1939 and 1964 New York World's Fair memories: From Jayne Mansfield to Walt Disney to robots
For many who attended the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, it was The One to remember.
Baby boomers, who at the time were teenagers or younger, now compare it to Disney World. Despite the 50 years that have gone by since the fair opened, Act 2 readers say they remember it like yesterday -- the innovative pavilions, the novelty of push-button phones, the scrumptious Belgian waffles with strawberries and whipped cream, animated life-size dinosaurs and so much more.
Readers who also attended the 1939-1940 World's Fair are no less enthusiastic about the grand sites they encountered back then -- including a visit from the king and queen of England and their daughter, who would become Queen Elizabeth II.
Both fairs were such momentous events that readers have kept souvenirs -- trinkets, toys, ticket stubs, guidebooks, maps, pamphlets, postcards, ceramics, jewelry, model replicas and many, many photos.
Thanks to all who shared their World's Fair memories. Here are snippets of some of them that may take you back 50 to 75 years.
Gwen Young, Act 2 Editor
All meet at the fair
My Aunt Myrtle Leo, who is now 94 and lives with us, was at both World's Fairs. She has wonderful memories of both, but one stands out at the 1964 fair, and I was actually a part of it. My late uncle, Enrico "Rick" Leo, Myrtle's husband, was one of our great American heroes who landed at Normandy beach. He was a tank operator. So many lives were lost exiting the landing crafts and trying to make it up the beach.
Uncle Rick had a best friend all through boot camp and the ride overseas, but he couldn't find him after Normandy. Rick survived the war and was part of a group that liberated one of the concentration camps. When he came back to the States, he went to work for American Banknote as an armored guard and Myrtle worked for Bloomingdale's. They never had children, so my sisters and I were taken on many vacations and other places with them. One place they had taken me was to the 1964-1965 World's Fair. We were walking up the main promenade toward the Unisphere, surrounded by people, and I remember a man screaming, "Leo, Leo, Leo." My uncle and the man were crying and hugging each other and not letting go. It was his best friend, and each had thought the other had died at Normandy. Years later, my uncle told me that at some points throughout the next couple of years overseas, they were only 100 yards away from each other and didn't know it. It took the World's Fair to reunite them.
Charles Kamer, Shirley
Pickles and the 'Pietà'
As a lad of 7, my parents took me to the 1939 fair in Flushing Meadows. We went by trolley car, which traveled along Horace Harding Boulevard, now the Long Island Expressway. I still have a Heinz pickle pin that was handed out free.
At the 1964 World's Fair, my favorite pavilion was the Vatican building, where they displayed Michelangelo's "Pietà."
Herb Fahr, Plainview
Future phones, cars
The amazing new technology was what really stuck out to us: my first push-button phone. We loved being able to call my grandmother and let her know we were talking to her on a phone that wasn't rotary. My prized souvenir car came from the Chrysler Pavilion. They had a full-scale Experimental Turbine Car on display, and they were giving away toy models if you won their game. A dozen fair attendees were ushered into numbered chairs, where we had to shout for salesmen to choose the chair number and receive the one toy car. I tried over and over, waiting on long lines until I was a winner. While the real car was never made, I have proof of Chrysler's dream.
Guy Gagliano, Selden
Waffles, and prayers
I remember that area well near the Belgian village, where I would get Belgian waffles, go to Sunday Mass at the Vatican Pavilion and, best of all, get to meet people from all over the world.
A spectacular summer
In the summer of 1964, while a junior in college, I worked for Brass Rail at a souvenir kiosk. I met a lot of interesting people. It was a great summer job and experience that I will always treasure.
Joseph Walters, Plainview
Meeting a sex symbol
I was 18. My first job at the fair was at the Transportation and Travel Pavilion, where I saw many actors and other famous people, such as the shah of Iran, Eddie Albert and Dagmar.
The most memorable moment came when I was picked to escort Jayne Mansfield to do a photo shoot on the roof of a pavilion shaped like the moon, a greenish-colored dome with craters on it. She was holding two small dogs as she was walking. What does an 18-year-old say to a sex goddess? The only thing that came to mind was, "What kind of dogs are they?" She answered, "Italian greyhounds."
Ray Steinberg, Commack
My favorite memory is of the NCR [National Cash Register] Pavilion. I loved going in there and playing with all the cash registers. Odd things impress you when you are 7 years old!
Robin Starr, Merrick
It didn't seem like work
My husband, Richard, and I worked at the 1964-1965 World's Fair. I worked at the Brass Rail. Richard worked for Pinkerton.
There was a party atmosphere most of the first year. Everything was fascinating. The pavilions, the lights, the shows. My favorite show was at the IBM Pavilion. They had animatronic robots that acted just like they were living. My mother-in-law swore they were real people. We got to ride in the first 1964 Mustangs at the Ford Pavilion. You could get a dinner at Tad's Steak House for $1. On our days off, Richard and I would bring our children, John and Jeannine, to the fair. At the end of the fair, someone started a rumor that you could take the flowers from the beautiful beds that were planted and people started ripping them out of the ground and tried to take them home, but they were stopped by the Pinkertons.
We lived in Bay Ridge in 1964 and commuted an hour and a half each way to get to the fair. I earned $1.50 an hour, but would have worked there for free. It was the experience of a lifetime.
Mary Rossi, Holbrook
Building a pavilion
When the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair was being planned and built, I was the chief of construction for Welton Becket Associates Architects. I was in charge of the construction of the Ford Pavilion, which was designed by Welton Becket, with the interior by Walt Disney. I was fortunate enough to be present together with Mr. Becket and Mr. Disney on the fairgrounds, discussing the Ford Motor Company Pavilion as it was being built.
Jack Zubli, New Hyde Park
Do you want to dance?
Imagine the thrill of being a teenager asked to perform at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair!
I was a dance student at the LeRoy School of Dance in Lynbrook when I was selected to dance two solo dances: a tequila tap dance and a Charlie Chaplin-character dance at the New York State Pavilion.
Joan Hope MacNaughton, Lynbrook
The colors of wonder
I was about 9 years old and living with my family in Woodside, Queens. My dad was a New York City firefighter at the time (Engine 21 in Manhattan) and moonlighted as a Pinkerton guard at the fair. He would call my mother when the crowds were lighter and tell her it was a good time to come. Going to the World's Fair was like that scene in "The Wizard of Oz," when the picture changes from black and white to color.
Patti Fore, Stony Brook
Disney World ancestor
The World's Fair was our Disney World. I can remember running up and down the stone steps at the Belgian Village, being amazed by acrobatics of the water skiers at the Florida Pavilion, running through the children's fun maze at Johnson's Wax and driving antique cars at Avis. At Bell Telephone we got to ride in moving chairs and the prediction was that you may be able to see the person on the other end of the line in the future!
Karen Vati, Massapequa Park
The head of the line
I was a brand-new teenager when the New York World's Fair opened on my 13th birthday, April 22, 1964. My parents were teenagers when the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair came about, and their excitement about the new fair began a whole year before it opened, as they told my sister and me of the experiences each had at the old fair and shared their mounting enthusiasm for the new one coming.
My mother said she had never tasted Coca-Cola or eaten pizza before she went to the earlier fair, and my dad had been enthralled by all that had been "the future" in electronics.
In my clearest memory of the fair, we were on line for the Ford exhibit, which had convertibles that each family climbed into. We would travel through a wonderfully air-conditioned, audio-animated "history lesson" that began with dinosaurs and ended at what was predicted to be "the future." It was a very hot day, and we'd been standing on the line for almost an hour. Nearing the head of the line, my mother fainted.
Two attendants rushed out with a wheelchair and we were all whisked away to the pavilion's health office. I had been allowed to bring a friend with me that day to the fair, and while my mother was being revived and examined by a doctor, my friend and I commiserated, as only self-centered teenagers can do, about how unfair it was that Mom had to go and faint after we waited all that time in all that heat! A half-hour later, my renewed and hydrated mother walked out of the health office feeling much better, and, just as we thought we'd be heading to the end of the line again, a Ford employee directed us to the very beginning to catch the next available convertible into the exhibit.
Delighted, I remember my father joking, "If we'd known fainting was going to get us to the head of the line, we'd have had Mom faint when were still at the end!"
Joyce Oehler-Ey, Holbrook
Rain didn't dampen her
I was 11 years old in 1964. I grew up on Long Island. Both my parents were from upstate, and we had lots of relatives who would visit for the fair. The longest lines were for the Ford, General Motors and General Electric pavilions. Sometimes, the wait was over two hours for each one.
My grandmother came to visit, and the day we were to go to the fair, it was raining heavily. She was a tough Irish immigrant who was not going to let a little rain bother her. Off we went in the rainstorm, and the fair was the emptiest I had seen it in all my trips there. Since I loved the three pavilions so much, I suggested we go to them right away -- there were NO lines! I was in my glory, experiencing all three in a matter of 90 minutes. Never happened again, but it was a great day for the Murphys.
James Murphy, Jericho
A delicious splurge
I can especially savor the thoughts of one food item, the Belgian waffle. At 99 cents, it cost more than 10 times my allowance. So I saved my money for 10 weeks and could hardly wait to dive into the strawberries, whipped cream and waffle. It was worth the wait and every penny.
Douglas Monaghan, Floral Park
Love at the fair
Fifty years ago, Richard and I fell in love at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. We had just started dating and we would drive from Smithtown to Flushing Meadows every weekend. I was 17 and he was 18. The first time we ever held hands was at the fair. The first time we kissed was after spending all day at the fair. By the end of the summer, he asked me to marry him. The following summer, in 1965, we went to the fair as a newly married couple.
Our favorite pavilion was the GE Carousel of Progress. When the fair closed, it was moved to Disneyland and later reopened at Disney World. Whenever we visit the Magic Kingdom, we always ride the Carousel of Progress with fond memories.
Ginger Jensen, Coram
And, back in 1939 . . .
I was 12 years old at the time of the 1939-1940 World's Fair. We were still in the years of the Great Depression, and the fair was like a fairyland. I can remember the General Motors exhibit called "Futurama" that showed the highways and other things that were magical at that time. Air-conditioning was just beginning, and walking into the exhibits to feel the cool air on a hot summer day was wonderful. Also, there was the Aquacade show that was new and entertaining. The concession stands had the best hamburgers. It was a wonderful place to be.
Harry McLaughlin, Jericho
Leading the band
As a 17-year-old drum majorette for Washington Irving High School, I was selected by our music director to lead our band at the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair. Now, at 91, this is what I vividly remember as the highlight of my senior year.
Mosiello Cavalieri, Holbrook
Boy Scouts met a king
I remember going with the Boy Scouts. Scouts in uniform (red jackets and campaign hats) assembled on the parade grounds to meet the king and queen of England and their daughter. . . . Souvenirs were Heinz 57 lapel pins and the Planters Mr. Peanut. Coke was 5 cents a bottle, and a trolley ride from Brooklyn to LaGuardia Airport was 10 cents.
Eugene Ebersberger, Westbury
Memories that last
I have a complete set of all the buildings from the 1939 World's Fair. They are blue and white china and are in perfect condition. These plates were a wedding gift to us 55 years ago.
Jean Silverman, Levittown
Macaroni by tablespoon
I spent a lot of Saturday afternoons at the fair with my friends. None of us had much spending money. We stood on long lines wherever something free was being served. At the Heinz Pavilion, you could get a pickle or a tablespoon of macaroni and cheese or spaghetti on a tiny cardboard plate.
We were introduced to the latest telephone innovations at the AT&T exhibit. Since our world was still in the era of party lines that required operator assistance to make a call, it was awesome to be able to dial your party yourself.
In February 1941, I was a student in the first class to go to Forest Hills High School. From the windows of my classrooms I was able to watch the Trylon being taken down, little by little.
Lillian Kufs, East Meadow
Keeping a souvenir
I have a silver plate teaspoon, which is a souvenir from the 1939 World's Fair. The front has engravings of the Borden's Pavilion with trees and a walkway, the Trylon and Perisphere and the words "1939 Theme Building New York World's Fair."
Marlene Jacobson, Manhasset
A machine that washes
In 1939, my father took my two sisters and me to the World's Fair. As we approached the fairgrounds, we saw a huge white ball called the Perisphere, where 28,000 people a day entered the park. Beside that was a three-sided tower known as the Trylon.
At the Westinghouse Pavilion, we were ushered into an auditorium with a huge stage. On one side was a woman standing over a dull gray tub, filling it with water. Beside her was a pile of laundry. She wore a large black rubber apron as she scrubbed the clothes on a washboard.
On the other side of the stage was a large, shiny white box introduced as a washing machine. A woman in a pink flowered dress, high heels and hair set in rollers picked up her wash from the basket and casually tossed it into the big white box, then sat down to file her nails. The other woman was feverishly brushing her hair to the side wiping her brow. You would think, as children, we would have been bored, but it was fun to watch.
Mary Lou Hughes, East Islip
A celeb sighting
I found all the foreign country exhibits fascinating. I remember enjoying, more than once, the chauffeur-driven ride in a new Ford at the Ford Pavilion. On one of my visits, I saw a crowd gathered around a convertible with a handsome young man sitting inside, signing autographs. I got one with the signature "Bill Holden." I didn't know who he was then, but found out he was the new Hollywood star of the movie "Golden Boy."
Afra E. Russo, Garden City
Fireworks from afar
At the age of 10 in 1939, I lived across the bay in College Point. We would sit at the waters' edge and watch awestruck at the fireworks at the fair. Seldom went to the fair -- no extra money.
Joan Anderson, Levittown
Don't tell Mom, shh!
On many a weekend day in 1939-1940, my father and I packed lunch in a paper bag, got on the subway in Washington Heights and rode to the World's Fair. The large white buildings glistened in the sun. There were many vendors selling ice cream, soda, lots of souvenirs from carts on wheels.
We stood on long lines. Inside some buildings we sat in moving chairs that traveled along a track and stopped at different exhibits. The most memorable was in the Perisphere. It showed cars traveling on different levels of highways.
I remember two beautiful shows at the Aquacade starring Esther Williams and Gypsy Rose Lee. My father made me promise not to tell my mother that I had seen Gypsy's show.
Carolyn L. Ganz, Syosset