Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sundays with Steve - The Seattle World's Fair

These Sunday's segments are written by my husband, Mr. Jenny. Here's what he has to say about his posts:

I’ve been writing these weekly stories about life in Northern Idaho, as a youngster and as growing into a young man, primarily for our family. And I'm delighted to share them with you. Just between us, I’m anticipating being cranky when some whipper-snapper who may not even be born yet harasses me in 30 years or so with 'Grandpa, tell me about when you were a boy.' That will probably be after the mad cow disease has set in and erased whatever memory is left. So these are the not-so-dramatic adventures of a Baby Boomer in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

The Seattle World's Fair

OK, just one more story about Boy Scouting .

I climbed on the Greyhound bus with three other Scouts that June morning in 1962 for a long ride to Seattle and a week of volunteer work at the newly opened “Expo21”, the Seattle World’s Fair. I was 13, and a little nervous at a first trip away from home with neither family nor friends along. Excited, too, being chosen as a “Service Scout” to work at the World’s Fair along with just three others from our North Idaho town.

The ride was long, maybe 10 hours to cover the 300 miles over two lane roads to Seattle. The bus stopped every few minutes, it seemed, to pick up or drop the occasional traveler. We arrived well after dark, worn, tired, and excited.

We were met by a Scout leader and driven to an small Army installation in North Seattle called Fort Lawton. It was to be home for the next week: Army barracks, bunk beds and large communal showers, housing 100 teenagers from around the Northwest who had been chosen to work that week.

We explored the Army post the next morning, and found it hugging Puget Sound and to be very scenic. It was an old post, left over from the 1880s, used for defense in World War II, closed by the Army in the early 1990s.

But we weren’t there to explore an Army post, we were there to work at the World’s Fair, the first any of us had ever seen or attended. We didn’t care about the Army fort, let’s go to the World’s Fair!

That afternoon we took the tour of the World’s Fair, marching in two columns through the grounds and buildings, getting well orientated. Our jobs were as information guides, stationed through the grounds to give directions and information to any who asked. An hour on to answer questions and an hour off to explore anything we like. We spent most of the afternoon with Fair officials in an auditorium, getting “trained” in the information business.

Most of us of the age remember that Fair as the debut of the Space Needle and the Mono-rail. Many of the region’s and nation’s politicians were focused on Seattle taking its place as an aerospace center with Boeing as its core, in the cold war with the Russians. A few years later in a dismal economic climate, the iconic billboard was posted on I-5 heading south that read “Last one to leave, turn off the lights.”

Neither Russians nor the aerospace economy occupied our teenage minds -- we were ready to go to work!

After a night in the barracks and a good Army breakfast at the mess hall, we took busses to the World’s Fair site the, arriving 30 minutes or so before its daily opening. The leaders marched us around the grounds, in those double columns, and dropped one of us every 50 or 100 yards in strategic stops.

We wore our Scout uniforms with special patches and neckerchiefs. Two years later, when attending a national boy scout “jamboree”, I found those World’s Fair patches and clothing had some real value when trading, and even today, doing a bit of research for this story, I found those patches and kerchiefs going for a hundred bucks on e-Bay – I’m astounded! I also I noticed this afternoon that Mrs. Steve is eyeing the bin of old Scouting stuff out in the garage that might contain some of those small treasurers.

At 10 a.m., the gates opened and the tourists flooded into the site. That flood of people didn’t stop, continuing until late at night. At 13 years old I was shy, but that shyness quickly evaporated as people asked me questions all day long, mostly in English, many in Japanese, many in languages I hadn’t a clue about.

Where’s the rest room please, where’s the mono-rail station, how about the fine arts building? How much does it cost to ride the Space Needle? It was endless.

George Burns the television actor came by. I asked him for an autograph knowing that he was one of my father’s favorites. He graciously consented. I think that encounter killed my shyness for good.

By day’s end, we were all ready for the return ride to Fort Lawton, tired but happy with our first day on the job. We all had sore feet, sunburned foreheads, energy left to burn, and six more days on the job. Life was grand.

As the week went on, we became more inventive on our schedules, so that we could find more than an hour to explore Seattle at one time. Our favorite “hang-out” was the Seattle waterfront. In those days it was a strip of piers and docks, not the heavy tourist area it has grown into. There were some touristy things to keep us interested, even then, including the original Ivar’s Fish House, a walk up fish shack next door to the ferry terminal, and our favorite, the Ye Old Curiosity Shop with its Egyptian Mummy. Sneaking on a ferry for a 45 minute ride to Whidbey Island or Bremerton was also high on the list of things to do.

The attractions of modern Seattle --- the well developed Pioneer Square area, Underground Seattle, the aquarium, the King Dome and then the Safeco Stadium, none of those existed in 1962. But that didn’t matter, we worked every day at the biggest attraction in the West that year, the World’s Fair.

The week went far too quickly, and the experience added to the foundation of each of us in those formative years. The experience for this young teenager was indelible and permanent.

The bus ride home took far too long, as well, and it was good to be around the brothers again, at least for a short while. Later in the summer the family drove to Seattle to take in the World’s Fair. Of course they had a superb guide!

Oh, now that I think about it, I guess this isn’t the last Scouting story -- I’m recalling a few more still tucked away to tell.

(c) 2010 Stephen J. Matlock
This publication is the exclusive property of Stephen J. Matlock and is protected
under the US Copyright Act of 1976 and all other applicable international, federal, state and local laws. The contents of this post/story may not be reproduced as a whole or in part, by any means whatsoever, without consent of the author, Stephen J. Matlock. All rights reserved.


RoeH said...

In 1962 the high school choir I was a part of in Moses Lake, Washington went to the fair. I can remember the fair very well. I have no idea what we sang.

La Petite Gallery said...

This was such a fresh story, made me think of trips with the Girl scouts and cookie sales, I sold the most and remember those feelings
of pride a kid gets. Diferent world today.
Sat I saw an old BUCK ROGERS
movie either tcm or some other station.

Enjoy your ole treasures.
Happy Sunday.

Pondside said...

Those early-teen experiences of responsibility combined with adventure form us, I believe. I saw the space needle in the early 70's and it was still impressive.

Ms. A said...

Can you imagine sending a 13, today, off on that kind of adventure, with so little supervision??? Those times were so different.

Ally said...

I love that your husband is involved in your blog. Mine won't even read it, let alone offer up a guest post now and again. Would it be wrong of me to admit the only reason I joined the Girl Scouts in 7th grade was because I thought it would allow me more time with the Boy Scouts? Probably :(

storybeader said...

enjoyed reading about your experience. I went to the NY World's Fair as a child, but didn't get to know it like you and Expo21 ! BTW, I live in Lawton, Oklahoma! Fort Sill lies just to our north! {:-Deb

Judie said...

What a wonderful memory, Steve. I wonder if scouting today is the same as it was when you were a boy.

Todd said...

What a great recollection!

I hope you'll share it on the website for the 50th anniversary of the Seattle World's Fair, too. We have a area to Share Your Story, which is pretty cool.