Snohomish County remembers the ‘62 World’s Fair

  • Thu Apr 19th, 2012 8:58pm
  • News

By Gale Fiege Herald Writer

It was all about the Space Age, the new world coming in the 21st century.

The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair opened 50 years ago this weekend. Life magazine’s cover headline read “Out of this World: Fair in Seattle.” The Everett Daily Herald called it “Fantastic.”

An estimated 10 million people from around the world visited the Century 21 Exhibition during its six-month run in Seattle, then considered a cultural backwater.

The Cold War was raging, the race to space was on and America was about to change forever. As Linda McCullough, 75, of Edmonds, said, “It was a magical time.”

Many folks from Snohomish County now in their 50s and older who attended the fair hold dear their memories of that time, of the hope of what could be.

“When I saw the modern kitchen, the moving sidewalk and the Monorail, I was sure I had seen the future,” said Joyce Simpson, 69, of Mill Creek, who traveled with her family from Ames, Iowa, to Seattle.

The fair, with themes of science and technology, ushered Seattle and the region into the world’s spotlight. The stars of the day — including Roy Rogers, Bob Hope and Elvis — mixed with the crowds bustling through the fair gates. The biggest star of the fair, however, is still there.

“Boys don’t walk, they run, and run we did, straight for the main attraction, the Big Kahuna, the Space Needle,” said Roger Gable, who was a 13-year-old from Snohomish. “And who could forget the female elevator attendants painted with blue eye shadow and wearing costumes straight out of a B-grade science fiction movie?”

For many, the legacy of Century 21 is that much of it never ended. The Space Needle has always been the place to take relatives visiting from out of town. One can still ride the Monorail, sunbathe at the International Fountain, eat at what was then called the Food Circus, watch events at KeyArena, then called the Coliseum, and take in exhibits at the Pacific Science Center.

“I went to the fair,” said Susan Dawson, 58, of Everett. “But my best memories are of the years that followed. The school trips to the Science Center and the rock concerts in the Coliseum.”

* * *

The fair had been in the works for years. Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson of Everett and his colleague, Sen. Warren G. Magnuson, convinced the federal government to budget $10 million to help support the exhibition, which also had state and local funding. While construction was under way, Karen Riedel, then 12, went with her father to Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, overlooking the site of the future fairgrounds.

“I did not understand the significance at the time, but the memory of it stayed with me,” said Riedel, who lives in Monroe. “I think somehow I realized subconsciously that this was going to be an important event.”

In honor of the fair, the city of Everett planted dozens of cherry trees on Colby Avenue between 10th and 19th streets. The trees bloomed for the first time that spring, and have every spring since.

Several local companies played a part in building the fairgrounds. Western Gear Corp. in Everett designed and manufactured the turntable for the revolving restaurant atop the Space Needle. The iconic arches of the Science Center were made by Associated Sand &Gravel of Everett.

Bud Silliman, 76, of south Snohomish County, helped build the turntable parts, which were powered by a 1-horsepower motor for a complete revolution of the restaurant once each hour.

“My work was a minor part of the whole thing,” Silliman said. “Then one time a few years later, I took a date up to the Space Needle restaurant and was able to brag about my work for Western Gear.”

The Space Needle opened for a special preview a month before the start of the fair. Larry Miller and his family were among the first people to go up.

Miller, 78, and his wife Betty, 75, who now have a home on Camano Island, were living in Seattle in 1961 and had watched the Needle being built. At the top, Larry asked Betty to pose for a picture with their newborn daughter Diane in her arms.

“The view was gorgeous,” Betty Miller said. “In 1978, we moved back to the Northwest, and we took our daughter and her younger brothers up the Space Needle. Diane joked that I should pose with her in my arms again.”

* * *

Opening day of the fair on April 21, 1962, presented a challenge for people in Snohomish County. Construction of I-5 had only just begun, so a trip to Seattle still meant a slow drive down Highway 99.

Michael Crehan, of Everett, was 26 and living in Edmonds when he and his buddies decided to attend the fair. They waited a few days, expecting the excitement and crowds to die down.

“Apparently lots of other people waited, too,” Crehan said. “Because when we got there, crowds of people were everywhere.”

He remembers it as a wonderful day: “As I look back on it now, I remember the sense of pride and optimism that we all felt. The future looked so bright then.”

Karen Hume now 73, of Lake Stevens, was there opening day.

In the early 1960s, flight attendants were all single, good-looking, young women. Because she was engaged to be married that spring, Hume, a United Airlines stewardess, was forced to give notice.

However, the airline hired her back to work at the Seattle World’s Fair. Hume and other former stewardesses — dressed in sky-blue suit jackets, slim skirts and high heels — introduced an automatic ticketing machine and helped fairgoers confirm their flight reservations home.

“It was grand and glorious, with flags from all the countries flying,” Hume said of the opening day. “We met many people from foreign countries, and without exception, all of us who worked at the fair were ambassadors.”

Among those she met was Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov and American astronaut John Glenn. Someone in Glenn’s entourage gave Hume a tie tack commemorating the astronaut’s orbit of Earth two months earlier. Hume’s husband wore the tie tack and now it belongs to her son-in-law, who works for Boeing.

“In the years that followed, we lost high school classmates and friends in Vietnam,” Hume said. “But the fair was good stuff, and this 50th anniversary brings back such good memories.”

* * *

Women in their mid-60s to mid-70s might remember how the name made them shiver.

Elvis Presley.

The singer showed up at the fair in late summer of 1962 to make the movie

The man then explained to the 12-year-old girl that the dog was a “laddie, not a lassie,” and there was more than one dog playing Lassie in the popular TV series.

“When I returned to my mom, she asked if I had gotten an autograph. I told her that dogs don’t sign autographs,” Meisner said. “Then she told me that the man I had been talking with was Bob Hope. He was such a nice man.”

* * *

While Lassie was the most famous dog at the World’s Fair, the first pooch to reach the top of the Space Needle was a young black Lab named Baron.

To get out of his wife’s hair after she had a baby, Bob Spiwak of Mountlake Terrace took their 5-year-old daughter Vikki on a camping trip on a Thursday near Index. The little girl and the family dog, Baron, disappeared into the woods soon after they arrived. Spiwak could not find them.

“I won’t go into the horror of the next three days, rainy ones,” Spiwak wrote in a recent blog from his current home in the Methow Valley.

The hunt for Vikki was big news on national television and in newspapers across the country. By Saturday evening, the official search was called off, but a Boeing employee named Adam Kintop, who had seven children of his own, would not give up.

Kintop was climbing a hill when he heard a dog growl. He called Baron’s name and the dog came to him. He followed Baron and found Vikki, who was dehydrated, but otherwise OK. The dog had never left her side and had never stopped licking a deep cut on her leg.

Baron was awarded a hero’s medal from the lieutenant governor and granted immunity from the Terrace dogcatcher. It wasn’t long before the Spiwak family and Baron were invited to the World’s Fair.

Vikki’s mom, Lyn Neuhardt, 76, of Everett, remembered that a royal blue carpet was rolled out for Baron and the Spiwak and Kintop families. The group ate lunch at the Century 21 Club where Baron was served a tray of coldcuts.

“Somebody dressed as Huckleberry Hound took Vikki and the Kintop kids on the rides,” she said.

The little girl, now Vikki Anderson, 55, of Bainbridge Island, remembers that her dog was given a Tupperware container of water on the blue carpet.

“I remember how big the fair was and how, at that time in the world, it was the place to be,” Anderson said. “I remember my dad holding me up for a photo at the top of the Space Needle and me asking him not to drop me.”

Bob Spiwak said Baron was the only non-service dog allowed at the time to the top of the Space Needle. A woman there haughtily asked Spiwak if he knew that dogs were not allowed.

“It’s OK,” Spiwak responded. “He is blind and I am his seeing-eye person.”

* * *

As the fair went from spring to summer to fall, people came away with cherished stories they’ve kept their lifetimes.

For Tom Silliman, two remain treasured.

Thirteen at the time, he played trombone in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth with the Seattle Youth Symphony in front of a large crowd at the Opera House. The other recollection is more boyish. A television station helicopter dropped ping-pong balls as a promotion all over Seattle.

“I found one floating in Green Lake and I won $10 and $10 worth of fair tokens,” said Tom Silliman, 63, of Clearview. “Those were good times.”

Another 13-year-old at the time of the fair was Gable — the boy who ran to the Space Needle. He lived in rural Snohomish and attended a two-room schoolhouse.

“This fair was to be our glimpse into the future, the biggest thing in our lives,” Gable said. “For a school project, I made a replica of the Space Needle out of balsa wood, complete with a rotating top.”

He and a buddy asked for permission to ride the bus to Seattle. Their parents didn’t want to make the long drive to the big city, so off they went. Gable promised to record the adventure for his family with an 8mm movie camera.

It was a great time for boys, Gable said.

And for girls.

Former Herald columnist Kristi O’Harran was 12 when she had fun on the Gayway amusement rides while her parents went to the Gracie Hansen Vegas-style burlesque show.

“I’m still waiting for what I saw in the futuristic house,” said O’Harran of Mill Creek. “I would like to put my clothes in a closet and have them automatically get ironed.”

Food vending machines were popular at the fair, she said.

“I ate hot dogs, riding in buns shaped like boats, sold from vending machines,” O’Harran said. “It was a clever idea and very tasty for a picky eater who would never try other foods from around the world.”

Keith Riedel remembers those same vending machines.

The Monroe man, 14 at the time of the fair, scraped together a little money to go. The entrance fee was expensive for a kid in those days, so he snuck in. His spent his cash instead on a hot dog from the vending machines and a carnival ride.

“It seemed that all of Seattle attended the fair, whether you were rich or poor. Somehow, you found a way,” said Keith Riedel, who is married to Karen Riedel.

Not everyone thought the fair was wonderful.

Self-described curmudgeon Michael Mates, 65, of Monroe, retired from the foreign service and has lived around the world. He remembers being disappointed in the fair.

“My parents agreed with Sir Thomas Beecham, who had conducted the Seattle Symphony, and had called Seattle a cultural dust bin. At the fair, the Egyptian and French exhibits were poorly done and the Belgian waffles were not as good as my mother’s,” Mates said. “I gave it all a second shot and still came away disappointed.

“I still believe the Space Needle is a hideous eyesore.”

Linda McCullough of Edmonds couldn’t disagree more. She worked as an executive secretary at American Building Maintenance organizing the eight cleaning crews at the fair.

“It was the experience of a lifetime. Beautiful!” she said.

Bob Nelson was among a group of young folk singers who sang at the United Nations exhibit each Sunday during the fair.

“It was the a forerunner of the Northwest Folklife Festival, which began about 10 years later in the Seattle Center,” said Nelson, now 74, of Everett.

Gary Hatle graduated from Everett High School in June that year. In celebration of Century 21, he was one of 21 guys from his class who joined the Air Force en masse at a ceremony June 21 on the grounds of the Snohomish County Courthouse.

The infamous Columbus Day windstorm occurred Oct. 12, just nine days before the fair closed. High winds were in the weather forecast for that day, but the prediction did not deter Vera Miller, 81 of Silver Lake, and her husband.

Once they were up on the observation deck of the Space Needle enjoying the view, however, the building began to sway back and forth in the 80 mph gusts. A fair official announced that everybody was to evacuate immediately.

“So we squeezed into the elevator like sardines. Everything was shutting down and the electricity was going. By the time we left, Seattle was dark,” Miller said. “On the way back to Everett, Highway 99 looked like a war zone.”

* * *

Peter Evans, 87, graduated from Everett High School in 1942, and has lived most of his life in Mountlake Terrace.

During Century 21, he was a chemistry teacher at Ballard High School in Seattle. He and some of his students were invited to the World’s Fair to do some work with esteemed Princeton University chemistry professor Hubert Alyea, a friend of Albert Einstein.

“The results of the experiments we performed at the World’s Fair were published in a national science magazine. It was great fun for the kids,” Evans said. “I also took my family to the fair, where they loved riding the Monorail, the sky tram and the Bubbleator in the Coliseum. And our Greek Orthodox church helped out with the Greek exhibit at the fair.

“What I am left with most, though, is that I did not record all of this very well. One does not have a sense of history when you are in the middle of it. We did not know how really big it was.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

Gale’s fair visit

Reporter Gale Fiege grew up in Mountlake Terrace and was 5 when she went to the Seattle World’s Fair with her mom, along with her “Memaw” and a great aunt, who were visiting from Ohio. She remembers the crowds and eating a whipped-cream topped Belgian waffle. She wanted to ride to the top of the Space Needle, but her family wasn’t about to waste the money. She has gone up several times since.