Tag Archives: amusement parks

Discovering the World’s Fair Collections

Thanks to a generous Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), as Project Archivist, I now have the pleasure of exploring and organizing the rich array of World’s Fair objects at both the Museum of the City of New York and Queens Museum of Art along with Hoang Tran, the project’s Archival Fellow.  The two museums have embarked on an 18-month project to make their collections from the 1939/40 and 1964/65 New York World’s Fairs accessible.

Since late March when Hoang and I began to work with and explore the materials, I have often longed to transport myself back to the Fairs and take in the sights, smells, and sounds in person. While archivists don’t possess time traveling machines, we do the next best thing by providing historical context through our arrangement and description of the materials. In this case, we hope that our guide to the collections, or “finding aid,” will allow researchers to construct their own Fair “visits.”

Official Guidebooks, 1939 and 1964, in the New York World’s Fair collection.  Museum of the City of New York.

Official Guidebooks, 1939 and 1964, in the New York World’s Fair collection. Museum of the City of New York.

Lacking that time machine, in order to remain true to the character of the Fairs, we turned to the Official Guidebooks to organize materials as the fairs themselves were physically organized: by zone or area and by exhibit. This approach is not without challenges, as identifying subjects in photos is not always straightforward and research time is limited. When necessary, we make educated guesses based on the information available, or use more general categories.  Once the collections are accessible, we expect that researchers will have insights which will help refine our work.

The 1939/40 Fair was divided into seven “zones” and the 1964/64 Fair into five “areas.” As we used the guidebooks to familiarize ourselves with the organization of the Fairs, we were occasionally surprised by what we learned.  For example, the Infant Incubator at the 1939 Fair, which housed premature infants viewable through glass windows, was located not in the Medical and Public Health Building as we had guessed, but rather in the Amusement zone.  Such distinctions demonstrate how public ideas of “amusement” have changed over time, illustrating the essential nature of primary sources when describing and investigating the past.

Our second challenge was scouring the Museum’s collections for all evidence of World’s Fair materials.

Archival Fellow Hoang Tran surveys objects at the Museum's offsite facility.

Archival Fellow Hoang Tran surveys objects at the Museum’s offsite collections storage facility.

One of the unique characteristics of this collection is the diversity of object types represented. In addition to the boxes that had been set aside for processing, World’s Fair related items are present within the Decorative Arts; Costumes and Textiles; Photographs, Drawings, and Prints; Theater; and Toy collections.

Project Archivist Annie Tummino surveys design renderings in the Museum's Curatorial Center.

Project Archivist Annie Tummino surveys design renderings in the Museum’s Curatorial Center.

To locate and describe these materials, we searched the Museum’s collections management system and consulted with curators to take advantage of their knowledge of their collections.  A highlight is a group of several hundred design renderings which have already been digitized and made available on the Museum’s online Collection Portal. The majority of the items, however, have been underutilized due to their disparate locations and lack of description. While these objects will continue to “live” in their respective departments, we are excited to bring them together intellectually in a single finding aid for the first time.

Later in the summer the World’s Fair project team will move to the Queens Museum of Art (QMA), where we will inventory their extensive collection and integrate it into the finding aid. We have already surveyed boxes and objects at their offsite facility, with an eye towards ensuring that the archival arrangement developed for the Museum of the City of New York’s collection will accommodate both museums’ holdings.

In addition to an extensive collection of printed ephemera and photographs, the QMA possesses unique items including film and audio recordings, world’s fair uniforms, and materials documenting Salvador Dalí’s Dream of Venus exhibit at the 1939 Fair. The QMA building was in fact originally designed to house the New York City Pavilion at the 1939 Fair and its Panorama of the City of New York, of world-wide fame, was commissioned by Robert Moses for the 1964 Fair.

The World's Fair team uncovers a flag from the 1939 Fair.

The World’s Fair team uncovers a flag from the 1939 Fair.

A large portion of both Museums’ World’s Fair materials were donated by average fair-goers who picked up pamphlets, maps, and souvenirs during their visits; photographed the strange and wonderful sights; and sent postcards to friends and family. One imagines the Fairs loomed large in the donors’ personal histories, prompting them to save ephemeral items and seek out institutional homes for their preservation.  We are honored to be entrusted with the job of making these collections  accessible, and we hope you will join us for the duration of the grant as we make more highlights and discoveries available on our tumblr.

Remembering the New York World’s Fair of 1939

Handbill from the 1939 New York World's Fair.  1939-1940 World's Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York

Handbill from the 1939 New York World’s Fair, 1939, in the1939-1940 World’s Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

Designing Tomorrow: America’s World Fairs of the 1930′s” opened at the Museum of the City of New York  December 5, featuring a core traveling exhibition organized by the National Building Museum, which was then expanded and adapted by the City Museum.

New York’s celebrated World’s Fair of 1939-40, held in the newly built Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, drew millions of visitors with its promise to reveal “The World of Tomorrow.” As one of the last – and the largest – of six world’s fairs that were held in the United States in the 1930s, the New York fair was the culmination of years of planning that looked to design, science, and technology to alleviate the bleak conditions of the Depression and create a brighter future.

In addition to the collection of 1939 World’s Fair architectural drawings and paintings, postcards, and photographs the Museum holds a significant collection of ephemera that documents visitors’ experiences and provides insight into the techniques used to market the fairs both to the public and to exhibitors.

I Have Seen the Future Pin, 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

I Have Seen the Future Pin, 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

Since the ephemera is not yet digitized, and only a small selection from the collection is showcased in the exhibition, I wanted to share further examples of the types of material that visitors to the fair took home as keepsakes.

See the New York World's Fair from a Comfortable Chair, 1939, in the 1939-1940 World's Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 96.156.86

See the New York World’s Fair from a Comfortable Chair, 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 96.156.86

The visitor experience was a priority of the fair.  Attendance exceeded over 44 million people during the course of the fair’s two seasons.  In order to make those numbers, not only did the exhibits have to be interesting, but the actual experience of visiting the fair needed to be exciting and pleasurable.  The brochure to the left,  “See the New York World’s Fair from a Comfortable Chair,” advertising guide chair tours starting at $0.50 for fifteen minutes, is just one example of the materials held in the Museum’s collection that illustrate how the actual experience was marketed to the public.

The fair offered a vast variety of themed exhibits – international, state, technology, transportation, and business – and almost all of them provided printed literature and souvenirs to accompany the experience.  Many of the international and state pavilions were hoping to inspire travel and tourism to their areas.

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, 1939, in the 1939 New York World's Fair Collection.  Museum of the City of New York. 96.156.62

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 96.156.62

Business and technology pavilions used the fair to share their latest innovations and promote commercial interests.

New York World's Fair: Bakelite Pin, 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair Collection.  Museum of the City of New York.

New York World’s Fair: Bakelite Pin, 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

Mr. Peanut Bookmark, 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

Mr. Peanut Bookmark, 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

Much of the ephemera shows how concepts such as color moving film and air travel, which we take for granted today, were novel in 1939.

Color Movies with 16mm Keystone, 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

Color Movies with 16mm Keystone, 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 95.156.291.

Excerpt from United Air Lines: Service from New York to Chicago and Everywhere West, 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 95.156.67.

Innovations in transportation were essential to visualizing “the world of tomorrow,” and the General Motors Futurama was one of the most popular exhibits.

Futurama, 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 95.156.17.

Futurama, 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 95.156.17.

List of titles on St. Moritz Hotel envelope,  “Dream of Venus” pavilion for Amusement Zone, ca 1939.  Queens Museum of Art. Queens Museum of Art,  from the Jean Farley Levy                 Queens Museum of Art, from the Jean Farley Levy  and Julien Levy Estate, partial gift of Eric Strom (2004.2.15)

List of titles on St. Moritz Hotel envelope, “Dream of Venus” pavilion for Amusement Zone, ca 1939. Queens Museum of Art. Jean Farley Levy and Julien Levy Estate, partial gift of Eric Strom, 2004.2.15.

Currently, these objects and others like them are stored in several boxes with relatively no order, and little descriptive information for providing access.  In a collaborative project with the Queens Museum of Art, the Museum will soon embark on an 18-month project to make our collections from both the 1939/40 and 1964/65 New York World’s Fairs more accessible as a result of a generous Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR).  This project will allow the two museums to process and describe their relatively unknown and inaccessible World’s Fair collections, intellectually uniting all materials in a single finding aid, and providing object-level cataloging for selected highlights from both collections.  The Museum gratefully acknowledges the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in the CLIR program.

Screen capture from a 1939 newsreel, 1939. Queens Museum of Art. Gift of Charles Locasto, 1987.1.2WF39

Screen capture from a 1939 newsreel, 1939. Queens Museum of Art. Gift of Charles Locasto, 1987.1.2WF39

Summer in the City

Now that summer is in full swing, we look back at the ways New Yorkers have either escaped or embraced the heat.

The Drive in Central Park was a place to see and be seen, particularly for the wealthiest New Yorkers, who dressed in their finest attire and rode carriages through the park.

Byron Company. Central Park: The Drive, Summer. 1894. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17778

At the turn of the century, long black stockings typically accompanied women’s bathing suits (or bathing gowns, as they were called). Bathing suits became less restrictive a few years later, when women began participating in competitive swimming.

Byron Company. Sports, Bathing, Midland Beach. 1898. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17470

Before air conditioning, it was not uncommon for tenement dwellers to put their mattresses on the roof and sleep through the season’s hottest nights.

John Sloan. Roofs, Summer Night. 1906. Museum of the City of New York. 82.200.1

The Jackie Robinson Pool originally opened as the Colonial Park Pool in Harlem on August 8, 1936. It was one of 11 swimming pools opened throughout the city that year and funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal agency created to combat the Great Depression.

Sid Grossman. Federal Art Project. Colonial Park Swimming Pool, Harlem. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 43.131.9.58

Some New Yorkers preferred water hoses to swimming pools.

United States. Office of War Information. Children spraying a hose from a porch. 1944. Museum of the City of New York. 90.28.88

Every summer, Coney Island’s boardwalk bustles with city dwellers seeking a respite from the heat.

Andrew Herman. Federal Art Project. Feeding Ice-Cream to the Dog. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 43.131.5.34

Nathan’s Famous opened in Coney Island at Surf and Stillwell Avenues in 1916, where it still stands today and attracts scores of New Yorkers and tourists alike.

Andrew Herman. Federal Art Project. Nathan’s Hot Dog Stand, Coney Island. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 43.131.5.13

Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park began hosting an annual poolside beauty contest called Modern Venus in 1913. Beauty contests flourished as bathing suits became skimpier.

Reginald Marsh. Modern Venus Contest at Steeplechase Park. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 90.36.2.2.2F

After World War II, folk singers began congregating in Washington Square. The singers and their audience clashed with some residents of the neighborhood, who thought they were a nuisance. In 1947, the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation started issuing permits for public performances in city parks. In 1961, Parks Commissioner Newbold Morris rejected folk singers’ applications to play in Washington Square. Protests ensued, culminating in a fight between the musicians and their supporters and the police seeking to clear the crowds. In the end, a compromise was reached, with folk singers being allowed in the park on Sunday afternoons.

Frederick Kelly. Musicians – Washington Square. 1962. Museum of the City of New York. 01.59.22

Some people, like the man below, embrace the “if you can’t beat the heat, join it” philosophy.

Benedict J. Fernandez. Male Beauty, Coney Island, 1970. Museum of the City of New York. 99.150.23

Skully, also known by variants like “skellie,” is a children’s street game played with bottle caps. Its popularity among youth began to fade in the 1980s.

Joseph Rodriguez. Game of Skellie, East Harlem, 1987. Museum of the City of New York. 2007.8.1

A telltale sign that summer has arrived is hearing the music from ice cream trucks. Ice cream vendors have used noise to attract customers since the late 1800s. But not everybody welcomes the familiar melody of ice cream trucks. In 2005, Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted to ban the music in the city’s noise code. An outright ban was unsuccessful, but now vendors are only allowed to play music when their vehicle is in motion.

Gerard Vezzuso. Young boys at ice cream truck, Staten Island NY, 1999. Museum of the City of New York. 01.26.8

Coney Island Rides

For more than 130 years, Coney Island has been host to a number of imaginative amusements. Here we take a look at the amusement rides – some long gone, some still standing.

Horse racing had been a popular pastime at Coney Island since its emergence as a resort area in the 1840s . When George C. Tilyou opened Steeplechase Park in 1895, he presented his customers with the steeplechase ride. People rode side-by-side on mechanical horses down a track of over 1,000 feet, simulating a horse race.

Byron Company. Steeplechase. Horseback riding ride at Coney Island, with people on mechanical horses being pulled along a track. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.3391

Around 1907 Luna Park introduced The Tickler, in which people in rotating cars were jostled down a curved path.

The Tickler at Luna Park, Coney Island. Museum of the City of New York postcard collection. X2011.34.2041

Construction of the Wonder Wheel began in 1918 on-site and was completed in 1920. Unlike other Ferris wheels of the time, not all of the cars on the Wonder Wheel were stationary.  16 of the 24 cars rolled back and forth on curved tracks between the inner and outer wheels. The Wonder Wheel remains in operation and is still a popular attraction to this day. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated it a landmark in 1989.

John Harry Lufbery. Wonder Wheel, Coney Island. Museum of the City of New York. 04.18.1

The caterpillar ride debuted at Steeplechase Park in 1925. The ride featured a canopy that enclosed cars once it reached maximum speed, making it popular with couples. It also contained a large fan that blew air from the seats.

Tilgins. Couple on Caterpillar ride at Coney Island amusement park. Museum of the City of New York. 90.36.4.9

The Cyclone opened in 1927 and still runs today. In 1988, the Landmarks Preservation Commission declared The Cyclone a landmark. It was also placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

Cyclone at Coney Island. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.7601

This spinning disk at Steeplechase Park’s Pavilion of Fun rotated faster and faster until everybody in the center had been flung to the side.

Tilgins. People riding large spinning disk at Coney Island amusement park. Museum of the City of New York. 90.36.4.10

The Pavilion of Fun also housed The Human Pool Table, which featured a series of spinning discs for the rider to navigate. The objective was to move from one side to the other without being seriously diverted.

Tilgins. Human Pool Table ride at Coney Island amusement park. Museum of the City of New York. 90.36.4.14

The Parachute Jump was built for the 1939 World Fair by a retired Navy officer, Lieutenant Commander James Hale Strong. After the fair, the Tilyou family purchased the tower and moved it to Steeplechase Park in 1941. The Parachute Jump ceased operation on September 19, 1964 after the closure of Steeplechase Park (see http://www.coneyislandhistory.org/mrconey/?p=8 for more details.) It is the only remaining structure of the amusement park, which was demolished in 1966. In 1980 the Parachute Jump was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nine years later, New York City identified it as a landmark.

Parachute Jump, Coney Island. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.7594

Every effort has been made by the author to identify Tilgins, the only name associated with some of the content used in this blog entry. If you can help us identify Tilgins, please contact the museum at collections@mcny.org.

The photographs by Tilgins are part of the Reginald Marsh collection at the museum. Digitization of this collection was made possible by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.