Eighty-three years ago this month, the 1939 World's Fair opened in New York. My great-grandmother (who I was lucky enough to have in my life, until I was 35!) used to tell the story about a trip that she took to New York, back in 1939. There weren't a lot of details given about the trip, but I'll relay what I know/remember.
She and her husband (my step-great-grandfather), took the train from California to Detroit. He worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad, and they had railroad "passes," so I think the train ride was free. Once they arrived in Detroit, they bought a new 1939 Studebaker. If I am remembering correctly, she said it was cheaper to buy a car "at the source".....practically right off of the assembly line. From there, they drove to New York. Below, is a picture they took of their new car. Written on the back of the photo is, "1939 Studebaker - taken in front of 430, 61st St., Brooklyn."
There are only a few other photos that they took during that trip.....or at least ones that still exist. Here's a photo of the two of them. Written on the back of this one is, "Waiting for the boat to the Statue of Liberty."
This next one is labeled, "On the boat to the Statue of Liberty." There is a little boy in the background, who also appears in the following two photos. I don't know who he is. I'm just taking another guess, but I would say that he must have been a friend's child.
This photo shows my great-grandmother and that little boy, posing at the base of the Statue of Liberty. Gauging from the position of the boy's tie, it must have been pretty windy!
This one is labeled, "On the balcony of the Statue of Liberty." There's that little boy again, but now there is a man holding him by the arm. I don't recognize the man, either!
Having never been to the Statue of Liberty, myself, I had to search for a photo, that would show me where they were standing. This current-day photo shows the balcony they were standing on.
Now, there was only one more photo in this batch. It showed my great-grandmother in front of what looked like the turret of a castle. The back of the photo was labeled, "Lambert Castle Observatory Tower, Paterson, New Jersey."
Once again, I turned to the internet to do a search. It turns out (according to Wikipedia) that Lambert Castle was a private residence built in 1892, by Catholina Lambert, the owner of a prominent silk mill in Paterson, New Jersey. After Lambert's death in 1923, the property was sold to the City of Paterson, and then to Passaic County, and has since been turned into a library and museum.
In 1896, Lambert constructed a 70-foot observatory tower on his property. The tower was open to the public for years, but closed in the 1960s, due to disrepair.
The observatory tower was renovated in 2014, and reopened to the public. This modern-day photo shows how it sits on top of a mountain.
I decided to play with the image a little, and "paste" my great-grandmother into the modern-day photo.
I made several versions, but couldn't decide which one I liked the best.
Well, as stated in the title, this blog post will not have any family photos from the 1939 New York World's Fair, unfortunately. While my great-grandmother told me that she did actually go to the World's Fair during that trip, there are no photos. I don't know if they just didn't take any pictures while they were at the fair, or if the photos they took have just been lost over time.
About 30 years ago, I purchased some postcards from the Fair, in an antique store. I am including them here, to fill in for the lack of Fair photos from my great-grandmother's trip.
First up, is this nice aerial view of the fairgrounds:
Everything was grand, according to Mary:
The Corona Gate was one of the entrances into the Fair:
The Perisphere and Trylon were the official symbols of the Fair. The Perisphere sat in the exact same spot as the Unisphere, which was the symbol of the 1964/65 New York World's Fair.
Marie and Al were there, with Harry's boat. What did they do with his boat, while they were at the Fair?
The Life Savers Parachute Jump tower is depicted on this next postcard, but the giant Life Savers that were mounted on the side of the tower are missing. Maybe they didn't want to give the Life Savers company any free advertising?
Here's Mary, again. Her feet were tired! I wonder what a "gord play game" was?
The fountain underneath the Perisphere, was designed to make it appear as if the structure was floating.
This one is signed, "Love from Mommie," so it might have been from Joan Crawford.
These last two postcards are actually postmarked 1940, after the Fair had reopened for it's second season.
There was a special World's Fair postmark, featuring a little silhouette of the Perisphere and Trylon. Phil thought the Fair was just "O.K." And he's another one who was complaining about his feet!
As described on the back of this postcard, the New York City Building was intended to be a permanent structure. It was not demolished after the Fair, and was even used again in the 1964/65 New York World's Fair. It remains standing to this very day!
This person hardly wrote any details about her visit to the Fair. And that makes me ask the question, "What was the matter with Helen?"
I have a collection of souvenir items from various World's Fairs, but most of them are from the 1961 Seattle World's Fair, and the 1964/65 New York World's Fair. Here are the only other items I have, from the 1939 New York World's Fair.
A friend gave me this near-mint condition pictorial souvenir, about 30 years ago. It has 48 pages. I can try to scan some of them for a future post, if anyone is interested.
The back cover:
A few years ago, another friend of mine gave me this framed item. He found it at an antique mall, so we don't know how long ago the matting and framing were done on it. We weren't even sure what this piece was, but we thought that it might have been a lid from some sort of box, like maybe a box of candy. Well, upon scanning it for this post, I noticed the "Sayford Co. Brooklyn" name in the upper left hand corner, for the very first time. It turns out that company made place mats/trivets. The details on the mat are all embossed, and covered in a silver foil-like material.
Here are some similar mats that turned up in my internet search.
I hope everyone enjoyed this little trip back to 1939!
****Post Update (10-12-22)****
I just came across two postcards, which belonged to my great-grandmother and were souvenirs of her 1939 trip to New York. Both of them are from Niagara Falls.
The first postcard shows one of the famous "Maid of the Mist" boats. There have been many boats with that name, over the years. The boats take passengers on a scenic trip of the Niagara River and travel very close to the base of Niagara Falls. This particular version of the "Maid of the Mist" ran on steam power, and and was retired in 1955.
This postcard shows the view of the Niagara River, from Goat Island. Goat Island is located at the top of the falls and separates Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls. It is a part of the U.S.'s Niagara Falls State Park.
I didn't know the Statue of Liberty had a red arrow on it. That's kind of like the "Mickey hand magic wand 2000" structure on Spaceship Earth at EPCOT. ;-)
I really like your great grandmother's clothing style in these photos. I've always loved the 30's/40's look.
My favorite photo is the one labeled "On the Boat to the Statue of Liberty". She looks marvelous in that pic.
If I could've only seen one World's Fair, I would've picked 1939 New York World's Fair. To me it's the most iconic.
I think your second attempt at placing your great grandmother in the modern-day photo of the Lambert Observation Tower is the best one.
While I love the postcards, the pics of your great grandmother's trip are wonderful and what really make this post extra special!
Thanks for another fun post, TM!
Ken....ha, ha! It is just like that tacky red arm, glove and wand, that Disney put on Spaceship Earth. Thank goodness they finally took that down. It was up there way too long!
I would love to go back in time and see the 1939/40 World's Fair, but if given a choice, I think I would choose the 1964/65 Fair, because of Disney exhibits, and the mid-century architecture. Although.....I do love the art deco and streamline moderne architecture at this Fair. Gee, that would be a difficult choice!
I'm glad you enjoyed this post, with the family photos. I wish there were more from this particular trip, but I am grateful to at least have these. I also wish I had asked my great-grandmother for more details about this trip and about her visit to the Fair!
Tokyo, this is an amazing post! Thank you!
I have some thoughts to share, but no time right now, I will come back later this week maybe.
Tokyo: I too would choose the 1964/65 version of the fair. Both my grandparents went to the 1939 fair …. My mom’s parents several times as they lived in New York. Oddly I’ve seen almost no photographs from either grandparents 1939/40 fair visits. By 1960 my moms parents moved to San Diego , but did visit the 1964/65 fair twice and took lots of pictures. At some point my uncles gave me their records of Small World and Lincoln …. So from a early age I was familiar that there was a “fair” but was confused as to why it’s a small world was doing there … our neighbors went WDW and brought me back a small world picture discs ( which was also sold at Disneyland) and I remember thinking that IT’s A Small World must be all over ! California…. New York …. Florida … where else!??
I long to ride the GM FUTURAMA and the FORD Magic Skyway. I’ve actually had very realistic dreams that it was discovered that the Ford Magic Skyway was a actually never torn down and was reopened to visitors. I also have dreams that the carousel of progress and PeopleMover were rebuilt.
Mike, my grandmother (the daughter of the great-grandmother in this post) went to the 1939/40 Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco, but again, no pictures! The only thing my grandmother could tell me about her visit, was that she was too cold. She said that she hadn't expected it to be so cold, and she didn't take along an appropriate coat for that weather, so she suffered being cold for the entire visit!
That is so cool that your uncles gave you their souvenir records from the 1964/65 Fair! I know at some point as a child, I saw a photo of the IASW building at the Fair, and it confused me too. I did not understand the concept of Disney having attractions in places outside of DL or WDW.
I swear, I have had at least couple dreams about getting to ride the Carousel of Progress at DL, once again. I was fortunate to be able to see it multiple times at Disneyland. It was my favorite DL attraction as a kid, and it still is. I did get to see it at WDW, many years later. And I've listened to soundtracks of the World's Fair version and the earlier WDW versions. Personally, I think the DL version was the best!
I would also love to be able to ride GM's Futurama, and I want to see Primeval World (and all of the cavemen) from a convertible Ford, gosh darn it!
There are some very early Disneyland Tomorrowland entry concepts by WED that obviously used the NYWF “Corona Gate” as inspiration ….. I think the Bruce Gordon book The Art of Disneyland shows them.
I know this sounds weird ….. but I probably have a PeopleMover and Carousel of Progress dream at least 2 times a month. Sometimes they are perfect …. Sometimes they are odd: like one Carousel of Progress dream the theater had no walls …. (No mural walls) and was open to the outside! One PeopleMover dream had Disneyland temporarily re-opening the attraction for a limited time before they torn the beamways down.
Mike, I think I have seen that concept art of the Tomorrowland entrance, but never picked up on the "inspriation." Doesn't one of them show a "hanging" monorail, going across the front of the land?
I can definitely relate to dreams of being at Disneyland (and other places), where things are slightly "off."
Thank you for posting this amazing bit of your history. I too love that photo of your great grandmother on the boat. A wonderful photo among many great old pics.
You were so fortunate to have your great grandmother in your life for such a long time. I think most of us have never had the good fortune to know their great grandparents, except through photos, if even that. I never met my grandfathers, only grandmothers.
I'm going to really check out everything later in the day when I get a chance. Work is pretty busy and I'm definitely going through accelerated decrepitude right about now.
DrGoat, thank you! I do know how very lucky I was to have my great-grandmother way into adulthood! I had another great-grandmother who passed away when I was just about 5, but I still have memories of her, as well. I was also lucky to know both of my grandmothers, and one of my grandfathers....again, into my adulthood.
It seems like everyone in the family took many photographs. I've been going through them lately and organizing them. I'll have to see if any of the other photos could be used to create a post, that would still be interesting to readers.
Wow, I love this post! I am a huge 1939/1940 World’s Fair nerd, and for a while, my Disneyland fandom took a back seat to my World’s Fair fandom. So cool that you have records of your grandmother’s trip to that incredible Fair! Definitely a time machine destination.
Amazing that she and your step-great-grandfather went all the way to Detroit for their new Studebaker! I think 1939 is still considered part of the Great Depression, but it sure feels like the country had willed itself out of the worst of it by then. Once the war hit, everything changed so drastically of course.
I love the photos of your grandma at the Statue of Liberty, I went there a few years ago. It wasn’t really planned, and part of me wanted to go do something else, but it was really cool.
Paterson, New Jersey! I just watched a Jim Jarmusch movie called “Paterson”, starring Adam Driver. I liked it a lot, though I warn you that it is slow. But very pleasant. I was unaware of Lambert Castle, but I sure love your photo mashup adding your grandma to a modern photo!
It’s amazing that your grandmother took those other photos, but (apparently) none at the actual Fair? I guess there wasn’t anything interesting to look at! ;-) Maybe those photos got lost over the years.
I hope your grandma stayed away from the Corona Gate! Or at least wore a mask. Har-de-har, I’m pretty funny.
I guess Mary new somebody named “Agord”?? My midwest relatives had some odd names. My grandpa was named “Marldene”, I never met or heard of another Marldene. He went by “Dean”.
It’s incredible just how many souvenirs have survived from the 1939 World’s Fair, even in California I used to see plenty of stuff in antiques malls. If I wasn’t already collecting Disneyland stuff, I could EASILY go nuts with Fair stuff. And yes, that item that you have is a trivet.
THANKS for the fun post!!
Great photos, lovely story! I have a few of the any postcards my Grandma saved over the years, some from her travels and some sent to her by traveling friends and family. They're a real time capsule!
Major, I like all of your 1939/40 World's Fair items that you have shared with us, so far. I always wanted to get something that was shaped like the Perisphere and Trylon....like salt and pepper shakers, or a little sculpture...something. But I never did.
If I ever do make it to New York, I think the Statue of Liberty would be on the top of my list of things to see. But I do know many people who have been to New York, and haven't bothered to go see it.
I think there is a chance that some of my great grandmother's photos could have been lost, but I have tons and tons of family photos, so everyone seemed to take care of things like that. Still, it is possible. It does seem like they would have taken at least ONE photo at the Fair. Maybe you are right, there was just nothing interesting there to photograph! ;-)
Corona Gate.....Ha, ha! I didn't even think of that, when I was typing that out! Hey, we have to laugh, so that we don't cry, right?
At first, I thought maybe you were kidding about the name, "Agord," but I'm guessing that you aren't. I know there were some pretty unusual names back in the day. I have been doing a lot of genealogy research lately (that's why I have been going through old photos, such as these), and I have definitely come across some odd names. And there were some pretty cool ones, as well. I found out that my great, great grandmother's name was "Minerva." There is also a great, great, great, etc. grandmother named "Ursula" going way, way back. And a great, great, great, etc. grandfather with the name, Zadok, which I really like, for some reason.
And thanks for the trivet confirmation!
Melissa, I have some postcards as well, that my grandparents sent to me from various trips of theirs....Hawaii, Mexico, New York, and New England. I also have quite a few European postcards that my mom sent to them, during the year that she lived in Germany. They are all very treasured family mementos!
I'm glad that you like these photos, and the "story" that goes with them!
Zadok is now officially the coolest name I've ever heard!!
Major, I thought so, too! I just wish I had a kid or a pet that I could give that name!
Now I've got "Zadok the Priest" stuck in my head. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
Melissa, WOW....I had no idea about this coronation song having the name, "Zadok" in it's title! Thanks for that bit of information and for the link. "REJOICE! REJOICE! REJOICE!"
What a great story and photos. I have a photo of my grandparents at the fair in 1939. I didn't know where the photo was taken until Major posted a few photos on his block. It must have been a spectacle (as grandma would say).
MRaymond, ..... It must have been a spectacle (as grandma would say). Indeed, it must have been. I try to imagine what the 1964 NYWF must have been like in person, for the people of that time. But the 1939 NYWF must have been just as incredible, if not even more so.
By the way, did you know that you left your comment on the exact anniversary date (58th), of the opening of the 1964 NYWF?
Should we cue up the Twilight Zone music now? Imagine if you will .....
TM! I love seeing your great grandmother in the tower base picture you put together. Great idea!
Maybe Marie and Al were traveling with Harry’s ‘boot’?? That would be much easier to travel with.
As always, this post was fun, and an interesting trip back in time - thank you!
MRaymond, you just reminded me (maybe inadvertently) about that Twilight Zone episode, where the airplane goes back in time and they fly over the 1939 N.Y. World's Fair! Remember that one?
Sue, thank you so much! I'm glad you liked my attempt at "cutting and pasting" with my great-grandmother's photo!
Maybe Marie and Al were there with a "boot" instead of a "boat"? Harry couldn't make it to the fair, himself, but he asked them to take his boot along with them instead. They photographed themselves with his boot, all over the Fair grounds! Where are those pictures, today??? ;-)
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