To know Queens is to truly love the borough. It isn’t Manhattan, and it doesn’t have the cool tag that Brooklyn has had latched onto it in the last decade, but anybody that has spent a good amount of time in the easternmost of the five boroughs knows about the great buildings, the wide array of cuisines from different countries, and destination spots like MoMA PS1. But there was a time when Queens was literally the center of the enter world.
The 1964 World’s Fair wasn’t the first hosted by Queens: In 1939 with the country trying to pull itself out of the Great Depression and the Second World War looming on the horizon, the first Queens fair promised to showcase the “dawn of a new day.” Since the present time was so bleak, it was the first World’s Fair to be based on the future.
The future was also on the minds of Robert Moses and the event’s organizers in 1964. With “Peace Through Understanding” as the underlying message, the World’s Fair came a year after the assassination of President Kennedy rocked America, and a year before US combat troops were deployed into Vietnam. Even though there was turbulence on the horizon that would change America forever, the 1964 World’s Fair was all about the Space Age, and the promise of a new and better time for humanity.
The 1964 World’s Fair came, went, and, like fairs past, it lost money. Most of the pavilions were destroyed, while some were shipped off all over the country (the rear part of the Wisconsin pavilion is the combined kitchen, dining hall, and recreation hall of the Jewish summer camp Camp Ramah in upstate Lakewood, Pennsylvania), but some remain along with the millions of stories from the year the world came to Queens.
This Saturday, you can hear those stories while visiting the grounds where the fair took place. Sponsored by the city and guided by Urban Park Rangers, the free tour of Flushing Meadows Corona Park is a great way to learn more about a strange and interesting time not only for Queens, but the entire country.