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Bill Cotter

A sobering message

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While it was generally a fun experience inside the Fairgrounds, things were not always as pleasant outside. Here's the message on the General Foods Arch on this day in July 1964:

GOVERNORS OF MISS AND ALA WILL NOT ENFORCE
CIVIL RIGHTS BILL 
MISS GOV EXPECTS 'SOME REAL TROUBLE'
IF NEGROES TRY TO ASSERT THEIR RIGHTS 
HE ADVISES LAW BE TESTED IN COURTS

general-foods-arch-2.jpg

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Really interesting what little time capsules we discover frequently in pouring through high resolution digital scans of World's Fair photographs from 53 years ago.

This is evidence that those manning the master display controller board in the Administrative Building did not try to sanitize the news of the day to make the park a totally controlled "happy news" environment, as Disney is famous for.  There was a philosophy that the world visiting the Fair should be educated that America is constantly morphing and evolving, and is self-confident enough to make the warts transparent along with the shining stars.

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The 1940 NYWF tried to censor news from Europe during the six month season. Fair restaurants and bars even posted signs asking patrons to "Refrain From Discussing The European Situation."  It never works.

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I thought it was the 1939 season where they asked people not to discuss the war. By 1940 they had soldiers marching in formation in front of the US Pavilion, stands where people from the war-torn countries could make speeches, etc. By then people were realizing it really couldn't be ignored.

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When I did the research for my masters thesis, I learned that it was 1940.  Remember, the War did not begin until September 3, 1939, when both Great Britain and France declared war on the Third Reich following the September 1 attack on Poland.  Prior to that,  few in  Europe (and virtually nobody in the US) were focused on the possibility of war.  At the end of the 1939 season, a number of the Fair participants were now pavilions of occupied nations.  The Polish pavilion stood dark in the final weeks of the 1939 Fair.  Prior to this, the fair had not addressed any of the issues which lead to War.  Even German participation had been denied by Fair organizers and politicians.

The USSR was told to leave the Fair in December of 1939 following its attack on Finland and the Soviet pavilion was taken down and returned home. The Fair attitude was out of sight, out of mind.  When the 1940 Fair reopened, the theme had changed from Building The World of Tomorrow to For Peace and Freedom.  The goal was to boost attendance and make money for stockholders and to make the Fair less high minded and more frivolous.  The Golden Key contest provided for a drawing for new car for one lucky visitor each day in 1940 all in an attempt to lure visitors and create enthusiasm.  Fair organizers wanted the Fair to be an escape from the reality of the dissolving situation in Europe--an increasingly impossible task.

Yes, the UK pavilion displayed a captured German parachute.  The Polish pavilion, closed, had a collection box for donations for refugees.  The French pavilion was basically staffed by non-French nationals after May of 1940 after the German occupation of that hapless nation had begun.  However, the air of denial in the Administration Building mirrored the mood of the US population and outside of the international zone, there was a goal to quash the news that might bring down the mood of the Fair experience.

The Draft did not begin until late in 1940.  In the campaign of 1940, neither candidate openly suggested the US could be drawn into the War.  Lindbergh and his isolationist America First group was still growing.  Gallup Polls indicate only 30% of Americans favored helping the UK in May of 1940 although that number rose to about 48% in November of that year.  The majority of the US population just did not want to recognize how disastrous the situation in Europe really was and the Pacific problems were not even considered by most Americans.  They did not want to know it could affect them.

Throughout 1940, the objective was to keep the Fair light.  This is when visitors were asked to "Refrain From Discussing The European Situation."  War related news was not broadcast on the Fairgrounds.  There was no War related news to broadcast in 1939 until September so that could not have been an issue that year but it certainly was in 1940.  This was all a part of the sadness of the Fair.  It did not make money and the second year's attendance was lower than in 1939.  When it closed in October of 1940, there was a sense that  an era was ending and something big was coming. The Perisphere information booth in Times Square was repainted and became an army recruiting booth.  Steel from the Theme Center was used in the coming War effort.  But 1940 was a final year of denial for most Americans.  The Fair was a last hurrah for the end of an era.  In the Project XX film, "Life In the Thirties,"  narrator Alexander Scourby states in the final scenes depicting the 1940 NYWF that this was a "place to tarry;" there was a hope time could stand still.  With the music of September Song in the background, the scenes of the lights coming on at the Fair and Scourby's mournful words as the film looks back at the end of that era tell us that the denial and escape were coming to an end.  It was now going to be impossible to refrain from discussing the European situation.

 

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The Pavilion of occupied Poland had a high quality printing press inside, and they started selling souvenir sheets to stamp collectors honoring Occupied Poland.  Proceeds ostensibly went to Refugee programs 

Collectors today eagerly chase down these souvenir sheets in various documented ink colors and perforation types.

There were similar things going on at the Czechoslovakia Pavilion, which I believe put on a photo exhibit on the horrors of war.

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