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1964: World’s Fair

By Staff | Jul 15, 2016

The summer of 1964 was a busy one for me, travel-wise. In June I had the opportunity to visit the World’s Fair in New York and in August I went with 20 other Luther Leaguers to the national Luther League convention in Detroit. I’ll cover that in a separate column.

My World’s Fair visit was with my Aunt Esther and her husband, along with my cousin Byron who gone to live with them in Lewisburg, PA after losing both of his adoptive parents some three years earlier.

I had just completed my sophomore year at RHS and flew to Pennsylvania out of Minot. It was my first solo plane trip and I endured a marathon multi-airline all-day series of flights from the Magic city to Aberdeen and Minneapolis on North Central, then to Chicago on Northwest, then to Detroit on United and finally to Williamsport via Johnstown, NY and Erie on Allegheny. Amazingly, my suitcases made it, too.

Uncle Walter was a long-time professor of education at Bucknell University. We joined a busload of other educators enroute to the World’s Fair, which was held in Flushing, Queens. The Fair’s site later became the home of the U.S. Open tennis finals.

I took Dad’s home movie camera with me and the films reveal that virtually all of the Fair’s attendees dressed neatly, wearing neckties or dresses, even inner-city schoolkids. The Fair resembled today’s Epcot theme park in Orlando, with several U.S. states and foreign nations each having a building or “pavilion” with displays of their culture. Some aimed at tourism promotion, others featured more of an educational viewpoint.

With the exception of Israel, there was no charge for admission to any of the pavilions. One of the most popular attractions was Michelangelo’s Pieta, brought over from St. Peter’s Basilica for display in the Vatican pavilion. We entered the display through security and then stepped on a moving sidewalk that took us slowly past the most beautiful piece of sculpture that I’ve ever seen up close. Bulletproof glass separated us from the Pieta, which is an amazing life-sized marble sculpture of the crucified Christ in his mother Mary’s arms. At 16, I was too young to realize the impact of the masterpiece, let alone that I didn’t have to travel all the way to Rome to see it.

The only other pavilion that I recall is Maryland’s, which offered a free tasting of crab cakes. If Norway had a pavilion, I don’t recall any free tastings of lutefisk.

KGCA manager Dale Moldenhauer gave me a little cassette tape recorder and a hand-typed business card identifying me as KGCA’s “News Director” and, although didn’t interview anyone, I would come back to the hotel and record a summary of my day’s adventures, using a small foyer between the hall door and our room’s door as my “studio”.

Byron and I went to see It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, first-run and in Cinerama. I tried to get tickets to a live production of the TV show Candid Camera, but the man I spoke to apologized and said that all of the year’s subjects would be in the audience that night. I later realized that I had spoken to the show’s creator Allen Funt.

World’s Fairs are almost a thing of the past these days. Savvy marketers have re-branded them as “Expos” and the next one is scheduled for 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan (be sure to book early). My late father attended the Chicago World’s Fair, aka “A Century of Progress International Exposition”, that ran to rave reviews from 1933-34.

Rugby benefited from the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, aka “The Century 21 Exposition”, as many motorists chose to drive on U.S. 2 in those pre I-94 days. Boeing Aircraft also benefitted from the Fair, which I have always suspected was a well-designed recruiting effort on their part. When the FAA transferred me from London, KY to Orlando in early 1982, nearby Knoxville, TN was gearing up for their 1982 “International Energy Exposition”. Did you miss that one? So did I. Greedy motel owners up and down I-75 were licking their chops in anticipation of bonus business from an anticipated overflow of visitors. However, the nation yawned and the daily crowds were probably smaller than the Norsk Hostfest has today. One of the Fair organizers, a banker, wound up going to prison, but at least Knoxville got its interstate system upgraded, thanks to us taxpayers. I always like to close a column with a happy ending.

Bill Gronvold is a former Rugby resident and has attended many Rugby Fairs and even shopped at the Super Fair for his mother.

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