Remembering the New York Worlds Fair 1964/65…50 Years Later


Unisphere at night General terms $50 per photo for print + web.  Credit Bill Cotter 818-366-7409
Photo by: Bill Cotter

50 years ago Flushing Meadows in Queens, New York would be transformed into a magical place with the help of Walt Disney influencing four pavilions at the site. When the Fair opened the nation was just healing from the shock that President John F. Kennedy had just been assassinated five months earlier. President Kennedy was huge booster of the Fair but never lived to be there on opening day. Ironically the theme of the the New York World’s Fair was “Peace Through Understanding,” but the message was lost because it was controlled by corporations. Don’t get me wrong, thanks to the corporations they made this the best and most rememberable world’s fair ever. Little did I know as a young boy, that soon after the fair would breathe it’s last day in October of that year, the traumatic social upheaval of the 1960’s was knocking at our back door. But the fair brought two summers of fun with a optimistic outlook on technology and the space age that would forever change the American culture as we know it.

Recently, with the loss of my parents, my dad passing away May 22, 2015 and my mom, May 30, 2010, I was reflecting on one of the most memorable times I spent with them. Being an only child, I did not have to share my parents with any other siblings, I had them all to myself. The New York World’s Fair simply put, was totally amazing. It would be however, the only big vacation I had with my parents since that day. Dad was a self employed carpenter and winters could be rough with not much work, just odd jobs for my dad. But we managed, Christmas was always a joy with family and conversation at the table was always about the New York World’s Fair for many many years to follow.

I was just nine years old and we attended 1965. It left such an impact on me, as I was a Disney fan for as long as I could remember. I was five, rocking on my little chair in front of the TV with my Mickey Mouse Ears on singing to the tune of the Mickey Mouse Club, a huge fan I was and still am. What sealed the deal for me was when I met Annette Funicello in front of the Pepsi Cola Pavilion, she gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek I will never forget. Sadly, April 8, 2013 Annette Funicello died and a piece of me died with her, a true American girl and icon for many. It was a spectacular pavilion an attraction that you stepped into a small boat and was taken in a place where painted animated puppets would sing in their native tongue to the same tune “It’s A Small World.” My dad and mom had tears in their eyes, as they were amazed by the sounds and sights all around them. I sang that tune the whole vacation and could not wait to come home to play it on my accordion.

One of the indelible marks left from the Fair was the 140 ft high Unisphere with the water fountains surrounding it. There was a photo of me taken in front of it, but to date has been lost because it was in a movie format and I don’t have possession of that reel. Disney characters were all over the fair grounds greeting visitors and I was in awe. Remembering the IBM Pavilion where you sat in seats all in a row, stadium style and suddenly the whole stadium seating was hydraulically lifted into this egg shaped sphere above you and once you entered this sphere there was a multi screened movie that lasted for approximately 10 minutes, but it was so awesome that you were lifted up into the sphere.

The Ford Pavilion was a young boy’s dream come true. You got to ride in a convertible car and could sit at the wheel pretending your driving while the car moved along an indoor track taking you back in time to the Jurassic Period where animatronic dinosaurs would move in front of you. Stegosaurus was in battle with a T-Rex and a Brontosaurus would be grazing on a tall tree. This was more than just an amusement park ride on the midway, this was an adventure. How could anyone leave the World’s Fair and ever look at an amusement park the same way again.

There were lands at the fair like Belgium were you can explore the culture, eat some of their foods and see a parade in front of you with people from their country dancing on the cobble stone streets with wooden shoes. There was so much to do and explore and have fun while learning. One could ride on a gondola that would take you across the fair, or take the monorail. If your bored for some reason, there was a huge tire ferris wheel, or a log ride that would send you plunging down a steep hill into the water below.

But 50 years has past and a place that was host to two world’s fairs is now a park. The crowds are gone, the Unisphere remains without the fountains, and just a scant few pavilions remain that fell victim to vandalism, or just time pounding away at the vulnerable structures. Where once approximately 50 million people came to visit to take photos and movies of a place I am sure they will never forget. Now just a park, I am positive if you sit on one of the benches that remains from the fair, you can still hear in the distant children laughing and music playing. But this fair had a influence of a man who dreams continue today. He believe in “creating a family park where parents and children could have fun- together.” We all know of his dreams, he was Walter Elias “Walt” Disney. Yes, the fair is gone the dreams and good times remain. But if you want to relive that moment you can walk the site that once was the greatest world’s fair ever and shed a tear thinking of the people who shared that with you that are gone. Or you can be thankful that many smart people came together to a place in New York who had a dream and created a moment in time to give us the opportunity to have those memories.

On October 17, 1965, this was the last day of the fair, that single day drew more than 446,000 visitors. Admission was $2.00 for adults 13 and over, then raised to $2.50 in 1965 and $1.00 for children. The very next day it will be in darkness and demolition will soon commence because in the agreement the fair was to be torn down in 90 days to prepare it for a permanent park. However, demolition took more than a year. Today many fight to restore her past and their hard work should be rewarded, for we should never see what was once a happy beautiful place fall into ruins. We spend millions restoring famous pieces of art every year, why not put the same efforts in Flushing Meadows, New York.

I have not visited the site since 1965, but the Internet has provided me with the ability to recover many dreams and happy memories. My goal is to visit the site next summer just to touch a structure (The Unisphere) that was once surrounded by water and glorious fountains, where I had a photo taken of me. Perhaps my love for Disney World and the countless times I have been there, has a connection to the 1964 – 65 New York World’s Fair. Where EPCOT’s Space Ship Earth is the Unisphere and Magic Kingdom’s Small World is the Pepsi Cola Pavilion. The dreams live on but the memory will never die.

Thank You New York for giving me the best memories of my childhood!