Imagine a massive theme park that’s entertaining and educational, with a look at the future. One with more than a hundred attractions – so many it would take several visits to take them all in.
Sadly, time machines don’t exist, or I’d transport you back a few decades to a wonderful tradition this country has abandoned: the World’s Fair. This piece of Americana sadly made its last appearance in New Orleans in 1984. The event moved every few years from one major city to another, and there was always something new to experience. Eat an ice cream cone lately? It was introduced at the 1904 World’s Fair, along with the hot dog, hamburger, peanut butter and … wait for it … iced tea, according to many sources. Broadcast television was introduced at the 1939 World’s Fair.
I was fortunate enough to grow up a 30-minute drive from the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York. It ran from April to October both years, and we made plenty of visits. Combining entertaining rides with a time travel element, it blew away anything you could experience in Orlando, boasting 140 attractions from 80 countries, and – get this – 110 restaurants. The discussion about what to have for lunch could take hours.
The biggest attraction was the Vatican Pavilion. Michelangelo’s classic Pietà sculpture was on display, and after a long wait (worth it) we got to see this spectacular work of art. Moving from history to the future, some things came true, some didn’t. AT&T predicted a picture phone (check!) while General Motors created the “Futurama,” a ride envisioning automated highways (not even close). “Space Park,” featuring NASA stuff, was a hit since we were racing Russia to get to the moon. Ford was a major attraction as it introduced the Mustang with the coolest ride ever called the “Magic Skyway,” allowing you to ride in actual convertibles.
The Parker Pen company offered children the opportunity to sign up for a pen pal, which I did. I wrote to some kid in the Far East but never got a letter in return.
Of course, we skipped some things like the UNICEF pavilion since it played the most annoying song ever written, “It’s a Small World (After All).” (My Dad: “Keep walking. We’re not doing that one.”) But food was off the charts as America was introduced to the Belgian waffle with strawberries & whipped cream.
The fair was so big there was an actual cable car called the “Swiss Sky Ride” which took you airborne from one end of the fair to another. And right next door, Shea Stadium opened and hosted the All-Star Game. You could spend a day at the fair and then catch a Mets game at night.
When 1965 ended, I was heartbroken to learn the whole fair would be demolished. A few things remain, though, like the classic Unisphere, which has appeared in many movies.
It’s been almost 40 years since the last World’s Fair. I find it sad that an entire generation never got to experience one and wonder if we’ll ever see such an amazing event again. Sure, these things generally lose money, but so do things like the Olympics and other major events. Since Congress loves wasting cash on useless stuff, why not blow a billion or 10 on something unique that Americans can actually enjoy for our tax dollars? (Though, depending on who’s in charge, we might end up with a “Disney gender pavilion” in which kids are assigned their pronouns and then get to choose one of 57 bathrooms.)
If you’re of a certain age, the future depicted at a World’s Fair has already arrived. Some cool stuff and a lot of disappointment. Still, it might be fun to speculate on what the future holds. Could Star Trek transporters become a reality eliminating the ninth circle of hell known as air travel? How about flying cars? And will there be a settlement on Mars?
I can only imagine what a World’s Fair might look like today. Maybe someone with vision can bring back one of the best things I ever experienced.
Randy Tatano is the author of more than 20 novels, writing political thrillers under the pen name Nick Harlow and romantic comedies as Nic Tatano. He spent 30 years working in television news as a local affiliate reporter and network field producer.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.
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