Urso Chappell’s ExpoMuseum Blog: “Where’s the Fair?” Reminds Us What We’ve Lost in Recent Decades

02 July 2013

“Where’s the Fair?” Reminds Us What We’ve Lost in Recent Decades


In 1983, when I was sixteen years old, I would try to seek out everything I could about world’s fairs and their history. I’d gone to the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville the previous year. I knew it was, in the grand scheme of things, a smallish version of the medium, but I’d gotten a taste and I wanted more.

I imagined how the medium could be made better… and saw examples or when it really reached its full potential… like in 1939 in New York, 1958 in Brussels, 1967 in Montreal, or 1970 in Osaka. I longed to see a full-fledged expo, and be a part of one.

As I was poring over my worn copy of the 1982 World’s Fair Guidebook at that age, I ran across two items that would keep me connected to world’s fairs throughout my life: an ad for Alfred Heller’s (now defunct) World’s Fair magazine and a feature showing two poster images that were available for purchase. I immediately ordered both.

Designed by New York-based designer Leonard Levitan, one poster featured a montage of world’s fair landmarks from 1851 to 1982. The other had souvenirs from expos of the same time period. I guess you could say I was a weird kid because I had them tacked up on my bedroom wall throughout high school and on my dorm room wall in college. Thirty years later, they’re in nice frames and still on my wall.

Why do I mention these posters? Well, to many Americans, this is perhaps how they see World’s Fairs. They might as well have an epitaph that says “1851 – 1982” on them.

Filmmaker Jerry Ford was one of those Americans who assumed expos were a think of the past until he chanced upon a collection of old world’s fair View-Masters. That experience spurred the creation of a documentary that debuted this past month at the Cape Fear Film Festival.


In the documentary, he goes step-by-step talking about the different issues involved: Why we don’t have world’s fair in the United States anymore, why we sometimes don’t have a pavilion at foreign world’s fairs, and why the ones we have created in recent decades have been rushed, mostly uninspired, and clouded by an opaque process. What does this say about the United States as a country?

The filmmakers are currently looking for distribution. A trailer for the film can be found at: WheresTheFair.com and their Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/WheresTheFair.

For those interested, I also wrote a bit more about the film on the BIE's web site.

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