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A Journey through religions at the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens

The fair opened fifty years ago on April 21, 1964.

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Rev Martin Luther King, Jr. waves with his children, Yolanda and Martin Luther III, while on Ford Motor Company's time-traveling journey designed by Disney  at the World's Fair. Photo: Hulton Archive

Rev Martin Luther King, Jr. waves with his children, Yolanda and Martin Luther III, while on Ford Motor Company's time-traveling journey designed by Disney at the World's Fair. Photo: Hulton Archive

A world's fair is a sort of kaleidoscope of commercial interests and national prides mixed with appeals to progress and faith in the future. The aspirations of the official religious participants at the 1964 World's Fair were to invite visitors to step outside of the swarms of nationalistic pride to a place where they could pay attention to values that went beyond nation and commerce. However, the religious displays couldn't escape their context if they wanted to compete for viewers' attention.

So, the most successful of them were glittering structures holding wondrous wares for consumption. But sometimes the eternal messages were not lost on the audience. The Vatican and Billy Graham Association exhibits were some of the most popular exhibits at the fair, and some visitors say that their lives were changed. Of course, many people passed without much reflection, being more eager to hop into a brand new Ford Mustang and ride through the technological wonderland of moving dinosaurs and other "animatronic" golems that Walt Disney had designed.

Overview with Unisphere,  a 900,000 pound 12-story high stainless steel model of the earth, in the center.

Overview with Unisphere, a 900,000 pound 12-story high stainless steel model of the earth, in the center.

Accommodating 27 million visitors, the Vatican exhibit was the second most popular exhibit of the whole fair. The Roman Catholic Church went all out in shipping artistic treasures from the Vatican Museum like Michelangelo's "Pieta." The lines were long and the moving walkway seemed to go too slowly for visitors who were there more for the fame of the objects than for their beauty. However, for those sensitive enough to art, the exhibit was a very moving experience. Mass was said each morning in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

Vatican Pavilion

Vatican Pavilion

MIchelangelo's Pieta at the Fair

MIchelangelo's Pieta

The Billy Graham Association went high tech with a striking modern architecture pavilion and a cutting-edge widescreen film, "Man in the Fifth Dimension," using Todd-AO  technology. It was a popular religious pavilion attracting 5 million visitors.

Billy Graham Pavilion

Billy Graham at groundbreaking for  pavilion. Calvary Baptist's Rev. Stephen Olford participated. Robert Moses in background on the left.

Rev. Billy Graham at groundbreaking for pavilion. Calvary Baptist's Rev. Stephen Olford prayed. Fair president Robert Moses in background on the left.

The Mormon exhibit (the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints) was also popular with 5.8 million visitors and had a striking visual profile with a huge replica of the Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah. The church also produced their biggest movie, which A Journey through NYC religions has restored and edited for length.

Mormon pavilionE

The Protestant-Orthodox Pavilion featured an acclaimed movie "Parable," which depicted human life as a circus and Christ as a clown. Later, the Broadway musical "Godspell" drew inspiration from this production. The Christian Science Pavilion was designed by famed modernist architect Edward Durell Stone. The World's Fair also built a two acre Garden of Meditation bordered by pine, birch and oak trees; mountain laurel, azaleas, lilies, irises and other plants around a pool with placards of Biblical verses and a quotation on the wonder of nature from Christian philosopher Sir Francis Bacon. The American Israel Pavilion featured a walk through Biblical Jerusalem with displays of antique Bibles then ending up at today's seaport Haifa. National pavilions such as Pakistan and India exhibited some items of their religious cultures. A temple called The Gateway of Faith served as the entrance to the Indonesian Pavilion.

Religious groups continued to gather at the World's Fair grounds after it was closed and converted into a park. In June 2005 Rev. Billy Graham came back to Flushing Meadows to conduct his last crusade in New York City. The Tzu Chi Buddhist Association celebrates Buddha's birthday with ceremonies near the Unisphere.

President Bill Clinton introduces Rev. Billy Graham at crusade in Flushing Meadows on June 25, 2005. Senator Hillary Clinton and Rev. Franklin Graham, seated.  Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

President Bill Clinton introduces Rev. Billy Graham at crusade in Flushing Meadows on June 25, 2005. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

 

Tzu Chi BuddhistAssoc

Tzu Chi Buddhist Association celebrates Buddha's birthday. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

Celebrating Buddha's influence on the world, Tzu Chi Buddhist Association. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

Focusing on Buddha's meaning for the world, Tzu Chi Buddhist Association. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

Enjoy the 1964 World's Fair by wandering through the website nywf64.com or a site dedicated to collecting photos of various World's Fairs: 1964 World's Fair.

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