Hopes and Holdovers

The hurried renovations to the Hall of Science immediately following the World’s Fair notwithstanding, the New York Times was not wrong in 1966 to call it “not yet a true museum.”

Rather than an intentionally curated exhibit presentation, the Hall of Science offered a collection of World’s Fair holdovers supplemented by an assembly of corporate-sponsored exhibits. An exhibition from Con Edison told about pre-electricity New York and also showed a model of a modern-day nuclear power plant. New York Telephone’s exhibit celebrated Bell Labs while NASA’s exhibit looked “like a traveling display used to sell the public on various aspects of the NASA program, rather than the methodical, beautifully conceived presentation that should go into a great museum.”

The Atomic Energy Commission exhibit from the World’s Fair also remained on display. Atomsville, U.S.A., invited schoolchildren to conduct simulated atomic experiments while their parents and teachers watched on closed-circuit televisions since adults weren’t allowed in the child-sized exhibit. Kids could prospect for uranium, operate remote-controlled “safety hands,” start an atomic chain reaction, and step on a scale that told the number of atoms in their bodies.

Photo: The Stars and Stripes, February 3, 1967

Alongside Atomsville, U.S.A., was the Life Science Radiation Laboratory where millipedes ate radioactive leaves so that visitors could trace the passage of food through their digestive systems. There was also Rupert the rat, who had a crook in the tip of his tail resulting from a controlled dose of radiation given to his mother during pregnancy. Another exhibit showed irradiated foods that were left at room temperature for months, yet still remained “edible and tasty.”

All of these exhibits were on view in the lower level of the Hall of Science in what’s now called the Central Pavilion. Upstairs, Rendezvous in Space, another World’s Fair holdover continued in the Great Hall. Rendezvous in Space began with a film (Frank Capra’s last) narrated by Danny Thomas, featuring (uncredited) voices by Mel Blanc. The presentation culminated with a live demonstration of a docking by a “space taxi” carrying a three-man relief crew to a model space station suspended 80-feet above the ground. When the relief crew entered the station, the lights went up and the crowds cheered.

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