Paul Gillespie’s New York World’s Fair Collection

Just in time for the 72nd anniversary of New York’s 1939 World’s Fair — which opened on April 30th, 1939 — the New-York Historical Society has received an extensive collection of photographs and other memorabilia documenting this momentous event.

President Roosevelt’s official dedication at the Fair’s opening ceremonies.

Although Paul Gillespie was only 12 years old in 1939,  and almost certainly did not attend the fair himself, he apparently developed a lifelong fascination with the “World of Tomorrow.”   A high-school teacher who lived in the same rent-controlled apartment on the upper west side for almost 50 years, Mr. Gillespie accumulated an impressive assortment of photographs, scrapbooks, pamphlets, guidebooks, menus and other fair-related ephemera.   His bequest of this collection to N-YHS will complement and enhance the Society’s already considerable holdings of material relating to the fair.

Out of town attendees enjoy some watermelon

New York’s 1939 World Fair was ostensibly held to commemorate the 150th anniversary of another landmark opening that took place on April 30th — George Washington’s inauguration as the first President of the United States on April 30th, 1789.

Statue of George Washington by sculptor James Earle Fraser

Even a cursory glance through the piles of photographs and ephemera in Paul Gillespie’s collection, however, confirms author Stanley Appelbaum’s assessment that this was merely “a patriotic pretext” for the fair. The fair’s real focus was on the future, not the past.

The Westinghouse Exhibit, featuring Elektro the Robot

We will be processing this collection over the summer (with the invaluable assistance of our interns) so by the time N-YHS reopens in the fall, it should be fully accessible to researchers.   Fair enthusiasts who can’t wait that long may want to visit Future Perfect: Re-Constructing the 1939 World’s Fair, on exhibit at the Queens Museum of Art (in the only building left standing from the 1939 World’s Fair) until August 14, 2011.

Creative: Tronvig Group