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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Calendar > Arts and Culture

Fifty years on, Gary Holmes still dreams of the World's Fair

By Dan Hust - staff writer

By:
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Dan Hust | Democrat
“Uncle Ben” remains in amazingly good shape from his days when he was the star of the Tower of Light pavilion’s “Holiday of Light” show.
WURTSBORO — It was 1963, and Liberty native Gary Holmes was with his parents on their way to pick up his grandmother at what was then Idlewild International Airport (now known as JFK).
The family car swung past Flushing Meadows Park – and suddenly Gary pressed up against the window.
“I saw it all under construction, and that was it,” he says. “...
I was crazed with the Fair.”
As in the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, which would open in just a few months.
He ended up attending the Fair 16 times as an 11- and 12-year-old.
“When I walked onto the site for the first time, it was like I was in Oz,” he says, a hint of awe still tinging his voice. “It was such an amazing wonderland. I was just utterly astounded.”
Call it love or call it obsession, he had such a fascination with the futuristic, optimistic gathering that he once took a bus from Liberty to the Fair – without his parents' permission.
“I was grounded for a month,” he recalls with an unapologetic grin.
Fifty years later, however, World's Fair memorabilia occupies much of his Wurtsboro basement, and while his collecting days are mostly over, his quest to preserve artifacts remains strong.
“I'm the only one who saved any of it,” he says, gesturing toward the disassembled skylight of the former Christian Science Pavilion, which had been become a church in Poway, California and was demolished a few years ago.
Boxes upon boxes of World's Fair literature, photos, and infrastructure sit in storage, but some of the pre-eminent pieces of Gary's collection are arranged in an eye-catching design in the finished basement.
There's a portion of the Astral Fountain hanging on one wall, next to photos of the fully lit fountain in operation.
An opening day montage sits on another wall, complete with an autograph of “Master Builder” Robert Moses, who headed the corporation which ran the Fair.
Resting on a bench, a reel thick with film holds the Oscar-winning “To Be Alive,” which was seen by millions in the Johnson Wax Pavilion – and is possibly the clearest copy still extant, says Gary.
Anchoring one end of the basement are two large multicolored light fixtures of the distinctively squared-off shape used to illuminate all corners of the Fair. Rescued from a Liberty nightclub and a Summitville bungalow colony, the lights still evoke the Fair's sense of bright optimism.
And, of course, the Arlington hat Gary bought at the fair – with his name stitched handsomely on the front – sits on top of one of the lights.
“I call this my ‘Smile Room',” says Gary, “because anything in here makes me smile.”
Nothing more brings out that smile than “Uncle Ben,” a reimagining of Founding Father Ben Franklin as an electric lightbulb.
Swathed in a blue plastic coat, the character from the famous Tower of Light pavilion embodied the pop art sensibilities of the Fair, and Gary adored the “Holiday of Light” show of which Uncle Ben was the star.
Uncle Ben also happens to be one of the first pieces of Fair memorabilia Gary obtained, early enough in his collecting career to be utilized in Gary's first science fair project at Liberty High – aptly enough, focused on electricity.
Gary's attended half a dozen other World's Fairs in the years since and has built up an impressive collection of memorabilia from every Fair since 1893 (including a photo of his father at the 1939-40 New York Worlds Fair), but it's the '64-'65 version in New York that still captures his fancy.
Indeed, it set him on multiple career paths, from playwright to lawyer to amateur urban planner.
Most locals know him as co-proprietor with brother Lyman of Canal Towne Emporium in Wurtsboro – a historic place in and of itself.
But don't look for him there today. April 22 is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Fair, and Gary will be at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, sharing memories and memorabilia with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of others who also fondly remember the life-changing extravaganza.
They'll listen to Moses opening the Fair to the masses, view films of the Fair's many attractions and walk around the remaining structures.
Gary isn't scheduled to speak, but he'll only need to be asked to tell one of the many fascinating stories of his days at the Fair and his decades scooping up its relics.
For those who aren't able to hear it in person, start with these two websites to get a true sense of how Gary – and so many others – fell in love:
www.nywf64.com/twrlit09.shtml
www.nywf64.com/holmes02.html





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