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Nearly two decades before Walt Disney envisioned Tomorrowland for his amusement park in Los Angeles’ suburbs, thousands stood on line daily to get a glimpse of Futurama at the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
The 50,000-square-foot building, created by General Motors, offered fairgoers a chance to imagine life 30 years out with its model of a 1960s city. Visitors marveled at the all-electric kitchen, air conditioners, television and color photographic film.
“It must have been amazing,” Louise Weinberg, registrar-archivist for the Queens Museum, said. “That’s all I can say, just amazing.”
Then, after perusing what the world — according to GM — had in store for them, fairgoers flocked to the souvenir stands to sweep up drinking glasses, cutlery, pennants, coloring books and anything else with a World’s Fair logo to commemorate their time in Queens.
Now on the eve of the ’39 World’s Fair 75th anniversary, and the 50th anniversary of the 1964 counterpart, those baubles and trinkets are the centerpiece of a joint-venture between the Queens Museum and the Museum of the City of New York, as archivists for the first time catalog the extensive fair-related collections from both institutions.
A grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources will fund the 16-month project.
“It’s really been a hidden collection,” said Annie Tummino, CLIR project archivist. “We are going to bring all of the donations, small and large, under one umbrella. Basically, we will create one guide for the whole collection.”
As part of the project, archivists will catalog and describe about 1,500 objects including photographs, official documents, renderings and even a bumper sticker or two. Museum personnel will pore over each item and note its condition, its material makeup and whether it relates to the 1939 or 1964 fair. Materials will then be grouped by category, such as amusement, production and transportation. And if available, descriptions will include information and biographical details about the people who donated each item.
“It will be, here’s this object and here’s its provenance,” said Tummino.
Once they finish with the Manhattan portion, archivists will head to Flushing Meadows Corona Park to tackle the Queens Museum’s much larger World Fair’s collection.
The Queens building is in the midst of a major renovation project, but even before the contractors rolled in, very few of its World’s Fair objects were on display. For the last 4 1/2 years, most of the objects have been tucked away in boxes at a facility in Long Island City.
“It’s a great collection that has been hidden,” Weinberg said. “The grant will help reveal these hidden collections.”
When she first stumbled upon the grant, Weinberg knew it would be a way to help organize everything World’s Fair-related floating through the museum and at its storage locations. But rather than attempt to tackle the job alone, Weinberg realized hooking up with the Museum of the City of New York, which had its own collection of fair paraphernalia and a bigger staff, would benefit both organizations.
“I knew that they had a large infrastructure and we had the content,” Weinberg said.
So she placed a call to Manhattan.
Officials at the Museum of the City of New York jumped at the chance to link up with Weinberg on the project.
“Our collection is too small to get a grant. Their collection was too large for one person to process,” Lindsay Turley, manuscripts and reference archivist at the Museum of the City of New York, said. “We had a archivist to bring to the project. So we united the two collections together.”
Once archivists complete their research on those 1,500 pieces, the findings will be incorporated into the Queens Library database. Which means, Weinberg said, that for the first time World Fair’s researchers will be able to type in a word or phrase and be able to find what they are looking for.
“Not only is this wonderful for us to have these professionals make order out of this chaos,” Weinberg said. “But, if I’m doing research I don’t want to go to a box marked ‘World’s Fair.’”
©2013 Community Newspaper Group
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