing Tomorrow” glimpses the elegance of modernity via the earnestness of the World’s Fairs of the 1930s

The Museum of the City of New York‘s new exhibition “Designing Tomorrow: America’s World’s Fairs of the 1930s” examines the aspirational vision of the American future in the automobile age, and the use of a mostly-defunct style of public exhibition as a way to sell that vision.

There were over two dozen World Fairs in the 1930s, several of them in the United States. (The last American Worlds Fair was in New Orleans in 1984.)  While the MCNY show does feature artifacts from some of the other American shows (Dallas, San Diego), it mostly focuses on the biggest and most influential of these events — the 1939-40 exhibition held out in Flushing-Meadows, Queens.

The Flushing-Meadows extravaganza found optimism in all facets of modernity, from the eagerly awaited expansion of automobile culture to the slickness of modern design infiltrating the middle-class household. The MCNY exhibit is arranged by themes, using prints and dioramas to illustrate what exhibitors thought the future would bring.

Below: A pretentious introduction to the General Motors exhibit Futurama which delighted audiences with a miniaturized depiction of the future (circa 1960) designed by Norman Bel Geddes

Railroad cars transform into rolling luxury hotels. Home conveniences emerge from an industrial horizon of chemicals and plastics. The privileges of living modern even mutates the private home itself, as rooms take on new shapes and purposes to accommodate future conveniences.  In a way, fair exhibitions predicted the non-traditional household; they just assumed it would be the house itself that would change, not the nuclear family residing within it.

Attendees at the fair would have seen their entire reality methodically dissected and upgraded as they wandered from one corporate pavilion to the next. “Designing Tomorrow” leaves out most of the camp associated with World Fairs to illustrate the cold, beautiful and desirable efficiency exhibitors hoped would be associated with their products.

I’m sorry, it leaves out most of the camp. My personal highlight of the MCNY show is the return of Elektro, a brawny, golden robot by Westinghouse who became a spokesman of a product-consuming future. He even smoked cigarettes like all of us would certainly be doing in the upcoming years.

Below: The golden boy in all his mechanical masculine glory

The most powerful objects on display are actually its collection of early fair mockups, drawings of pavilions even more bizarre than those that were built. Be sure to search out an early suggestion for the entrance to the Flushing-Meadows fair, a gigantic Roman centurion that would have been the tallest thing standing in the entire borough. You’ll also see a breathtaking early vision the U.N. Headquarters by architectural wizard Hugh Ferriss.

There are examples of some items that would eventually invade American homes, including a gorgeous looking toaster. But who wants toast when we could have had a smoking robot?!

Designing Tomorrow: America’s World’s Fairs of the 1930s Dec 5 through Mar 31
For more information, visit their website

“Designing Tomorrow” glimpses the elegance of modernity via the earnestness of the World’s Fairs of the 1930s

The Museum of the City of New York‘s new exhibition “Designing Tomorrow: America’s World’s Fairs of the 1930s” examines the aspirational vision of the American future in the automobile age, and the use of a mostly-defunct style of public exhibition as a way to sell that vision.

There were over two dozen World Fairs in the 1930s, several of them in the United States. (The last American Worlds Fair was in New Orleans in 1984.)  While the MCNY show does feature artifacts from some of the other American shows (Dallas, San Diego), it mostly focuses on the biggest and most influential of these events — the 1939-40 exhibition held out in Flushing-Meadows, Queens.

The Flushing-Meadows extravaganza found optimism in all facets of modernity, from the eagerly awaited expansion of automobile culture to the slickness of modern design infiltrating the middle-class household. The MCNY exhibit is arranged by themes, using prints and dioramas to illustrate what exhibitors thought the future would bring.

Below: A pretentious introduction to the General Motors exhibit Futurama which delighted audiences with a miniaturized depiction of the future (circa 1960) designed by Norman Bel Geddes

Railroad cars transform into rolling luxury hotels. Home conveniences emerge from an industrial horizon of chemicals and plastics. The privileges of living modern even mutates the private home itself, as rooms take on new shapes and purposes to accommodate future conveniences.  In a way, fair exhibitions predicted the non-traditional household; they just assumed it would be the house itself that would change, not the nuclear family residing within it.

Attendees at the fair would have seen their entire reality methodically dissected and upgraded as they wandered from one corporate pavilion to the next. “Designing Tomorrow” leaves out most of the camp associated with World Fairs to illustrate the cold, beautiful and desirable efficiency exhibitors hoped would be associated with their products.

I’m sorry, it leaves out most of the camp. My personal highlight of the MCNY show is the return of Elektro, a brawny, golden robot by Westinghouse who became a spokesman of a product-consuming future. He even smoked cigarettes like all of us would certainly be doing in the upcoming years.

Below: The golden boy in all his mechanical masculine glory

The most powerful objects on display are actually its collection of early fair mockups, drawings of pavilions even more bizarre than those that were built. Be sure to search out an early suggestion for the entrance to the Flushing-Meadows fair, a gigantic Roman centurion that would have been the tallest thing standing in the entire borough. You’ll also see a breathtaking early vision the U.N. Headquarters by architectural wizard Hugh Ferriss.

There are examples of some items that would eventually invade American homes, including a gorgeous looking toaster. But who wants toast when we could have had a smoking robot?!

Designing Tomorrow: America’s World’s Fairs of the 1930s Dec 5 through Mar 31
For more information, visit their website

Mitt Romney visits the New York World’s Fair, May 1964

Apparently there’s some controversy involving the latest campaign ad from presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.  The ad, aimed at Michigan primary voters, displays the photograph at top while Mitt’s voiceover discusses ‘going to the Detroit auto show’. That may have just been some unfortunate sound editing, as Mitt was not in Detroit, but rather at the New York World’s Fair for ‘Michigan Day’ on May 18, 1964.

With his father, Michigan governor George Romney, young Mitt would have started his day with a breakfast at the fair’s spacious Top of The Fair Restaurant, entertained by master of ceremonies Arthur Godfrey and the musical stylings of the Michigan State marching band and a vocal ensemble from the University of Detroit. After a tour of the fairgrounds, the Romneys presented New York governor Nelson Rockefeller with a bushel of Michigan apples. For lunch, the governors and their entourages enjoyed a turkey luncheon at the Belgian Village (one of the more popular destinations thanks to a hot new food item, the ‘Belgian waffle’).

Many states had individual pavilions at the fair, including Alaska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri and others. (And, obviously, New York.) Michigan didn’t have a pavilion per se, but was clearly represented via the automotive pavilions. In the second photo above, the Romneys are headed towards the General Motors pavilion, one of the highlights of the fair, with its kitschy Futurama presentation. Teenage Mitt would certainly have been subjected to this spectacular and bombastic prediction of the future. Perhaps he was as filled with wonder as the child in this video:

It’s interesting that Romney was there with Rockefeller, as both were seeking the Republican nomination for president later that year. Both men were sidelined at the convention that year in favor of Barry Goldwater.

Pictures courtesy the AP

The rockets’ red glare, over the 1939 World’s Fair

An elaborate fireworks celebration over the grounds of the World’s Fair of 1939-40. (I’m not sure which year this picture was taken.) The wars of American independence, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and World War I are represented in a lighting display in the foreground.

And you also may have noticed something familiar over to the right. It’s the famous Coney Island parachute jump which transferred its residence its new Brooklyn residence seventy years ago. The beloved amusement landmark has seen a great many more July 4th celebrations long after this picture was taken. And sits a short distance from Nathan’s, where thousands of hot dogs have been shoveled into people’s mouths. (Read more here about the history of Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating competition.)

Auf Wiedersehen to a well-travelled World’s Fair original


In 1965, at the completion of the World’s Fair in Flushing-Meadows, many components like fountains, sculptures, lighting features and even whole pavilions were moved to other areas of the world. Most famously, the ‘It’s A Small World’ collection of animatronics made their way west to Disneyland. The Spanish pavilion moved to St. Louis and became a hotel. Parts of the New England pavilion decorated a shopping mall in Danbury, Mass.

But the Austrian pavilion seemed to win the prize for best post-fair afterlife. The entire structure was moved to a ski resort in western New York, where its unusual angular design seemed to fit quite nicely as a remote, snow-covered lodge. The Cockaigne Ski Resort paid just $3,000 for the used building, but spent a great deal more (nearly $200,000!) to transfer it almost 400 miles to its new home.

Unfortunately, the great, kitschy lodge was destroyed in a fire a couple weeks ago. Images taken in the smoldering aftermath don’t look pretty. The signature angle is completely gone. [Click here to see video of the blaze.]

According to a dedication booklet from the fair, the pavilion’s unusual triangle shape bear a symbolic purpose, “to symbolize Austria as a land of mountains and tourism, and constructed of wood to symbolize the richness of the timber and industry.” I’ll bet they’re really regretting that wood construction now!

You would have received the brochure to the right upon entering.

The pavilion was always closely tied to the skiing industry; in fact Austrian-made ski products were displayed inside during the Fair’s duration, serenaded by classical music from Austrian composers. And then there’s this, according Jeffrey Stanton’s excellent World’s Fair website Westland: “Beneath the pavilion were other contemporary sculptures and a large photographic exhibit of the SOS Children’s Villages, which were settlements for homeless children.”

Below: the Austrian pavilion prominently sticks out on the strange World’s Fair skyline. (epicharmus/Flickr)