The Final Countdown
The European conflict certainly put a damper on the final days of "The World of Tomorrow." Still uncertain which nations would exhibit in the Government Zone in 1940, The New York Times' editors expressed their belief the larger nations' pavilions would prevail, but, were concerned about those of the smaller nations.
In accordance with international protocol, however, Congress passed a resolution authorizing the president to issue an invitation to attend. On September 8, FDR signed an official proclamation inviting foreign participation. As the Brooklyn Eagle noted: "The fact that nations are looking ahead, beyond the darkness and uncertainty which beclouds the immediate future, with enthusiasm to a second year of the world's greatest international exposition sees a good augury."
Grover Whalen now rushed to Europe for a personal appeal to stay the course. The Sun hailed Whalen's effort: "Mr. Whalen is to be commiserated. His duty to the World of Tomorrow deprives him of rare pleasure at the World's Fair of Today."
On October 18, 1939, the Fair Corporation held a farewell banquet for the foreign nations' commissioner generals at the Fair's exclusive Terrace Club. As the first major event held in connection with the closing, fair officials noted President Roosevelt's assurance given a few days before that he would recommend Congress approve a second year of participation for the United States.
October 31 arrived – "The World of Tomorrow's" final day.
The final day was decidedly gloomy throughout the fairgrounds. A steady downpour of rain beat a dreary rhythm through the day. As the Journal American noted: "The New York World's Fair 1939 closed its gates with the weary gesture of a New Year's Day hangover."
Being Halloween, many exhibitors "took a good look at the sky and saw no clouds but a bunch of witches gliding along on broomsticks."
When the gates opened, only 1,397 passed through the turnstiles and by noon the figure only rose to 6,842. Aware attendance might fall off, RCA, Argentina, Italy and Rumania closed their pavilions by early afternoon. General Electric shut its doors by 8:00.
Only two bars remained open: The Midway Inn and The Rendezvous. The fair police made their 157th arrest right before midnight: twenty-eight year-old Aloysius Kaiser for attacking Patrolman Jack Garfield. Miss Isobel Trizzino was the last person to win a free long distance call at the AT&T pavilion: a call to Mary Nestro a student in Montpelier Seminary. And Hazel Holmes, a model arriving to meet her fiancé, Edward Welman, a member of the Fair's information staff, was the last official cash customer to pass through a turnstile.
Grover Whalen toured the grounds for the final time. When visiting Democracity he noticed a gentleman pull a bottle from his pocket, lean across the railing, and prepare to launch it onto the theme exhibit. With little time for action, Whalen threw his arms around the man, prohibiting the projectile. To Grover's surprise the gentleman turned around, returned the embrace, and exited with "Good old Grover."
At 10:30 a group of girl guides gathered in from of the Administration Building and warbled, "Will You Love Me in December as You Do in May." Obviously not as all of them were jobless the next morning. The Sun wished "The World of Tomorrow": "Au revoir, but not good-by."
And then, suddenly, as the Queens Evening News eulogized: "The World of Tomorrow is now the marvel of yesterday." The New York Times struck a very positive note: "The Fair closes and all over the world other doors are slamming shut. Yet here, on 1,216 acres of what was once a dismal marsh, are gardens and buildings mirroring a possible future."
And what doors slammed shut as the fair closed its gates? Authorities informed the Jewish community Vienna must be "Jew free" by March 1, 1940. At least 4,000 Jews left the former Austrian capital in the last two weeks of October for a "Jewish reservation" in the former Poland. Those leaving were to turn over their house keys to the proper authorities and were allowed to take 110 pounds of baggage with them, including tools, non-perishable food, warm wearing apparel and household necessities.
The New York Times: "Over Winter, while soldiers in the outposts shivered, while submarines butchered ships in the North Sea and destroyers sank submarines, while gigantic plots and treacheries were being hatched, the Fair hibernated and bided its time."
The $156,000,000 "World of Tomorrow" became an apparent ghost town. The fair corporation maintained a skeleton crew of 900 over the winter months for security, maintenance and new construction at a cost of $3,300,000.
And now the second guessers took over. They blamed the lack of the projected attendance to a lack of organization, publicity, and the dismissal of Mr. and Mrs. Average Citizen. The fair corporation took heed. When the fair re-opened in May, it had a new theme, "For Peace and Freedom" and a new spokesman, the everyman Elmer. But "The World of Tomorrow" continued to live in all who visited or worked in Whalen's Wonderland.
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