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NEW YORK CITY and the WORLD'S FAIR in 1965

Part Two: At the Fair

Now it was time. We descended the concrete steps, and stood on the subway platform. The train roared in, and off we went, bouncing and clacking, with the lights blinking on and off. Then the darkness faded, and we surfaced! I wasn't expecting this, either. I thought the subway always went underground. We had a splendid view crossing the river, with the cool air blowing through some opened windows. Suddenly someone said "There it is!" and so it was - a little Unisphere surrounded by those odd buildings, small but getting larger as we approached. The train screeched into the station, and we had arrived.

We walked down the stairs from the platform, and after a short wait in line, we passed through the portal. Flags and banners snapped in the breeze, and we strolled down the broad Avenue of the Americas towards the centrally located symbol of the Fair - the Unisphere. This was a huge stainless steel globe, 120 feet in diameter, built by a company (then) called U.S. Steel. Although it was only a shell, with latitude and longitude lines connecting the land masses, it weighed almost a million pounds. Three hoops encircled it, inaccurately representing the orbits of the new communications satellites, and thereby symbolizing (somehow) the Fair's theme, "Peace Through Understanding". Lights on the surface located major cities, and this big, shiny, metal ball was mounted on an inverted tripod in the circular Fountain of the Continents.

Most of the pavilions weren't quite open yet, since they'd released the gates a little before the official opening time, so we just drifted about with the crowd a bit. Then we joined the queue for the General Electric Pavilion. We'd learned about this one on television, too - a Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color show devoted to audio-animatronics, or what they were calling their new life-like robots. These were introduced at several Fair pavilions: there was an Abraham Lincoln at the Illinois Pavilion that stood up and made a speech (but we didn't see him), some cavemen at the Ford pavilion, all those foolish twitching figures in "It's a Small World" and at G.E., where whole life-sized robot-families moved about on stage. We waited in line outside, underneath a blue canopy next to a low wall. I sat on the wall, and set down the camera my Dad had recently given me. After a time the line suddenly jerked into motion, and I hopped up and joined it. About 20 feet away some man yelled about a camera and I ran back and retrieved my handsome tan and brass art deco Argus 35 mm. It served me well for 20 years (when Dad bought me a new automatic model and requested its return).

We entered a theater and took our seats. The program was electrical development in the American home, and it was theatre-in-the-round, with each act on a different stage. But instead of the usual spinning stage, the whole audience rotated into the new scene. This was the General Electric Carousel of Progress.

First we saw a turn of the century family. The system wasn't fully powered up or something because we watched them perform their skit repeatedly. Finally, the third time the family broke into the closing theme,

There's a great big beautiful Tomorrow, Shining, at the end of every day! There's a great big beautiful Tomorrow...
we rotated into the second act, a mid-'20s home with wires strung everywhere. Eventually we saw an early Fifties family, and then... an easy, glittering family in the near future. It's Christmas, their aluminum tree sparkled, and their every whim was satisfied - electrically. Now the closing music was so familiar that we all sang along with them about Tomorrow as we filed out of the hall.

Here we encountered the first of what was to be many different World's Fair people-movers that utilized escalator technology in new ways. This one was a smooth belt of ribbed metal treads, angled up at about thirty degrees through a triangular kaleidoscopic light-show tunnel. At the end was a large dark room with a clear sphere in the center containing some apparatus. As an announcer spoke, a thunderclap flashed inside the sphere. We walked on past some trivial displays to the exit. I never did understand that final detonation.

At the insistence of my two brothers, we next visited Continental Insurance. There wasn't much to this pavilion, some exhibits and an open-air movie theater, but they showed these musical neo-cartoons that really intrigued Jeff. They were more slide shows than cartoons, with minimal drawings suggesting famous and unknown heroes of the American Revolution, set to stirring military-style music. Jeff so liked this program that he spent hard-saved money on the souvenir record album. Since this was the first LP any of us boys had, it was played often, and I got to know those songs well. (Too well...though now I can only recall a few bars of "The Continental Soldier" and "General Von Steuben.")

Leaving this pavilion, we had lunch at 7-Up. I don't know what food we had there, something international, but it was very attractive and delicious, with 7-Up to drink, of course. The eating area was light and airy, under a roof but with no walls. After our meal, we rode in the semi-scary gondolas of the Swiss Sky Ride, dangling over the beautiful fairgrounds. The pavilions of New England and Polynesia were visited next, but I don't remember what was inside.

We paused at the edge of a reflecting pool in the Court of the Astronauts, near the classically sculptured statue of "The Rocket Thrower". This alleged 'Greek' god of Spaceflight was twice life-sized, and he's still there today. Howard took over the burden of carrying Andy in our new reversed-papoose baby-backpack. This was a new product, and so logical that people were always coming up and asking us about it. Then Dad and I photographed the family with the Unisphere.

We approached the Coca-Cola pavilion. Nowadays I have little use for this beverage, but then I was a big fan of soda-pop and Coke was one of my favorites. Cans were new and returnable bottles were the norm back in those days. Bottle-caps were far more common then, and my brothers and I collected them, usually merely for variety, but sometimes to a purpose, like contests. In 1965 the design of Coke bottle-caps included a small picture of a globe with the Coca-Cola logo, and this indicated the presence on the underside of a representational picture and name of a country. Prizes were associated with collecting all of the different countries (which we never managed), and it was all part of the current promotion of Coke as the "international" drink. Hence, Coca-cola's "World of Refreshment": a series of static, life-sized, meticulously detailed dioramas displaying Coke artifacts (but no people using them) in exotic foreign environs. Since this wasn't even remotely futuristic, I wouldn't nominally have been interested, but this was a very important pavilion due to an incident the year before.

Towards the end of that summer I'd made a scrapbook entry from the Saturday Evening Post about this kid from Long Island who'd run away from home to hang out at the Fair, since his parents wouldn't take him there. For twelve days Dominic Tucci survived, wandering all over, eluding the authorities; and he solved the money/food problem by scrounging coins out of the many fountains at night. At Coca-Cola, he'd discovered a tunnel behind a jeep in a jungle scene that led to some hideout where he'd been sleeping just before they caught him. We found the jeep, with its headlights burning and a couple of empty Coke bottles on the hood for verisimilitude, but we couldn't discern any tunnel entrance. Perhaps they'd remodeled after the Tucci affair.

The success of Dominic's mission had fascinated me, and if we'd lived within the web of NYC public transport, perhaps I could have duplicated his feat. Now that we were actually on the scene, however, it didn't look like such a hot idea.

Then we visited the pale yellow cantilevered rectangular solid of the Bell Telephone pavilion. I can't tell you what Ma Bell's message was, no doubt something covering the history of communication, but I do remember the beginning and the end of her show. We boarded moving seats on a conveyor belt. These armchairs had little loudspeakers in their headrests, and they'd rotate to point you at the action. Many of the Fair's attractions used some form of this crowd-transportation, but the chairs were generally for a single rider. These extra-large models held two people, so Howard and I slid sideways down a corridor, facing a mirror. As the speakers announced that "You would be the hero of this story", our reflections' familiar features smoothly transformed into those of a rugged, Robin Hood-style woodsman with orange hair and a green outfit. A row of identical, smiling heroes rode gliding chairs into the darkness.

Afterwards, among the Bell Labs exhibit, one could allegedly 'use' the new picturephones, but we couldn't locate them. We did find one amazing thing there, while Mom changed Andy's diaper on an out-of-the-way bench: a pair of short, parallel hallways connecting two areas. The ceilings of these passages were made of that sound-absorbing material I'd seen in various photos of testing chambers - it looks like a plaid matrix composed of isosceles prism-wedges. It worked, too - at the midpoint of the hallway our normal speaking voices were almost inaudible. We were in there shouting and giggling by the time Dad chased us out, and we left Bell Telephone.

By now we were hungry, and we got to sample the dessert that was introduced at this Fair, much like the ice cream cone at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition. This was Belgian Waffles, served 'al fresco' at the "World Fiesta People-to-People" next to the Festival of Gas pavilion. We'd seen people eating these large, crusty waffles topped with strawberries and whipped cream on television and in magazine pictures, and finally we got to eat them. They were delicious, but unfortunately, they remained a food only associated with World's Fairs - I didn't have another until Expo '67. Now one can sometimes find them in the boutique-eatery malls found at major urban renovations, like Baltimore's Harborplace. (The real thing, I mean - nowadays most restaurants throw a fruit topping on their normal breakfast waffle and call them 'Belgian' - but they're not.) I must report, however, that due to my European travels, I now classify 'Belgian' waffles with 'English' muffins, 'Danish' pastries, and 'French' fries. You figure it out.

We walked along the edge of the Fountain of the Planets, moving among the Fairgoers in the warm afternoon sunshine. Yonder was the huge white IBM egg, resting on a forest of artificial trees. A grandstand of people were being hoisted up inside to see the show, but we passed it all by due to the length of the line. The show within was allegedly a multi-screened audio-visual computer extravaganza, emceed by a host who seemed to float in the center, standing on a small white disk. We strolled on to the United States Pavilion - a big square international-style box, raised above the ground and overhanging the entrance. Inside were more moving hi-fidelity chairs. These traveled eight abreast up inclines and around corners while old movies of comical American endeavors were projected on screens that swung up out of the way as we approached and passed by. What's really amazing about this pavilion is that five years later, when we returned to the fairgrounds, it was one of the very few buildings remaining in what is now Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Closed, abandoned, and surrounded by a chain link fence, with a solitary graffiti message on the wall next to the doors:

The Pedestrian
Ray Bradbury
By 1980, when I again returned to Flushing, even this pavilion had vanished.

The sky had clouded up some and the sun was setting, but it was still warm. I needed more film, and after Dad bought me some at a souvenir stand, I reloaded my camera. Then we strolled across a pedestrian overpass as busy traffic hummed along the Grand Central Parkway beneath us. At the end of the bridge we entered the Transportation Area, where the Futurama lived. A gold, slightly unusual sedan drove past us, slowly and silently. This was Chrysler's Turbine Car, offering free rides. I had no idea what its turbine engine was all about, but I had a fuzzy notion that it was similar to the small, sealed nuclear reactor-motors Tom Swift, Jr. had used in his Triphibian Atomicar (one motor per wheel). Anyway, Chrysler was pushing this new turbine technology then, and they'd even built 50 of these gold cars and loaned them out across the country to loyal Chrysler customers to get user feedback. We didn't ride in the turbine-mobile, but we did walk underneath the big white Chrysler pentagon-stars which leaned together to form the pavilion's roof. Next door was a huge, simplified automobile engine. We walked underneath and looked up at the gaily-colored moving pistons, rotating axles and gears, and flashing sparkplugs. Coming out from the opposite side we saw the U.S. Rubber ferris wheel, in the form of a large black tire with a central groove containing the red-roofed gondolas (instead of the usual seats). Next door was a low, rectangular building topped with a large floodlit dome, with realistically sculptured craters covering its surface - the Moon Dome. Inside was a planetarium-style theatre where we a watched a movie made by the Cinerama people. Titled "To the Moon and Beyond", I'd marveled at its announcement in a full page Sunday supplement advertisement the year before. The same picture came to mind a few years later when I first saw the poster for 2001. This movie was rather forgettable, however - all I remember is a long shot from out in space zooming in on the Earth's disc and suddenly cutting to an underwater shot of some fish. We left this pavilion and finally joined the Futurama queue!

Nobody was really quite sure how to describe the shape of the General Motors Pavilion, the Fair's largest. Most of it was long and low, like a factory. Stuck onto one end was a flying saucer, surmounted by an immobile propeller with 3 flat vertical blades of marquee lights flashing the date, time, and temperature. Down at our end, the building ended in an enormous curving ribbed metal wall, canted out over the switchback lines of people waiting at the entrance. In my scrapbook I had a cartoon depicting this entrance as the gaping, fanged mouth of a monster. The big "GM" letters up towards the top of the pleated cowl became its eyes, looking down on the crowd. The meaning of a line of dark rectangles along the bottom of the curve had mystified me. Soon I saw these rectangles from the other side. We boarded moving audio chairs, this time in threes, and rode past these grilled ventilating slots, catching brief glimpses of the evening lights of the Fair, and the people down below. Then without any preliminaries, we slid into the Future.

Unlike the original, which tagged its vision in 1960, this Futurama was set in an indeterminate 'near future', perhaps due to the inaccuracy of the first predictions. Like the original, this was a highly detailed series of modeled environments that opened up on either side of our path. The headrest-speakers explained the vistas, and sound effects came from the scenes. We passed a vast farm with the sun setting over the distant mountains. A space needle protruded up nearby, and we could see the technicians within controlling the "Blooming of the Desert". A road stretched away, passing a solitary residence upon a mesa. Then we were traveling deep beneath the ocean, where we saw an underwater resort hotel 'in season.' Guests with miniature aqualungs rode powered lounge chairs among the plastic fishes. We passed low over the moon's surface, just in time to catch two lunar vehicles climbing over a crater's lip, heading towards a distant base. Their sets of 6 golf-ball wheels left fresh tracks in the lunar dust.

We came back to earth in Antarctica. After observing some busy surface operations, we passed through the global weather control center, deep underground. The scene shifted to the taming of the Amazon rain forest, or maybe the jungles of Africa. Here an enormous crawling land vehicle used its laser beam headlight to sever the trees, which it engorged along with all the undergrowth in the path of its relentless forward progress. After interior processing all this foliage was left behind in the juggernaut's wake, transformed into a six-lane asphalt highway. Truly a General Motors dream machine.

Finally we entered the dazzling City of Tomorrow, a forest of space-aged skyscrapers set in a grid of multi-leveled roadways alive with tiny fast-moving cars. The metropolis receded, and then we had to disembark, just a few yards away from where we got on. I was all for staying put for another round, but they made me get off. We rode downstairs on an escalator, and saw some exhibits of futuristic kitchen appliances and (of course) cars. We picked up our souvenir "I Have Seen The Future" pins, and as we made our exit I thoughtfully noted their other slogan. "If You've Only Seen It Once, You Haven't Seen It All."

Outside it was night, and all the lights were on. We walked back towards the center of the Fair, and encountered the New York State pavilion (one of today's survivors). This place was basically just a large open tubular shell, with three towers standing beside it. These were Bauhaus Space Needles: short, fat cylinders atop tall, narrow ones, with capsule outside elevators providing access. The short one held a restaurant (non-rotating) and the other two were observation platforms. We went up the tallest one, and the view was great. The fountains were illuminated with changing colored lights, and a few fireworks were visible over the Recreation Area. Nearby, the domed roof of General Electric seemed to be revolving. Thousands of colored light bulbs encrusting its surface blinked with the proper sequence to create this effect. In front of G.E. was a pavilion that had failed to deliver - the Electric Power and Light Pavilion. A common image associated with the World's Fair was their vertical-prismed building, with its wide central zillion-candlepower beam of white light shooting straight up into the sky. They said the "Tower of Light" could be seen six states away, but maybe because it was such a clear night or there was a malfunction, it didn't seem to emit anything. But the Unisphere was shiny, bathed in its floodlights, and we could hear snatches of music coming from down below. We were all very tired then, and I don't remember the subway ride back to the hotel at all. I may have fallen asleep.

The next morning, Dad extracted the Vista-Cruiser and we drove away from the hotel and Manhattan. We returned to the World's Fair at the parking lot adjacent to the Recreation Zone. Walking over to the gate, we came across one of the spaciest gas stations I've ever seen. All red or green enamel and chrome, the pumps had an elliptical cross section, with these 'Dagmars' protruding out of the sides over the hoses. We hurried past, through the gates, and were back in the Fair. After walking underneath the AMF Monorail, which slid by overhead on its pointless circuit around Recreation, and past the Unisphere into the Transportation Area, we got in line for Ford.

The Ford pavilion featured their Magic Skyway. No moving chairs here - we rode in brand new Ford Galaxie convertibles, and they drove themselves along the Skyway - slowly, but close together (and in a single lane of traffic). A magazine article had explained the modules in the cars and the electronics embedded in the Skyway that performed the Magic, but I didn't recall if they'd replaced the engines with smaller electric motors. If not, it seemed to me like a fantastic and potentially dangerous situation, but I never heard of any crashes on the Magic Skyway. Later I discovered the Magic was related to San Francisco's cable-cars.

We finally got into our car, with Mom & Dad taking their usual places up front, and were driven into the time tunnel. This was great - a slight downhill grade through a myriad of colored patches of light, swirling down and around a seemingly endless black tube. The commentary began, naturally coming from the car's radio. I'd been told that you could get it in different languages by pushing the radio buttons, but I forgot to check that out. (Anyway, I was in the back seat, where I couldn't reach it.) We emerged in the Land of the Dinosaurs. A bronto nearby moved his head and big neck around to observe our passage, and a volcano was erupting in the background. Then we drove into a cave inhabited by real, moving cavemen who looked threatening. The primeval forest was visible through the cave's mouth. There may have been some transitional scenes I've forgotten, but suddenly we drove into the Future - and this was a beautiful but abstract glimpse of the Future, very unlike the Futurama. A huge, darkened room, filled with shimmering parabolic arches and suggestions of Jetsons-style architecture with flashing fireworks or spaceships rocketing into the glittering stars overhead. A thorough examination was impossible, as the car inexorably followed its neighbors through a hole in the wall, out into a transparent tunnel which wound around midway up the circular pavilion's exterior wall. We hopped out of the convertible and left Ford, and I forgot to look for the glow-in-the-dark pins on the way out! I was probably still dazzled by that futuristic flash...

We strolled the length of the Fair's central reflecting pools and came to the smooth golden flying saucer of Johnson's Wax, gleaming in the sunlight. This pavilion had two attractions: "To Be Alive", a special movie that I thought sounded kind of dumb, and the "Nonsense Machine", an area for the kids to explore, which intrigued me. We watched the movie in a normal theater, and it turned out to be the good part. This kid walked around holding a long prism up to his eyes, and the camera gave us his rainbow-edged view of the world. I thought this was neat since I'd done the same thing with an identical prism Dad had brought home one day a few years before. The Nonsense Machine was childish and full of little kids - it was obviously geared towards a younger age group than my own. Triangular translucent tunnels with barriers of dangling green plastic cords (like a bead door) - that sort of thing. Outside, we ran into a friend of Howard's named Paul Johnson. He showed us this shiny orange pin shaped like a dolphin that read "Florida". The Johnsons had just come from that pavilion, near the parking lot. We missed it, though. We said goodbye to Paul and headed back to the People-to-People Fiesta for a final Belgium Waffle lunch.

After chow we inspected the Unisphere. I wanted to sit on the wall encircling its fountains and reflecting pool, but there were too many people with the same idea. Some of them dangled bare feet in the water but I thought it was kind of cool out for that, even though the early June sun shone in a cloudless blue sky. We went over to Westinghouse and looked up at the mirror-polished time capsule, suspended by cables and pylons high in the air. Mom and Dad went inside to sign a big book which was to be placed inside among the other timely articles. Then we walked across the avenue into the arena-like cylinder of New York State, and joined the crowd milling about on the floor, upon which was painted a large road map of the state of New York. I looked up at the ceiling, a mosaic made of red and blue plastic triangles, and at the sky between the top of the low walls and the roof. After a short while we left that pavilion and returned to the Transportation Area.

Here we strolled through the Sinclair Dinoland. Sinclair used to be a gasoline company that used a green dinosaur for its logo, a Brontosaurus. At the fair they'd created a series of life-sized dinosaurs, some with animated appendages. They also had these new machines that made injection-molded plastic dinosaur toys for 50 cents, while you watched. The finished product was warm and still slightly malleable. Jeff and I each got one, and then we found ourselves in front of the GM pavilion again - and this time there was no line! I persuaded my parents to ride through again, and the slogan was right - I did see much more the second time. It was so amazing, and I hated to leave, but then it was over, along with our visit to the Fair.

We moved back towards the Recreation Area, and bought some souvenirs. I got some square window stickers in the Fair's official blue-and-orange color scheme, and a box of picture-cards, one for each pavilion. Then I spotted a machine like a weighing scale, that said for 10 cents, if you stood on it, your aching feet would feel much better. I got a dime from Dad and placed my feet inside the foot outlines on its platform and inserted the coin. The platform began to vibrate, and after a few minutes my legs and feet felt amazingly rejuvenated. The therapy wore off a little while later.

We passed through the Vatican Pavilion, and saw Michelangelo's "Pieta", on loan for the Fair's duration. I bought another souvenir here - a fuzzy Pieta postcard, that allegedly glowed in the dark. When I got home I discovered that it was, in fact, phosphorescent, and not the usual ghostly green, either, but a bluish purple. We walked into the Hawaii pavilion, where they decorated us with "leis", and then we finally exited through the gates. We located our silver vehicle in the parking lot, and drove away from New York and its great World's Fair.

© 1987
Next: After the Fair
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