July 12, 2017

It's true - travel does broaden the mind

O ne of the things I've noticed in looking through TV Guides of the 1960s is that there used to be a lot of travel shows on TV.  In other words, The Travel Channel isn't anything new. Specials, weekly series, travelogues - many of them in color. It's one of the things we tend to forget, with travel having become so ubiquitous, that it wasn't always thus, and many people got their first glimpses of life in other parts of the country, or the world, through television (and newsreels before that).

When Edward R. Murrow's See It Now premiered in 1951, both he and the viewers were impressed by television's ability to show, for the first time ever, live pictures of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans simultaneously. Seeing both oceans, even if it were only on television, was something that many people could only hope to experience in real life.

One of the best-known travelogue shows of the 1960s
This came to mind last month, when my home town of Minneapolis was named one of the three finalists (along with Buenos Aires, Argentina and Lodz, Poland) to host the 2023 World's Fair. Never mind that most people today don't even know that World's Fairs still exist, if in fact they ever knew about them, and that few of us living in the Twin Cities can comprehend how in the world they're ever going to make it work. Indeed, Expos* are now only held every five years or so, and I can't really remember the last one that made big headlines.  Perhaps it was Expo '67 in Montreal, which birthed the name of a baseball team, or the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle, which gave us the Space Needle and the monorail.  The 1939-40 World's Fair in New York - the "World of Tomorrow" - is one of the most iconic and best-loved ever, and the 1933-34 "Century of Progress" in Chicago included an exhibition baseball game that continues to this day - the All-Star Game.

*Or "Registered Expositions," if you want to really get technical about it.

One of the last iconic fairs, at least in this country, was the 1964-65 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York. There seems something so "modern" about it - not just the times, but the architecture, such as the Unisphere, that fair's version of the Trylon and Perisphere.  There's also the idea that the wondrously exotic world of the Fair, which up until now had been something one could see only at the Fair itself, was now available to anyone. The jet age, the age of Pam-American and TWA, meant that world travel wasn't just for the select few, but now was available to a broader section of Americans.

In 1964, NBC's Edwin Newman hosted "A World's Fair Diary," a documentary on that fair, that shows how it was both progressive and innocent. I like the idea that a lumberjack competition could be considered exotic, just as much as the wonders of the Orient. Again, it's a glimpse at a time that offered a glimpse into a world few people had seen - but, as the song of the time said, "It's a small world."

There was, in those days, something awesome and inspiring about a World's Fair, as anyone who's seen the pictures of the "World of Tomorrow" can attest. Among the major attractions of the 1964-65 Fair were da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Michelangelo's Pietà. By contrast, the plan for Minnesota's Expo 2023 is to "feature a variety of local and international exhibits and activities that showcase local health care initiatives and innovation." Which sounds

What? Oh, excuse me - I must have nodded off there. I guess the excitement was just too much for me.

There's no doubt that television, which did so much to bring the world into our living rooms, also took some of that mystery away - after all, it's hard to imagine what a world's fair can offer that you can't get in HD. It may also be why television (and movies) resort to so many car chases, explosions, and overall loudness - you can't sell a story anymore simply on an exotic location. Ah well, television giveth, and it taketh away.

In the meantime, it can also preserve memories of the past; that special on the New York World's Fair is complete on YouTube in six parts.  Part 1 is above; here are the links to Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6.


  1. The second New York World's Fair was in 1964 and 1965, not in 1963 and 1964.

    The Unisphere still stands in Flushing Meadows/Corona Park in Queens.

    A couple of other structures from the 1964-65 Fair (and one structure from the 1939-40 Fair, now used as an art museum and indoor ice rink) still stand.

  2. Seattle 1962, New York 1964-65, and Montreal 1967 were the last World's Fairs anyone remembers. There was one in 1969 in San Antonio which has been forgotten, save for the original arena where the Spurs played. The last one that had any sort of hype was the 1982 Knoxville World's Fair, and it was a colossal flop. It was lampooned on The Simpsons years later.

    1. The San Antonio Fair ("HemisFair") was in 1968.

  3. Unisphere still stands in Flushing Meadows in Queen, NY. The now home many years of U.S. Open Tennis last Grand Slam the center name as Billie Jean King.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!