I had, since first encountering the Doc Savage novel World’s Fair Goblin, daydreamed vividly about going to the Fair. A place of wonders…the World of Tomorrow.
As a lover of literature, I was quite moved to see that the site of the Fair was the same place F. Scott Fitzgerald had written of with such haunting grace in The Great Gatsby.
About half-way between West Egg and New York the motor road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is the valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.
In essence, a massive dump of cinder and ash…a place resembling a scene from Dante’s Inferno. For the Fair it was all cleaned and cleared away, and in that space was reared a testament to human aspiration.
But it was not a place made to exist for very long, outside of memory and imagination. Almost everything, except for a few buildings, was intended to be demolished in at most a few years. When the Fair had run its course, it would be razed, and a public park left on its old footprint. The buildings were constructed so as to be easily demolished — the statues were mostly plaster. Even the iconic Perisphere, which along with its soaring companion spike the Trylon was the ubiquitous symbol of the Fair (featured prominently in the James Bama cover art for the Doc Savage novel), was made largely of gypsum tiles over a metal framework…a skin which would become brittle and easily broken. Essentially a futuristic house of cards to ultimately be knocked over.
So, in my dreams of visiting the Fair, I could physically go to the site if I wished, but most of the 1939 glories had long vanished. There is a unique monument there…the Unisphere from the 1964 World’s Fair, which was held at the same site. But that world of the 60’s had been one vastly different from its predecessor of 25 years before.
However, films from the 1939 Fair abound. Everything from the official newsreels to home movies made by visitors can be viewed at any time, and many of them are literally walks through the amazing landscape of the World of Tomorrow. I confess I became quite addicted to them, and watched dozens of hours of amazing film.
Maps, guidebooks, memorabilia, pavilion brochures…all can be acquired with relative ease for a diligent and enthusiastic researcher. Not just retrospectives, but originals from 1939. In my quest to be able to write the Doc Talos novel Towers with a feeling of veracity as if I myself had walked and wandered the boulevards of the Fair (and taking the reader with me), I acquired an original Fair Guidebook, which was filled with maps, advertisements, and guides to the dizzying array of attractions which could be visited.
One of the locations featured prominently in the Doc Savage novel was the Hall of Medicine (where Doc, as a surgeon, performed a unique operation to vastly improve the life of a boy from the slums of New York). Here is the description from World’s Fair Goblin, Chapter Two (Hidden Trail).
Running north and east of the Theme Center of the Fair — the spot where the Perisphere and Trylon were located — were broad avenues and malls branching out like the spokes of a wheel. The Hall of Medicine was on one of those spokes. It was a long, yellow-colored structure just north of the circular walk bordering the mammoth Perisphere. Inside was the operating amphitheater, built like a small theater; with circular tiers of seats forming an observer’s balcony. Seated there and silent, white masks over their faces, visiting medical men watched in awe. They were seeing one of the most amazing things in their lives.
They were seeing Doc Savage remove a brain tumor from the impoverished boy. Doc was doing good, in a manner as dramatic as his adventures against evil.
I was able to acquire a small hardcover book that was on sale in the Hall of Medicine itself in 1939, which described it both physically and philosophically, and was filled with remarkable pictures, like this one, of the great mural inside of the Hall…which with its positive message about the beauty and wonder of the human body, and the large, welcoming central figure, seemed distinctly Doc-like. I could picture him there.
To be continued…