It was 1951, World War II had been over for six years, Shell gasoline was 23 cents per gallon, cigarettes were 25 cents a pack, minimum wage was 90 cents an hour. The 1939-1940 New York World's Fair had been over for a little more than a decade, the next one in New York (although unsanctioned), was twelve years in the future, and I was part of the Baby Boom generation.
My bedroom was in the finished attic of our northern New Jersey Cape Cod house. If you are familiar with this style of home, you know the attic stairs usually go up near the center of the house. My room had three built-in bookcases filled with books by authors like Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe, and others. Most of these were read once and retired to the attic to be dealt with sometime in the future.
The bookcase located over the stairs was about three feet deep. Behind the shadow of the books was where memories were stored; a collection of war medals, theater playbills, the family photo albums, old books like Scott's Lady of the Lake, and a leather-bound edition of A Christmas Carol, but best of all were two albums of photos of the 1939 World's Fair. That was my room for 12 years, until I turned 17, graduated from high school, and moved out. During those years, from time to time, I would dig out the World's Fair photo albums and spend hours looking at them. After leaving home, I forgot about the Fair pictures for more than 35 years.
The albums and some of the books moved with my parents, first to Florida in 1976 and then to Nevada in 1990. Mom passed away in 1993 and Dad moved into a smaller apartment. The books and albums, all neatly boxed, were moved into my garage for storage. After the death of my father in the Spring of 2000, I had to go through all the boxes and decide what to do with the contents. In doing so, I came across the two albums of the 1939 New York World's Fair. Once again, after 30 some years, I spent hours visiting an era almost a decade before I was born.
The archival properties of black and white photos are around 75 years if the photos were processed properly. These were. After 60 years, except for some yellowing of the paper, these pictures were almost as good as the day they were first viewed. But what about the future, how much longer would they last?
I decided to preserve the photos digitally. After scanning 400 photos, I sorted and indexed them. The two albums contained many of the same photos. The result was 271 different photographs. I wondered if others might enjoy seeing these photos. I thought they would.
In 2001, I sold a CD containing 269 photos in various file formats and included several indices. The response from the purchasers was very positive, but most wanted more information about each of the photos and about the Fair itself. Almost a year later, I decided to start over. I rescanned the original photos at a higher resolution, spent almost a year doing research, and with a lot of help from others, I produced a Limited Edition Coffee-table book (1,000 copies) and a much more informative and enjoyable CD. (sold out of CDs).
I hope you enjoy this collection as much as I do.
Paul M. Van Dort