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Who was the person credited with the concept of a world's fair?

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World's Fair
by E.L. Doctorow

This novel tells the story of Edgar Altshuler, a 9-year-old boy from the Bronx, and his adventures at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. On his first visit to the fair, Edgar is enthralled by industry's vision of the futuresafe, secure and prosperous cities, speedy and cheap transportation and modern invention to make life easier. On his second visit, he sees that the exhibits are constructed of gypsum whose paint is peeling and that the displays are really toys.
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1964 NY World's Fair

Travel back in time to the 1964 New York World's Fair and take a tour of the fairgrounds. Though not sanctioned by the World's Fair Committee, it was still a spectacular exposition.
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1939 NY World's Fair Snowglobe

Trolley Parks Fade Into Memory
by Bob Brooke


There are a few people still around who remember the good old days–the days of taking a weekend ride on an open-air trolley, the warm breeze hitting them in the face, as they rolled along at seven miles an hour toward an earthly paradise known as the trolley park.

These urban-weary people came to enjoy leisurely strolls through the woods, or perhaps a quiet boat ride for two on a placid lake. Some came to take in band concerts, play croquet games on the spacious lawns, or picnic in the rustic woodlands far from the soot and grime of their town or city. Young married couples who courted on Sunday rail trips to these parks, soon brought their children, for trolley parks were a family affair, a reflection of the wholesome atmosphere of turn-of-the-century society.

Prior to the Great Depression of 1929, there were more than 1,000 of these parks in the U.S. A trip to a trolley park back then cost 15-25 cents. Some were simply a picnic grove with an athletic field and swimming area. Others were full-fledged amusement parks with a variety of rides, games, dance halls and roller skating rinks. The rail companies built many of the parks themselves, usually at one end of a rail line, to generate passenger traffic on the weekends.

Since electric companies charged the trolley owners a flat rate for their electricity, regardless of actual consumption, the trolley companies wanted to encourage people to travel on weekends since their heaviest ridership occurred during the weekdays. So they built picnic groves near bodies of water at the end of their trolley lines. As more weekend picnickers traveled on the trolley line, the companies added more attractions to their parks.

These early parks, tame by Coney Island standards, catered to church-going, family- oriented city dwellers. By the early 1900s, every major U.S. city had at least one trolley park. Originally just picnic groves with a band pavilion and perhaps a boat ride, these parks expanded to include a carousel, a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, a penny arcade, and a fireworks display by 1910. Other attractions included band concerts, balloon ascensions, and dance halls.

The idea of public amusement parks, places where people could go for a short time to enjoy themselves and forget their daily problems, began in Europe in the early 19th century. In 1873 at the World's Fair in Vienna, Austria, people from around the globe experienced the thrill of riding a primitive Ferris wheel, an updated version of the carousel, and the "Russian Mountains," a two person car that rolled from a high platform down a track to its stopping point–one of the first roller coasters. These rides became so popular that improved versions as well as new kinds of thrilling rides quickly appeared in trolley parks across the U.S. For those who ran the trolley lines, amusement parks located at the end of their tracks became a money-making opportunity. The trolley companies not only had a way to get people to their parks but also had access to tremendous amounts of electricity needed to operate the rides. City and suburban railway companies, realizing the profit arising by catering to the pleasure of the masses, entered into the amusement field on an extensive scale. Except for the nickel, dime or quarter which admitted visitors to concerts, offered an hour’s boat rental, or provided some other special amusement, trolley parks were free to all.

Initially, the parks consisted of peaceful gardens, a small lake and a picnic grove. Soon companies added entertainment pavilions, theaters and ballrooms. As time passed, they added rides. One of earliest was the carousel, originally an adult ride. Visitors could also try Shoot the Chute, ride on a miniature railroad or on an early roller coaster.

The people of Philadelphia were luckier than most. Within the area surrounding the city were four trolley parks: Woodside Park, the closest on the fringe of Fairmount Park; Point Breeze Park, the last to be established and the first to expire; Erdenheim, a smaller park in the northern suburb of Chestnut Hill; and Willow Grove, the largest and most successful to the northwest of the city.

None could compare in size and importance with Willow Grove Park. At its peak, such noted publications as the Street Railway Journal looked on it as a model of what the properly operated park should be. Its importance was such that it inspired many similar parks throughout the country.

Willow Grove had over 100 amusement concessions by 1905. In addition to these rides, the park management provided concerts, an electric fountain with colored lights, and a fireworks display on special occasions such as the Fourth of July.

Visitors to Willow Grove could boat on the park’s largest lake, which covered an area of four acres–an electric launch and rowboats were available for rental. Over 50,000 electric lights, including incandescent lighting inside the buildings and arc lights for the illumination of paths and picnic areas, illuminated the park at night. It even had a small hospital with a full-time physician.

The most spectacular ride was the roller coaster, which had a corporate structure as spectacular as the ride itself. When it was originally constructed in 1904-1905, it was classified as a railroad. Since the articles of incorporation of the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company (PRT) permitted it to operate railroads but not to build them, the PRT created a wholly-owned dummy corporation, the L. A. Thompson Mountain Railway Company, to build it. This was probably the only roller coaster ever built with its own corporation. The mountain railway operated trains instead of individual cars as most amusement parks. It had an engineer with each train and block signaling along the route. A toboggan ride stood at the other end of the Midway.

Willow Grove’s visitors never had to worry about eating. The Park had plenty of refreshment stands, plus a restaurant called The Casino located directly in front of the music pavilion, where up to 500 persons could be served at one time on the open porches, while they listened to the music from the pavilion. The PRT operated the restaurant, unlike most of the concessions, and maintained high standards, with prices to match. In between concerts, small musical groups played dinner music.

In addition, the Park offered two cafes, one in the upper part of the Park near the amusements, and one in the lower part, overlooking the lake and the electric fountain. A soda fountain was popular with visitors, as were the three picnic groves, on the outer edge of the Park. Plus, there was a candy store, known as Candyland.

Willow Grove’s major amusements–the Old Mill, the St. Nicholas Colliery, a representation of a coal mine, the Venice exhibit, which gave visitors a canal ride through a faithful reproduction of Venice, and the Willowgraph Theater–stood between the toboggan and the Mountain Railway. Smaller exhibits included a photograph gallery and a mirror maze, as well as an exhibit entitled Tours of the World. The Park had not one, but two carousels, located at each end of the Midway, and a Ferris Wheel.

To run such a large park took more than 500 workers during the summer season. Largely self-sufficient, it had its own sewage disposal plant and greenhouses.

Records indicate that Willow Grove, as with many other trolley parks, wasn’t a financial success. Established to attract business to the trolley lines, it took money to maintain it. Once it became hugely successful, it took even more money to add trolley lines, barns, drivers, etc. The biggest problem was the uneven crowds. In the winter, those living nearby furnished most of the business. During the summer, as many as 20,000 people could leave the Park in 30 minutes after the end of a concert. At its peak, equipment and personnel from regular trolley lines had to be diverted to take care of the huge crowds going to and from the park..

But one thing at Willow Grove stood out from all other trolley parks. The PRT management decided that the entertainment at the Park should be of a cultural nature, a radical departure from the Coney Island approach. In 1897, the PRT instituted regular music programs in the Park, and hired the New York Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Walter Damrosch, to come to Willow Grove and play the entire season. Visitors loved this so much that musical presentations became Willow Grove’s most noted attraction.

Soon, however, patrons became bored with the same musical group, so the PRT brought in various groups, such as the Chicago Marine Band, Victor Herbert’s Orchestra, and the Royal Marine Band of Italy, for shorter engagements. But the Park’s most famous performer was John Philip Sousa, who eventually wrote many of his marches while playing at the Park.

Like so many trolley parks, Willow Grove Park never recaptured the splendor of the years prior to World War I and gradually declined in prestige and prosperity after the PRT sold it to a private company. The new company sold the northernmost picnic grove, greenhouses, power house, and car barn, to real estate developers. They added new rides and refurbished old ones to try to update the Park.

Some parks, like Glen Echo Amusement Park outside Washington, D.C., added dance halls, roller coasters, new carousels, bumper cars and other rides. One of the features added at this park in the early 1930s was the Crystal Pool, built to accommodate 3,000 swimmers. It was one of the largest in America with 1.5 million gallons of circulating water. Two years later, the owners built the Spanish Ballroom adjacent to the pool. And throughout the 1940s, they constantly added more features, including two cafes and an arcade building.

However, fire was always the biggest danger to these trolley parks, especially in their later years.

A series of events put an end to the trolley parks. The Great Depression, Prohibition, and a railroad strike put a strain on trolley companies. The public abandoned the trolley lines for the automobile. With the trolley lines closed, most of the parks closed with them. Of the remaining parks, the majority lacked adequate parking space. Also with automobiles, people no longer had to stay within the confines of the trolley route system. Only those who couldn’t afford cars came to the trolley parks. It wasn’t long before criminals infested the remaining ones. So their owners had no choice but to sell them off to real estate developers.

Pennsylvania hosts five of the dozen original trolley parks still in existence today. Although each has been overhauled to adjust to the times, all hold lasting memories for the thousands of people who found pleasure at them. As for Willow Grove Park, it’s now the Willow Grove Park Mall, a new type of amusement center for today’s generation.


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