New York recalls the World's Fair glory days

Sat May 17, 2014 4:22pm EDT
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By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The 1964 World's Fair in New York drew 51 million visitors to gaze in awe at its Technicolor visions of the future, sample exotic cuisines and join in singing along at the wildly popular “It’s a Small World” attraction.

Fifty years later, New York City on Sunday will celebrate the fair's remarkable impact with the hope of recapturing some of its wonder and promise in an anniversary festival.

The site is at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, where the monumental 140-foot steel Unisphere can still be readily seen from nearby LaGuardia Airport, and the anniversary marks both the 1964 and 1939 fairs, offering free exhibits, walking tours, memorabilia and performances.

"We want to attract both the World's Fair enthusiasts, the people who may have fond memories and want to relive it, and also just families and people who weren't even born at the time," said Janice Melnick, park administrator.

The fair that opened in 1964 was an exuberant cacophony of water skiers and porpoises from Florida, slick cars from Detroit, futuristic underwater houses, DuPont's Wonderful World of Chemistry, moving pedestrian sidewalks and a monorail gliding overhead.

"What is to come, through the fair's eyes at least, is wonderful," science fiction author Isaac Asimov wrote at the time. "The direction in which man is traveling is viewed with buoyant hope."

Astronauts made appearances, the Beatles did a helicopter flyover and Michelangelo's Pieta sculpture was on loan from the Vatican.

"It was a real period of optimism, that life was good in the '60s, but it was going to be great going forward," said Bill Cotter, a World's Fair historian in Los Angeles. "Unfortunately, life has not turned out to be quite as utopian as the fair."   Continued...

An artist works on a piece marking the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World's Fair at Flushing Meadows -Corona Park in the Queens borough of New York May 12, 2014.  REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton