Take Me To The Fair

Worlds Fair medWhat leaves enough of an impression in a nine-year-old boys life that he would remember it nearly 50 years later? 

Memories of tension, heros, accomplishment, wonder – and the fair.

When I was nine, John F Kennedy was President of the United States. There were a lot of things about him that made him special. But what I remember most, other than his assassination, is that when I saw him on television I worried about something going on in Cuba – something that my dad said could cause “the end of the world."

Smiles, Baseball, Astronauts, and Annette

A more pleasant memory is of the entertaining heros that came into our childhood homes on a daily basis. Four local television stations provided us with Captain Puget, Brakeman Bill, Stan Boreson and, live from the city dump, J.P. Patches. And how could a boy ever forget the Mousekateers? We might not have recognized it when we were nine, but there was definitely something different about Annette that made her special.

Long before we had a team of our own, we could tune in from a distance as the Yankees would win another world series. Someone famous named Marilyn Monroe would kill herself with pills; an astronaut named John Glenn was orbiting the earth; and something called the The Century 21 World’s Fair was being created in Seattle. Now THAT would be something to see.

I would get to spend a day there.

I remember that more relatives came to visit us that summer than was usual. They came from as far away as Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota. It was a great time. Cousins came and went, playing at our house and at other family locations around town, while our parents, aunts, and uncles went to the fair.

Then it was our turn. The adults must have started feeling guilty about leaving us home because they finally decided to take their kids to the fair. It was just one day, but we were all very excited. I couldn’t wait to get up in the Space Needle.

The drive to Seattle from Lake Stevens was painfully long. I remember that the sun was out and the car was hot and crowded. We couldn’t get there soon enough for me. I had heard about the Monorail, the Food Circus, the Science Center, the Bubbleator, and The Fun Forrest’s Wild Mouse. But there could only be one main attraction and for a boy who loved The Jetsons, the attraction had to be the Space Needle.

The long slow road was a far cry from the interstate that we have today. I think we might have even used old Highway 99 for a good portion of the trip. Whatever the route was, it certainly wasn’t very fast. And we all knew that the time in the car was cutting into the one day that we would have at the fair.

Then, almost like an answer to a carful of prayers, it appeared. Off in the distance, standing proud and tall, was the most amazing “building” I had ever seen. The Space Needle rose from the ground and pushed high into the bright blue sky as if to tell everything and everyone below that it was to be the ruler over the fair, the city, and the Pacific Northwest for years to come.

We finally parked our car, fought through crowds and long admission lines, and eventually were inside the perimeter of the Seattle World’s Fair. While there, we rode the rides, imagined the future, and ate food of so many varieties that it was amazing we weren’t all sick for a week.

We were attracted to the majestic white arches of the Science Center where I loved the interactive displays and the optical illusion exhibits. I remember trying to identify the country flags in the flag pavilion and that my mom was mesmerized by the colored lights that created rainbows in the high flying jets of water that sprayed from giant fountain and were synchronized with musical fanfares.

And I remember a variety of inexpensive souvenirs that we collected at various stands and arcades as we passed by – including a ridiculous hat with a feather and my name stitched into the bill. All the while, watching the elevators methodically transporting car after car full of people to the restaurant and observation deck of the of the incredible needle overhead.

Going up!

Finally, as afternoon turned to evening, it was our turn. Our parents were ready to brave the trip up into the sky with their kids. Each time the line moved my heart raced a little more. We serpentined around the Needle in such a way that I was never quite sure whether our elevator would be around the next turn or if we still had much farther to go. Eventually, we were at the landing where the elevator doors opened to receive us. When they did, the car became packed from side to side and front to back. There was an operator who stood near the doors and invited a few of us “short people” to move up front near her. Wow! It paid off to be a nine year old that day.

The operator gave a short speech that was full of facts and stories about how the Space Needle had been built and what we would see. I don’t remember a single thing about what she said, because I finally realized what was about to happen… and I was getting scared.

There I was, at the front of the elevator with a car full of people behind me pushing forward to get a better look. It looked like only a flimsy piece of glass separated me from a certain fall to earth. And the people behind me were pushing.

As the car started to move, it began to pick up speed. I nearly swallowed my heart when, without notice and at full speed, our car went zipping behind the massive steel cross-beams. It felt like we were just inches away from crashing. But of course we didn’t. Instead we glided to a comfortable stop at the observation deck and moved out of the elevator. Just as thousands of people had done before us throughout the day.

It has been nearly 50 years since the summer of the Worlds Fair and I’ve been up and down the Space Needle in those elevator cars many times. Like our parents did in 1962, there have been many times through the years when I’ve loaded up out of town guests for a drive into Seattle to see the cities most famous icon.

Views from the Space Needle are still spectacular and the experience is still amazing. And each time I go up or down in the elevator I wait with anticipation for the moment of truth. The moment, when at nearly full speed, the car moves quickly into the shadows behind the massive steel beams.

Wait for it. Wait for it. Whoosh!

Did you feel it?

Hope you enjoyed joining me for a day at the fair.

Did you hear about the woman who died during the worlds fair?
The Bubbleator!

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The Fine Print

Rod Brooks (that's me) is VP & CMO of PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company and serves as Immediate Past Chair of the Board of Directors for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA).  It's important to disclose both of those relationships and to be clear that this is my personal blog where I share thoughts and opinions that are solely my own.  Contact me!

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