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Queens Chronicle

Discovering the World’s Fairs — or reliving them

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Posted: Thursday, January 2, 2020 10:30 am | Updated: 11:07 am, Thu Jan 9, 2020.

All these years later, they still come — to discover, to relive, to wax nostalgic.

The Queens Museum in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, site of two World’s Fairs, has on display more than 900 artifacts representing both, part of an overall collection of more than 10,000 pieces.

And, on a recent Sunday afternoon, a slow but steady stream of visitors passed through the exhibit, pointing to a familiar keepsake, taking selfies in front of a display case and leaving, no doubt, with at least a slight sense of what visitors to the fairs might have experienced.

The events were designed, in part, to promote future innovations and international unity. Each had its own theme: “The World of Tomorrow” for the first, held in 1939-40, and “Peace Through Understanding” for the second, in 1964-65.

The earlier one is perhaps best remembered today for its architectural symbols, the Trylon and Perisphere, which seemingly appear on every souvenir of the period. It was for the second fair that a 140-foot-high steel globe, now an iconic totem, was built. The Unisphere stands proudly just a few yards from the museum.

The current display, tucked unobtrusively in one corner of the museum, was inaugurated in 2013, providing visitors an opportunity to view items formerly off-limits to the public, mementos that inspire reflection on the utopian visions imagined during the original events.

Among the visitors last weekend was a high school English teacher from Florida, Arleen Dowd, a diehard World’s Fair aficionado. A self-described “junker,” Dowd visits antique shops in search of more fair memorabilia to add to her 50-piece collection. She was “thrilled to see these things and know that they’re treasured.”

She shares her enthusiasm with her students, working the Trylon and Perisphere into her literature lessons. “You can give kids a symbol and they will personalize it,” she said.

Dowd came to the exhibit bearing one of her personal pieces, a small compact, wondering if another of its kind would be on display. Seeing none, she began to consider donating it to the museum at a future date, along with some other prized possessions.

Accompanying Dowd was Astoria-born Robert Mirabella, who now lives in Las Vegas and remembers going to the ’64 fair with his parents.

“The thing that stands out for me were the Belgian waffles; they were delicious,” he said. He also remembers the fair being “huge, very crowded.” Some of the encased items brought back memories, including a miniature replica of the U.S. Royal Tires display, designed as a working Ferris wheel. “I had forgotten,” Mirabella said.

Many of Sunday’s visitors were learning about the fairs. Among them were East Elmhurst resident Yomiara Calderon and her two young children, along with relatives on vacation from their home in Spain.

And 3-year-old Andrew from Rockaway seemed fixated on some of the antiques on display, particularly drawn to an upright typewriter and train car.

But nostalgia was the order of the day, with a couple from Whitestone falling under its spell. They remembered attending the fair as young daters.

“We went together,” Mickey Seeley said. “One or two times we paid, and we frequently snuck in.”

Watching a newsreel of the fair, hoping to spot herself, Leslie Seeley could repeatedly be heard saying, “It was a good time.”

She lamented the feeling that “the carefree times are gone for the kids today. You could be by yourself; your parents didn’t have to worry about someone harming you. You look at all the World’s Fair stuff and you think, ‘Gee, I wish it were back then.’“

World’s Fair collection

When: On permanent display

Where: Queens Museum, Flushing, Meadows Corona Park

Entry: $8 suggested; $4 seniors; free students, kids.

Info: (718) 592-9700, queensmuseum.org

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