Unlike any previous fair, every evening the impressive light, sound and fireworks coordinated display at the Lagoon of Nations thrilled fair visitors.

At 8:45 three engineers in the Rumanian building's turret gave the fountains in the Lagoon of Nations below a preliminary test. Mist rose from the border's 2,500 atomizer jets, and then suddenly sprays of water shot upward as various stops and valves were tested time and again. Then the whole lagoon quieted. Everything was ready.

At precisely 9:00 a carillon sounded over the loud speakers, segueing into the opening bars of a Robert Russell Bennett musical score and for the next fifteen minutes, water, fire and fireworks blended into a wondrous symphonic milieu.

Tens of thousands of Fair visitors gathered to witness this mixing of Mount Vesuvius with Niagara Falls in the nightly extravaganza that concluded each day of the fair. Presented in the Lagoon of Nations just before the Court of Peace, the spectacular outdoor attraction blended unrivaled showmanship with some of the era's greatest technological advances to wow the late evening audiences.

Before the Fair's opening, a talented creative team designed each show with the precision of a Broadway production. The regular presentations alternated around six motifs: "The Spirit of George Washington," "The Story of Three Flowers," "From Clay to Steel," "The World of the Cathedral," "The Garden of Eden" and "The Hunt." Princeton architecture professor Jean Labatut prepared a detailed sketch for each theme indicting the desired shape and color of the fountain display interspersed with suggestions for fireworks.

Labatut's transferred his preliminary ideas to famed Broadway and Hollywood composer Robert Russell Bennett who composed and arranged the original scores. John Craig, an expert pyrotechnicia who created the fireworks display for Queen Victoria's Jubilee, and Joseph Jarrus, a noted gas engineer, completed the creative process, designing the precise moments of exploding colors and patterns to fit Bennett's scores.

With the three design elements in place, technicians translated the drawings into elaborate combinations of switches, settings and dials so each evening's performance was timed exactly. Bassett Jones, the fair's lighting coordinator, designed the whole technical process at a cost of $650,000. The new instrument took a year and a half of experimental work and construction.

 

The mechanisms required for each evening's presentation staggered the imagination. A 2,700-horsepower battery pumped 280 tons of water a minute through sixteen carloads of piping and two carloads of hydraulic valves to 653 vertical nozzles and 812 atomizers. The largest circle of nozzles shot water ninety feet into the air, while two other jets reached 150 feet. The central nozzle spouted 180 feet skyward, as high as a fifteen-story building. At the height of the performance about 20 tons of water was in the air at once.

To complete the wondrous effects, four hundred jets burned 800,000 cubic feet of gas and 585 huge light fixtures produced more than 2,000,000 candlepower of beautiful pastel colors.

John G. Lawrence "directed" each evening's performance. From his 30 foot by 12-foot contact room, he spoke directly to the 45-piece orchestra, the fair's own Trytons directed by Joseph Latau, located in the Food Building. Lawrence coordinated the live music broadcast over the Lagoon's loudspeakers with the water and fire display. Three electricians operated the 205 switches on the water and gas board, two more oversaw the electric light beams and a sixth coordinated the fireworks. T. F. Bludworth oversaw the amplification system, which had to overcome the noise of the water and fireworks for the enjoyment of Bennett's musical scores.

If the fair meant to impress its patrons, it succeeded. Following the first evening's performance, and elderly woman exclaimed: "I don't like slang but I must say that was nuts!" However, The New Yorker did offer an important bit of advice to possible on-lookers. The magazine suggested viewers check which way the flags along the Mall leading to the Lagoon were flying. Taking in this information meant a less likely chance of being sprayed by the fountains during the fifteen-minute performance.

The alternating themed shows did not remain stagnate throughout the fair's six months, however. When "The Garden of Eden" returned in August one of the two white jets representing Adam and Eve in the final sequence turned appropriately shades of blushing pink upon the introduction of the wriggling "serpent" water jet.

The fair did experience one unanticipated hitch in its well-planned extravaganzas.

The Lagoon performances were planned to begin at 9:00, allowing fairgoers time to visit nearby pavilions and travel to the Amusement Zone for other late evening entertainment. However, with Daylight Savings Time in effect on its opening day, April 30, dusk fell later each day, destroying the carefully planned effects. Eventually the fair moved the performance time to 9:15 until August when twilight returned to a more reasonable hour.