New York, NY —Unlike Paris, Rome and Tokyo, New York City has never hosted the Olympics. But twice in the 20th Century, the world did descend on New York for a different type of mammoth extravaganza. In 1939 and again, in 1964, Flushing Meadow Park in Queens played host to the World's Fair. The vast scientific and industrial expo was designed to showcase innovation and promote world peace. WNYC's Fred Mogul went to the adjacent neighborhood of Corona to talk with 87-year-old Millie Nicolini about life in the area - before, during and after the two world's fairs.
Millie: When it was going up they had guards all over the place, you weren't allowed in until it was officially opened
In a few moments, Mayor LaGuardia will unfurl from the trialon the largest Old Glory ever flown from a mast
Millie: I was born, let me put it this way, right down the street. It was a little store in the front, and they had a house in the back. And the thing is, it happened to be just where my mother's house was, was just across the street, was where you had to go in. Not that it was the only gate you could come in, you could come in all around, you coulda come in where Shea Stadium is now
I now take great pleasure in introducing the best friend the Fair has ever had, Mayor LaGuardia. -Thank you, Mr. Gibson. This is the greatest fair ever staged by man in the history of the world.
Millie: The ceremony in the morning came right there, where my mother lived. Up the street all the way down, say if you went up the street this here street, on 108th street, and it would go down 111th, and it would come right down in a beautiful procession every day, it was just gorgeous.
Millie: It was the Indians on horses, and the horses were gorgeous, let me tell you. And it was the military, and it was policemen, it was everything, everything. I couldn't describe it to you, how beautiful it was every day to see that.
Promptly at 7 o'clock, there will be a Mardi Gras parade which will leave the perisphere and march up Constitution Mall featuring Miss Queens and the Borough of Queens
Millie: They played the music all day and all night. One time, when the first one was open, there was a man who was very sick. And they lowered the music for that man, because he was dying, because that music sometimes would be very loud, you know, but you'd get used to it.
Millie: I don't remember anyone being mad about the World's Fair being there, no, because a lot of people, they made money. Maybe like the stores would make a little more money selling cold drinks or so. And the lady next to us - they would park cars right into her property and make a lot of money, and a lot of people did that in Corona.
The New York World's Fair is a paying fair. You pay to get in, and we pay up with interest in our bonds, and the world takes its dividends in delight of the greatest exposition of all time in the form of increased trade and greater international understanding that is the bedrock of peace.
Millie: I'm not going to say it was so bad that people were glad it was gone, but it was like you went on a routine, a different routine. You didn't see mobs of people coming and going. It just got a little more quiet After the World's Fair was over, they made a big park of it. My kids were in there all the time. That's where we raised our children. Believe me, you ask them, they'll tell you, I raised em right there.
World's Fair 1965 is on the air
Millie: I said to myself, nothing could top the first one
It was just a little over a half-hour ago that the cannons fired and the gates opened for the 1965 World's Fair. The early birds poured through, and they're already streaming all over the fairgrounds
Millie: The kids sometimes they snuck in, I don't know about my kids, I don't know cause I wasn't there, but I used to hear them say that they would try to sneak in And I would holler, and say, I don't want you to go,' because that place is so big.
Let's take a tour of our model and re-live some of the thrills and experiences you found at the fair. Leaving the American Express Pavilion with its million-dollar money tree, most likely you went to the federal and states area...
Millie: I don't know what anyone else thought, but the second one disappointed me a little bit. I used to go in, for two hours, that was enough for me. It was very hard on your feet, believe me. It was so big, I don't think anyone could go through it in one day.
As you traveled through the splendid fairgrounds, you were always able to see the mighty unisphere, the symbol of the fair: Peace Through Understanding.
Millie: It's perfect for the Olympics. They have all that ground there, they could do anything in there. It's so big, really. I think it's a very good idea to bring it here. Why not? I would be so proud There was really nothing here. It was a very quiet little town. This grew as time went on. It's all due for the world's Fair. Corona to me is like, you know, everything grew. It went from one thing to another, but better, and better, and better, until we have what e have here today.
MUSIC: Meet me under the money tree, the money tree, the money tree, meet me under the money tree, meet me at the faaaaaaaaaaaaaair!
Host: Millie Nicolini now lives in Flushing, Queens. WNYC's Fred Mogul produced this report, with help from engineer Scott Strickland and archivist Andy Lanset.