Big E Celebrates 1964 N.Y. World's Fair

The New York World's Fair came to Flushing Meadows in 1964 and 1965, and then it was gone forever. Unlike Disneyland, which can be visited again and again, the World's Fair lives on only in the memories of those who attended.

Michael Jacobson and Bill Cotter were two of those attendees, and they remember it vividly.

"I met people from so many different countries from around the world, people from places I'd never be able to travel to, which in later years I actually did," said Cotter. "That was fascinating to me."

Jacobson remembers the Belgian waffles.

"They were delicious and unusual, with whipped cream and sliced strawberries. It was the surprise hit of the fair. That was the beginning of Belgian waffles."

Jacobson also remembers Mold-a-Rama, a vending machine that made toys. "The smell of Mold-a-Rama takes me right back," he said.

Today Cotter writes books about world's fairs, including three about New York's. Jacobson collects World's Fair memorabilia. Both men are involved in an exhibit at The Big E in West Springfield, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the New York World's Fair. The Big E opens Friday and runs through Sept. 28.

The exhibit, which is in the Young building, features scores of items from Jacobson's collection, including scale models of the Unisphere and Ford Pavilion and a Mold-A-Rama machine that will make toy dinosaurs for Big E visitors. Also to be exhibited are a 1965 Ford Mustang — a car model first seen at the fair — and an early-production model of the 50-Year Limted Edition 2015 Mustang.

The item that started Jacobson's collection is something he got at the fair.

"It's a Heinz pickle pin, really little, less than an inch long. It was free," he said. "I bet you people all over New York and New England find these in the back of drawers all the time."

Jacobson's collection also includes postcards, plates, books, cards, badges, patches, a board game, a snow globe and many dolls.

"I also have a neverending supply of ashtrays," he said. "I didn't think any event ever produced more ashtrays than the World's Fair."

Jacobson is a longtime rock guitarist who works now with Darlene Love. He has booked acts on the Big E's Court of Honor stage for years and he plays in the fair's house band. He also is the director of "Cruisin' New England" on NESN. "My life is swirling with nostalgia," he said.

Cotter's is, too. Cotter will be at the exhibit on its opening weekend to sign copies of his books about the New York World's Fair.

Cotter said the New York fair was particularly memorable, among all the other fairs that have been held, because it was a unique period in history.

"There was big, unbridled optimism at the time. America could do no wrong, science could cure all ills and life could be full of hope," he said. "With the Russians, and the nuclear bomb scares, it was something positive to look at ... a beacon of goodness among lots of other negativity."

He saw the fair when he was 12 and was dismayed that it would be torn down at the end. "I thought they were idiots for doing that," he said. But now he appreciates it. "There's an ethereal aspect to all of it," he said. "You've seen it, and you won't be seeing it again."

1964-65 NEW YORK WORLD'S FAIR exhibit will be in the Young building at The Big E, 1305 Memorial Ave., in West Springfield, from Sept. 12 to 28. It is free with Big E admission. Details:thebige.com.

Editor's note: This story has been edited from a previous version to correct the location of the exhibit.

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