World’s Fair Replica in Queens Evokes Childhood Memories

NEW YORK—It was a blast from the past for New York seniors who went to the World’s Fair 50 years ago to see a miniature of it at the Queens Botanical Garden over Memorial Day weekend.

“I remember everything,” said Robert Dunenfeld, an 83-year-old New York resident who worked at the post office in the World’s Fair and came on Monday to see the exhibit.

“I remember in one building, they were shooting lightning rods from one thing to another inside the building,” he said. “They had a Belgian village … and an elephant walking around there.”

He said the exhibit didn’t do it justice, but then again, the real thing was much bigger.

“This is just some of what we were able to recreate to try to bring some memories back of what was actually there,” said Dan Saporito, the former president of the group that put on the exhibit, the Long Island Garden Railway Society, Inc (LIGRS).

The exhibit had four trains: Amtrak, the Long Island Railroad, “The General” from the Civil War era, and another period train that looped and crisscrossed around the exhibit.

The iconic Unisphere, which is still in Flushing Meadows Park, along with the New York State Pavilion, were in the exhibit, as was the Giant Uniroyal Tire Ferris wheel that now lives near the Detroit Metro Airport in Michigan.

Sinclair’s “Dinoland” pavilion, with its landscaped natural terrain and flowing water brought an earthy element to the exhibit, which also boasted the Swiss Sky Ride.

“This so cute,” said Thelma Banks, a New York resident who went to the World’s Fair but didn’t remember it. She said she would would like to see it come back to New York again. 

Peace Through Understanding

The theme of the 1964 World’s Fair was “Peace Through Understanding,” and Valerie Chicvak, who was 14 at the time, remembers at one booth picking names out of a hat of people from around the world who she corresponded with for several years.

“You had airline paper that was like onion skin because it was so expensive to mail letters back and forth,” she recalled.”You wrote whatever teenagers write about: your school, and who you had a crush on, and all that kind of stuff.”

For Penelope Daner, a Queens resident who went to the World’s Fair as a child, the international experience she remembers was olfactory.

“I believe it was the Pepsi Cola Pavilion where you came in there and they had different scents from around the world in different rooms, whether it was forest scents or the smell of curries and spices,” she recalled. “I’ve never forgotten that.”

The exhibit, which involved dozens of people and months of labor to create, will be donated to the borough of Queens where the LIGRS hopes it will raise money for the reconstruction of the New York Pavilion.

“I know there’s a lot of interest in seeing that pavilion come back to life,” Saporito said. 

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