White at the World’s Fair

April 30: The New York World’s Fair opened on this day in 1939. Billedas “The Dawn of a New Day” and “The World of Tomorrow,” theFair offered much technology that would and would not be. Among the lattergroup was “Smell-O-Vision,” which promised to enhance movie-watchingwith realistic aromas; in the forefront of the former group was television,introduced to the world by David Sarnoff as “an art which shines like atorch of hope in a troubled world.”

E. B.White attended the Fair, describing his reactions in “The World of Tomorrow.”White moved to Maine the same year as the World’s Fair, and it is no surprisethat, compared to the fair in Blue Hill which inspired Charlotte’s Web, New York could not compete:

It is allrather serious-minded, this World of Tomorrow, and extremely impersonal. A rideon the Futurama of General Motors induces approximately the same emotionalresponse as a trip through the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Thecountryside unfolds before you in $5-million micro-loveliness…. The voice is avoice of utmost respect, of complete religious faith in the eternal benefactionof faster travel. …When night falls in the General Motors exhibit and you leanback in the cushioned chair (yourself in motion and the world so still) andhear (from the depths of the chair) the soft electric assurance of a betterlife—the life which rests on wheels alone—there is a strong, sweet poison whichinfects the blood. I didn’t want to wake up. I liked 1960 in purple light,going a hundred miles an hour around impossible turns…. It wasn’t till I passedan apple orchard and saw the trees, each blooming under its own canopy ofglass, that I perceived that even the General Motors dream, as dreams often do,left some questions unanswered about the future. The apple tree of Tomorrow,abloom under its inviolate hood, makes you stop and wonder. How will the littleboy climb it? Where will the little bird build its nest?


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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