Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year from 1999 to 2015 my wife Anne and I took a road trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. With my son’s senior year in college imminent and next summer likely to be one of major upheaval for him (Lord willing), the summer of 2016 seemed like a good time to get the old trio back together again for one last family vacation before he heads off into adulthood and forgets we’re still here. In honor of one of our all-time favorite vacations to date, we scheduled our long-awaited return to New York City…
Our second trip to Queens brought us to a convergence of historical attractions in scenic Flushing Meadows–Corona Park. The Queens Zoo was an incidental delight, but we had to walk quite a few more blocks east through a sunny July day to reach two of our most anticipated stops of the entire week.
Nearest to the zoo is the Queens Museum, a specialized repository of history and art and everything connecting the two, whether from Queens itself or from New York City’s other boroughs. In a former life this building housed the United Nations General Assembly from 1946 to 1950. The museum was founded in 1972 and has been adding value to the neighborhood ever since.
I’ll confess we didn’t examine every exhibit inside. I was interested largely in one specific temporary exhibit, which we’ll come back to in Part 26. Meanwhile my son enjoyed leafing through some stacks of counterculture zines, and Anne peeked into a few prettier corners.
Sidewalks east of the Museum connect several points of interest, and have the good fortune of running alongside nice, shady trees that provided much-needed shelter from the sun and made up for the lack of greenery and nature back in Manhattan.
The star attractions of this section were the remnants of the 1964 New York World’s Fair, which was long ago but never fully razed from end to end, much of which was inspired by and/or built atop the 1939 New York World’s Fair. In a rare moment of making a suggestion, my son was inspired to mention it after reading Brian Fies’ Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?, which has scenes set in the area over the course of time.
That showy centerpiece in the lead photo is the Unisphere, a sculpture made possible by U.S. Steel — 140 feet high, 120 feet wide, weighing 350 tons, and exemplifying the 1964 World’s Fair theme “Peace Through Understanding” with its dedication to “Man’s Achievements on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe”. Hopeful, positive messages in anticipation of a brighter future made possible by the generations yet to come.
The Unisphere and its 96 fountains have benefited from numerous restoration efforts over the years, but the neighboring husks can’t say the same. The New York State Pavilion was once a performance space, but now it’s just a big empty ring for circuses and music that may never return.
Next door, the World’s Fair observation towers held a pair of cafeterias with a wondrous view of Queens and the Fair alike. Today, access is denied.
One of the smaller World’s Fair souvenirs still standing is the bronze “Freedom of the Human Spirit” by sculptor Marshall Fredericks.
We took advantage of the moisture for as long as we could, marveled at the Unisphere’s gradually rotating gridwork, and wondered what a World’s Fair might look like today. The last World’s Fair hosted in the United States was the 1984 shindig in New Orleans. In a bit of slight overlap, that fair’s main pavilions were later incorporated into the massive Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, which we spent far too many minutes walking past for several blocks in 2015 during far too many degrees of solar roasting. Neither fair’s lingering essences resembles the other’s, but who knows what we could do — and what we might preserve — if we were given the chance to come together and try again.
To be continued!
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