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Sea Gate exhibit transports nostalgists to the 1939 and 1964 New York World’s fairs

Brooklyn Daily
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Sea Gate senior Joyce Soden was 10 years old when her parents took her to the 1939 New York World’s Fair in Queens, where she was dumbstruck by one of the exhibits — a futuristic-looking machine that claimed to transport information from one place to another within minutes!

“They put a piece of paper in it and you looked at the other end of the stage 100 feet away, and another piece of paper came out — it was supposed to be a fax machine!” marveled the president of the Sea Gate Garden and Social Club. “We just couldn’t imagine that the information had been sent in just a few moments!”

The fantastic memory stuck with Soden, and on Sunday she helped return visitors to that time by hosting a memorabilia exhibit from the 1939 and 1964 New York World’s fairs at the Sea Gate Chapel, attended by — among other nostalgists — 97-year-young Alvy West, an original member of the 1939 World’s Fair Band who now lives in Sea Gate.

There were maps, guide books, photographs, DVDs and other time-honored treasures, courtesy of Bensonhurst collector Fred Stern, who led a talk, screened movies and displayed choice items from his multi-thousand-piece archive of the historic expositions, including replicas of the Greyhound “escorter,” which transported visitors around the 1964 fair, and the Kodak Bullet, a revolutionary plastic snapshot camera which debuted at the 1939 fair.

Sunday’s crowd was particularly smitten by a DVD from Aug. 31, 1964, which was named “Lucy Day” in honor of Lucille Ball, who made a guest appearance. It depicted the late comedian waving to the crowds from a convertible while being serenaded by a high school band in red wigs.

“You can hear Lucy cracking, ‘Is my hair really that color?’ ” chuckles Stern, 58, a bus driver who attended the 1964 World’s Fair as a pre-teen and won a toy replica of the Chrysler 1963 Turbine car being exhibited at the expo.

That gift horse set the wheels in motion for a hobby which zoomed off when Stern picked up a metal tray from the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair in a flea market during the 1970s.

The collector, who has also shown his cool keepsakes at the Salt Marsh Nature Center, says he delights in bringing the past into the present: “It’s like for an instant, it’s living again, the flags are flying, the fountains are going. You’re really seeing it.”

One man, who attended the 1939 fair, came away with a less scintillating memory.

“When you saw the swastika and the Nazi flag flying outside Germany in the pavilion of nations, your blood curdled!” said Brooklyn activist Lou Powsner, who attended that exposition at a time when America hovered between the Great Depression and mounting international tensions that erupted in World War II a few months later.

Reach reporter Shavana Abruzzo at or by calling (718) 260-2529.

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Reader Feedback

Bill Cotter from former Flatbush says:
I don't believe Germany was actually at the 1939-40 Fair. There was a lot of controversy about letting them attend or not, but in the long run they decided not to participate. I have never seen any pictures showing any sort of German presence at the Fair. There certainly were quite a few anti-Germany exhibits and events.

This sounds like a great exhibit!


Bill Cotter
Oct. 29, 2011, 12:27 pm

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