Editor Emeritus - Ed Wilkinson

World’s Fair Was the Greatest Show on Earth

Last week, I wrote about the Vatican Pavilion at the New York 1964-1965 World’s Fair, and I mentioned the treasure trove of souvenirs that I found in my garage.

One was a book of discount coupons on attractions at the Fair. It was handed out by Pepsi.

One coupon gave you a 10-cent discount on a ride on the AMF Monorail that cost 80 cents. You could also get 20 cents off the 80-cent price of the Log Flume Ride. The Aerial Tower Ride cost $1, but you could get 25 cents off with a coupon.

Does anyone remember Dick Button’s Ice Extravaganza at the New York City building? It was 30 cents off the regular price of $3.

Brass Rail had the food concession, and so our discount book offered a savings of 50 cents off two complete meals or 25 cents off one meal.

You might find these savings negligible, but for a 16-year-old like myself at the time, you were glad for the extra coins in your pocket. After all, the $2 admission to the Fair greatly limited how much money you had to spend for the rest of the day.

No one seemed to mind the $1 for a Belgian Waffle that was topped with whipped cream and strawberries. Everyone had to try it once.

But the biggest and best things at the Fair were free. Corporations built the biggest pavilions and put on the best shows for free. General Motors with its Futurama and Ford Motor Co., where you could ride through in a Mustang, were two of the most memorable.

Not to be outdone were General Electric, Bell Telephone, Dupont and IBM, which offered looks at how we would be doing business in the future.

Johnson Wax showed an 18-minute film that won an Academy Award. Titled “To Be Alive,” the film was shown by three projections and depicted the dreams of men and women around the world.

There also was a controversial film that depicted Jesus as a circus clown. I don’t remember the pavilion (Christian Science Pavilion?), but it caused quite a stir at the time. By today’s standards, it wouldn’t raise a peep of protest.

For many of us, the New York World’s Fair was the greatest show on Earth. Most of us don’t remember that it was a money loser and that there was a controversy over how the Fair’s books were kept. We still talk about it today, 50 years after it opened. We still walk Flushing Meadows Park and point to where this or that pavilion was located.

Rockets and space capsules from NASA still dot the landscape. Of course, the Unisphere perches nicely on its three-pronged stand and has become an iconic symbol of the Borough of Queens. There’s a bench at the site of the Vatican Pavilion that reminds passersby that Pope Paul VI visited there on his historic pilgrimage for peace to the U.N. No one can figure out what to do with the New York State Pavilion, pictured above, that is rusting away in place, even as it serves as a backdrop for movies.

Time Capsules

And there are two time capsules, one from the 1939 Fair and one from 1964-1965, courtesy of Westinghouse, buried near the N.Y.S. building that will be opened in 6938. The first contains writings of Albert Einstein, among other things, and the second holds such items as a slide rule and a Beatles album.

All of which means that for the next 5,000 years, people will be talking about the New York World’s Fair. It’s only right that they will be remembered since their likes will never be seen again.

Next week, I will conclude our celebration of the golden anniversary of the World’s Fair by recounting some of the stories that were sent in by our readers.

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