Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rant #239: We Are the World's Fair

The reason I did not wait until today to post about the 40th anniversary of Earth Day is that today is also another anniversary of something significant in my life, and I must say much more significant than Earth Day was or is:

Today is the 46th anniversary of the opening of the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair.

Just a few months after taking office after the harrowing assassination of President John F. Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson opened the fair, the first in New York City in decades.

It was sited in Flushing Meadow Park, very much near the Mets' new home at the time, Shea Stadium.

Since I lived in Queens at the time, we were very near the fairgrounds, and my family and I went to the World's Fair several times during those years. We also went in summer camp, so all in all, I became very familiar with the World's Fair at a very tender age, just seven and eight years old.

This was the greatest thing imaginable to me at the time, probably the biggest thing I had ever been to. This was Palisades Amusement Park times 10. It had rides, exhibits, food, and many, many corporations and foreign countries participating.

Unfortunately, looking back years later, it was one of the biggest busts of all time, especially early on.

I guess the organizers figured that having a World's Fair in New York would draw people to the site in droves, as it had during the 1939 World's Fair, which is most remembered as the fair where people during that time first saw a new-fangled gadget that would change life forever: television.

Anyway, jumping ahead to 1964 ...

People did not come in droves. For whatever reason, this fair did not attract that many people during its first year. It seems that word spread that the fair was mobbed with people, and that turned a lot of people off. Of course, this was a pre-Internet time, only hearsay, and nothing could be further from the truth.

Also, a lot of the attractions didn't work at first, and word spread about this, turning people off further.

I think the real reason that the fair failed early on was that the country was still in mourning. We had just lost our President a few months before, and people were still down in the dumps about it. Were they supposed to automatically cheer up because the World's Fair was here?

But for me, this was the greatest thing I had ever been to in my life. Everything was so big, so huge, and so special to me.

I have nothing but good memories of the World's Fair. I remember riding the Sinclair ride, the "We're a Small World After All" ride, eating different foods I had never seen before in my life, and seeing people from all walks of life populate the site.

I remember the Unisphere, the symbol of the fair, and I remember riding in the front seat behind the wheel of a new Ford (or was it a Chrysler; I don't remember) on another ride. I remember the New York Pavilion, and the ride where you could actually see where you lived on a scaled down replica of New York City.

Although attendance picked up in the second year of the fair, the fair closed in 1965 amid allegations of financial mismanagement. As a little kid, I figured the fair would be there forever, but those dozen or so times I was there, it was like magic.

I know that there have been many other World's Fairs, but to me, this was it. Nothing could be any better.

In the years since, the fairgrounds have been decimated by neglect. Some of the buildings still stand, as does the Unisphere, but you have to cut through weeds and brush to get to it. New York City has to be blamed for this. How could the city let this historic site turn to garbage?

It's really too bad, because for me, the 1964-1965 World's Fair was the greatest thing I ever went to.

And you know what, all these years later, it still is.

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