More reader memories of the 1939-40 World's Fair

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More edited letters from Act 2 readers who attended the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair.

It was a class tour. We were on the grounds, when two boys decided to explore the fair by themselves. The teachers panicked when they discovered they were gone. They told the rest of the class to stay put. We were kept together for a long time until they were found. I feel we were cheated. That was my experience. However, the only exhibition I remember was the General Motors, which was superb.

Claire (nee Shatz) Rubin, Hewlett

 

Going back 75 years to 1939 is not that easy at the age, 86, but there are certain things I do remember and cherish.

I was 12 years old when the fair opened. There were many enjoyable trips there with my mom and dad and my brother.

It was well worth the price paid, as we were able to buy student discount tickets in school.

Since we lived in Ridgewood we were able to take a trolley car there, which cost a nickel. There were many shows and pavilions we went to see. They showed the kitchens of the future and cars of the future. In the car exhibit they would pick people in the audience to sit in the car and they would show all the new features. I was lucky enough to be picked one time.

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You had to go more than once to be able to see all the other shows and pavilions, something we did do.

One of the favorite places was, I believe, the Rheingold Beer Pavilion. It was set up outside with tables and chairs. This was enjoyed by Mom and Dad because they sold and served nice cold glasses of beer, glasses of soda for the kids and snacks.

You had to get there early to get a table. The best part though, was Esther Williams, the famous swimmer and later movie star, who put on a terrific show. They also had fireworks when it got dark. We went there often.

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Souvenirs were given out and also bought. I remember we bought my grandmother the Trylon and Perisphere salt and pepper shaker set. I often wondered what happened to them. Just like all the things my brother and I collected. I remember a Planter's Peanut giving us a Mr. Peanut souvenir. All discarded I assume, we all discarded when we married and moved out of our parent's home.

Moving to West Babylon in 1952, I never got to revisit the 1964 World's Fair. My two oldest sons were lucky enough to be taken there by a friend.

I still have a zipper pencil case they bought there. I can't relate anything about that fair as both sons are deceased. How I wish I could remember much more, but I bet there are many more old timers out there who can.

Dorothy Hurd, West Islip

 

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I have total recall of both fairs and have several photo albums loaded with snapshots and 8x10 photos taken by me.

In the second fair, I was a children's entertainer, the star of my own magic show at The Beech-Nut Theatre in the Better Living Center Exhibition building (on the top there was a real live "Elsie the Cow").

I met a variety of personalities while there, including Gov. Nelson D. Rockefeller, who gave me an award certificate for my appearances at the New York City and State pavilions.

I could write all day about both fairs, and I have total recall of everything. I gave six performances a day, seven days a week my with late wife, known as "Princess Pain-in-the-Neck."

Edmund A. Tester, Medford

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My mom and I went to the World's Fair in September 1939 and 1940. We lived in Astoria (1832 Steinway Street) next to the Steinway Lodge, a catering hall (which is no longer there). Across the street was the Steinway Mansion where my girlfriend, Rose Marie, her brother Michael, their mom and dad, Halberian and Rex, their police dog lived. It sure was beautiful inside, so huge. My dad owned Muff's Boat Yard which was one block away (which is no longer there). He sold boating equipment and launched boats which were stored for the winter into the water.

The World's Fair was fantastic for me. I don't know how many times we went, but it was an adventure for a 5-6 year old. It cost us 25 cents per person to get in which was a lot of money at the time.

I have many, many magazines, papers, maps, photographs, etc. The only souvenir I saved was the Heinz pickle pin, two of them.

They had booths lining the streets and gave out food to passersby for free; loved the pickles. I also enjoyed going to the Trylon and Perisphere. The planning for it began in 1936. The designers were Wallace K. Harrison and J. Andre Fouilhoux. The Trylon was 700 feet high and the diameter of the Perisphere was 200 feet. Total weight 10,000 tons. One exhibit in the Perisphere was an actress submerged in water that would go up and down. She would say, "Why don't you come down and see me sometime." Very sexy. I can't remember her name, though.

There was Frank Buck's Gungeland. The American Jubilee play, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, music by Arthur Schwartz, staged by Leon Liondoff.

There was so many other buildings and exhibits to see, to mention a few -- the Pullman Co. Railroad, Hall of Music, British, French, Russian, Italian, Brazil, Turkish, Swedish, House of Tomorrow, Patty Perfect, a 14-ton typewriter, Greyhound Sightseeing bus (50 cents), GE building, Magic Kitchen, man-made lighting, TW McKee refrigeration, Yale locks, Bates stapler, Fount-o-Ink, always inked pen points (25 cents) Crosley convertible sedan ($349,00), Kraft kitchen, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Velveeta. A boat, SS NY that sailed from NY to the Fair.

There were so many, many more exhibits to see.

Marion (Peachman) Rockensies, Smithtown

 

Letters from readers who know about both the 1939-1940 and 1964-1965 World's Fairs:

 

I have memories of both fairs: 1939/1940, I was 4 when it opened and 5 when it closed in 1940. Although my father had a full-time day job as a truck mechanic, he got a part time evening and weekend job at the fair as one of the security guards for the Italian Exhibition. He immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1923 and was a naturalized citizen by 1939, but since he was bilingual in Italian-English, it was an ability the Italian government wanted for their exhibition staff.

As an employee of the fair, my father got passes which we took advantage of as often as we could. The only clear memory I have of exhibits is seeing the Borden's cow, Elsie. It was my first realization that Elsie was real and not an illustration on all the Borden's products. The other recollection I had was the day after the fair closed in October 1940, my father took me with him to turn in his guard uniform, keys, empty out his locker and pick up his last pay check. When we got there, the Italy exhibit had already been dismantled and anything of value that the Italian government wanted had already been crated and was waiting for truck transportation to the docks for shipment back to Italy. Throughout the exhibit floor were mounds of debris ready for trash haulers to load up and take away. In those piles were hundreds of yards of red, white, and green Italian satin, colors of the Italian flag, used as decoration throughout the exhibit space. Since all of it has just been hanging it was in pristine condition. My mother was a seamstress/dress designer and my father thought she would like some of the fabric since it was free. He asked some one in charge and they gave him permission to take whatever he wanted from the floor. I helped him collect and fold what had to be more than 10 yards of each color. My mother was ecstatic with the unexpected gift and over the following years I remember the fabric being used for family and friends for blouses, dresses, baptismal outfits, etc. I especially remember a green satin cocktail dress my mother made for herself from the fabric that she used for holidays and special occasions, well into the late 1940s and early 1950s.

I'm a native New Yorker and I'm currently a licensed architect, but in 1961 I was working as an intern with the New York City architectural firm of Eggers and Higgins -- at the time the seventh largest architectural firm in the United States. They had hired me the last three summers of my university years and full time after I was discharged from the Army in 1961. The firm had just gotten the contract to design the Press Building for the 1964-1865 World's Fair and decided to have an intra-office design competition among its 700 architects, interns, partners, etc. to design the building. The winner would receive a small cash award and be on the team to design and be involved in the project from beginning until the end. I always loved competitions so I entered on my own and won. The building I designed was constructed and served as the Press Building for the entire fair. I received the cash prize but I never got to see the building completed since in July of 1962, I moved with my widowed mother to California before construction had started. I returned to New York in 1994.

Orlando T. Maione, Stony Brook

 

My husband, Mario, remembers the 1939 World's Fair. His uncle brought him to the GM Exhibit that featured the future highways throughout the United States. It looked futuristic at the time, but eventually became a reality.

My memories of the World's Fair in 1964-1965: My then-boyfriend Mario and I spent time there. My family met Harold Dumont, who was a bass player and singer with Paul Lavalle's Orchestra. We became friends and Harold sang at our wedding on Sept. 17, 1966. He sang "Because" and "The Lord's Prayer" at the Reformed Church in Cambria Heights.

Marilyn Obertis, New Hyde Park

 

It was my good fortune to experience both the 1939/1940 and 1964/1965 New York World Fairs.

While attending grade school in 1940, students were offered a book of 10 tickets for entry to the fair for the exorbitant cost of $1. I lived in Ridgewood at the time, which was the starting depot for the trolley which ran right to the fairgrounds. At 12 years old, I was able to go to the fair 10 times.

My favorites were the Trylon and Perisphere, the symbol of the fair, which housed a display of life in futuristic America; also the General Electric building and the automobile exhibits.

In the amusement areas were the Parachute Jump, a thrilling ride, and also the Aquacade where wonderful swim and diving shows were performed, including Olympic performers.

I still have a set of six glasses, each of which depicts one of the many buildings at the Fair.

In 1964/1965, the fair rose up again. At that time, I was married with five children and living in Uniondale. We would pack lunches and drive to the fair to spend the whole day meandering around the fairgrounds. On one particular day, we had our lunch in the Singer Stadium watching wrestlers who were competing for a chance to get on the Olympic team.

Two of my favorite exhibits were the Vatican building which featured Michelangelo's "Pieta," on loan from Rome, and the "It's a Small World" display wherein we were transported in a small boat through a series of animated displays representing many different countries.

And not to be outdone by the 1939/1940 Fair, the Parachute Jump was again in full operation throughout the 1964/1965 Fair. It has since been relocated to Coney Island where it has become a landmark, but is no longer functional.

Marge Mansfield, Oakdale

 

It was 1939. Being in Franklin K. Lane High School and listening to my friends plan for the fair was exciting. The school was selling a booklet of tickets. I vaguely remember each ticket came to 25 cents. I must have been about 15 years old. The booklet was worth every penny.

Before 1939, there was unrest in Europe. The Nazis were in power, and Communism in the Soviet Union was being frowned upon. I recall the unsettling reviews of the pavilions being built. Much was made of the red star on the Soviet Union pavilion. The Nazis also had the swastika on their pavilion.

The day I entered the New York World's Fair was one of wonder and delight. We had known beforehand which pavilions were going to hand out freebies. We rushed to the cupcake building, saw the process of packaging and were delighted we had cupcakes to eat afterward.

The building housing the packaging of bacon was marvelous. Just to watch the process of putting the slices in the pound package was a wonderment. And at the tobacco building, free cigarettes were given to those old enough to receive them. Just so much to absorb!

I remember the Goodyear Pavillion and the making of tires. I could not believe a machine would be cleaner than washing my own dishes by hand. Little did I realize the significance of how dishwashers would impact my life later on.

That summer, I went back again and again. The Big Band Pavillion was one of my highlights. We danced and danced until it was time to go home.

I believe my favorite pavilion was the World of Tomorrow which showed the moving sidewalks, the sleek cars and high rise buildings.

I was also fortunate enough to go the World's Fair of 1964. But the glitter was gone. Some of the pavilions were not there, and having seen the original World's Fair in 1939, it was a disappointment. Still interesting, still informative but the excitement was not the same.

For us growing up prior to World War II, this World's Fair represented a look into the future. I was so impressed by all the new innovations I saw, but I could not believe they would ever come in my lifetime. The fact that they did, represents an achievement to the people who had the vivid imagination to look into the future.

Alexandra Dowbak, Greenlawn

 

I was 13 years old living in Brooklyn with my older brother and parents when "The World of Tomorrow" the first World's Fair opened in Flushing Meadows. I went there many times that summer for a nickel, taking the long subway ride on the BMT and then the IND to Willets Point station. It seemed the trip took forever taking me to this far-off Flushing, which I knew nothing about. We would collect Coke bottles at the Coca Cola exhibit and take them home to cash them in

It was a wonderland to me going to all of the industrial exhibits and the foreign pavilions. There was the ride around the World of Tomorrow at the General Motors exhibit in little cars on rails that showed what tomorrow's mega cities would look like. It became amazingly prophetic. Whenever we went there and it started to rain we would dash to the GM exhibit as there would be no waiting line in the rain. Otherwise you would have to wait an hour or so until you entered a car.

I also recall seeing Lou Gehrig at the Sports Pavilion. He was only 37 but I remember him walking with a shuffle. We found that the Heinz exhibit would hand out hors d'oeuvres, so we would go there and keep getting on line to have our lunch. We were poor kids.

I recall the Russian Pavilion with a giant red star at the top. In 1940, the war was on. But the fair opened its second year, again with huge crowds. I remember seeing films of the Battle of Britain in the United Kingdom pavilion with Spitfires and Hurricanes battling Nazi planes.

During 1964 Fair, I was married with three kids and living in a small ranch house in Bayside. We had two young sons and a brand new baby daughter. I went quite often to the fair with my sons as it was a 10 minute drive from our home. I remember more about the first fair than I do about the second. But in 1964 and 1965, the crowds were disappointingly small and it was considered a Bob Moses failure.

Bernard Jeffrey, Oyster Bay

 

I have a very vivid memory of my 7-year-old brother and me being invited to go to the 1964-1965 World's Fair with our friend Tommy who lived across the street, and being thrilled when my mom said it was OK for us to go.

However, as we started to walk and we turned the corner, I realized Tommy's mother wasn't with us. I asked him where she was: "Oh, she's not coming, it's just us." We hesitated just briefly, my brother and I looking at each other but then with a shrug of our shoulders, off we went.

We got to the gates on 111th street and as I was walking through, the ticket man asked where my mother was, without the least bit hesitation, I pointed to the woman in front of me and said, "She's right there" and we were in!

We went in all the exhibits and the rides: the Sinclair dinosaur, the space capsule, the Unisphere. We went to a show about energy, it had an animated character and the people sitting in the first two seats on the right got to participate. So when we eventually went back with our family, I remember running down the aisle to get to those two seats and got in the show!

Amazingly, when we got home that day (and we were gone all day!), I confessed to my mom, and I have no recollection of being punished!

Talk about different times: two 7-year-olds and an 8-year-old all alone and no one questioned us all day. We had the time of our lives.

Joan M. Cutrone, Huntington

 

Was it worth the price of admissions? Indeed it was! The World's Fair of 1939-1940 remains one of the most outstanding events I have been privileged to attend, even at the age of 14 and 15 years old.

This 1939 World's Fair has stayed fresh in my mind over these many years. One of my favorite exhibits was General Motors where they actually took you for a ride in one of these new models and "cars of the future." Before the 1939 Fair, the road system was next to nothing in Flushing -- all of it was built for the Fair.

A stop at the doughnut shop was a good break. Written on a plaque was the saying, which has stayed with me over the years. "As you ramble on through life brother, whatever be your goal, keep your eye upon the doughnut and not upon the hole."

The Foreign Nations Pavilions were at the time my favorites over the many times I visited.

My wife and I had wonderful times going with our four children to the 1964-1965 World's Fair. Shea Stadium had opened and we'd go to the game and also to the Fair. On one occasion, we ran into the actor Pat O'Brien and his wife at the fair and spent some time with them -- quite a surprise.

I am now 88 years old but thank the good Lord can remember it like it was last year.

Robert J. Collins, Baldwin

 

I attended the 1939 Fair as a 12-year-old sixth grader at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs School, Forest Hills. My friends, Mary, Jimmy, and JJ from our class also went. We probably walked. We visited the Coke Pavilion where we got free Coke and a movie, took a ride in a Ford at that exhibit, driven by the big brother of one of our friends and best of all, the boys managed to steal the baby doll from the burglar-proof crib without the alarm going off (this was in the General Electric exhibit). There was a big to-do and we were quickly thrown out of the exhibit.

By the time of the 1964-65 Fair, I was a married woman with four children and my husband, Tom, and I decided to go one afternoon in the summer of 1964. We agreed that I would drive in from Babylon and he would meet us after work. We settled on a place to meet and three of the children came with me. (The baby was too young.) We never found Daddy and decided to see the Fair and go home. We went back to the parking lot and lo and behold there was Daddy, asleep in the car. I don't remember how he found our car out of thousands.

I'm close to 87 now and thankful that I still remember some of the fun things from my past.

I have a small glass ashtray with the Trylon and Perisphere etched on it from the 1939 Fair. (No, I wasn't smoking at 12 -- it must have belonged to an older relative.) It makes a nice souvenir.

Catherine Herbert Baker, Babylon

 

The year was 1915 and I was born at home in Corona, which is the landmark for both fairs. Our home was right next to the old dump. I was about 3-years-old when we had to move to make way for the landscape to be developed.

I can still remember my father taking me on the ferry over to North Beach to ride the Carousel and Scenic Railway for the last time on closing day. This was to become LaGuardia Airport.

We relocated back to the German town of College Point. There we lived with my grandparents.

It took many years for the first World's Fair to open, but my father and I were some of the first to enter the park on opening day. (I had taken off from work and I still have my entrance stub.)

Both World's Fairs were spectacular! My favorite food was the frank with sauerkraut, and Belgian waffles. I'm 99 years old.

Katherine Birkle, College Point

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