April 21, 2020
… All Roads lead to Seattle
The year was 1962. The space race was a real thing. And Americans everywhere were awed by the spectacle of extra-terrestrial travel to the moon and beyond.
And no event summed up America’s love affair with technology, space, and the future more than the Century 21 Exposition in Seattle which opened on April 21st.
The idea had been hatched seven years earlier. From the Infallible Wikipedia:
“The fair was originally conceived at a Washington Athletic Club luncheon in 1955 to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition , but it soon became clear that that date was too ambitious. With the Space Race underway and Boeing having ‘put Seattle on the map’ as ‘an aerospace city’, a major theme of the fair was to show that ‘the United States was not really ‘behind’ the Soviet Union in the realms of science and space’. As a result, the themes of space, science, and the future completely trumped the earlier conception of a ‘Festival of the [American] West’.”
Science and technology became the primary focus of the fair. Companies from around the U.S. exhibited a variety of ‘future’ products with a push, particularly, focused on the home of the future. For 13 minutes of pure Seattleite amusement, you can take a trip back in time in this video from Bell Telephone touting how easy communication would one day be. Had they only known…
But it was the space race between the United States and the USSR which was the story which coalesced into my hubby’s family lore.
Gherman Titov was a Soviet cosmonaut and the second man to orbit the earth in outer space. Think of him as the Russian equivalent of John Glenn; a hero in his country. HistoryLink.org – a Washington State history site – chronicles that visit:
“May 5 was incredibly hectic at the Century 21 Exposition, thanks to a visit from Russian cosmonaut Major Gherman Titov, who attracted some of the largest crowds the fair had seen since its opening on April 21. At times, the diminutive 5-foot 4-inch Titov found it hard to see anything other than the Space Needle, as taller spectators gathered around him, hoping to glimpse or photograph one of the few men that had been in outer space. Scores of news reporters compounded the crush.
The Russian cosmonaut wasn’t the only one to gather crowds. More than 10,000 Camp Fire Girls were on hand to dedicate the World’s Fair flagpoles, funded by candy mint sales. An estimated 20,000 people — more than a quarter of the day’s total attendance of 75,758 — were there to take part in Camp Fire Girl celebrations. Because of the large crowds, Century 21 Exposition manager Ewen Dingwall (1913-1996) announced that starting May 12, the fair would open an hour earlier each day, at 9:00.
Throughout the day Titov signed autograph books and handed out color photos of himself, especially to children. At one point he handed his photo to a baby in a stroller.”
The baby in the stroller? My husband’s younger sister, Liz!
Back in the 1980’s – when I heard this story for the first time – I contacted the Seattle PI and was able to get a photo of Liz with the cosmonaut. We then framed it and gave that to her as a present. Unfortunately, the photo is stowed away in a box in the attic of the family home… and no one is brave enough to navigate the bat guano to go find it. I will be looking through my physical archives to see if I kept a copy.
In speaking with my Mother in Law, Jean, yesterday, she shared the following:
“We were there that day because I took our older daughter’s Campfire Group. We heard the Cosmonaut was on the grounds and we went out of our way to avoid all that, but ran right in to it. He bent down and talked to Liz who was in a stroller. She was little at that time (editor’s note – she was a few days shy of her first birthday). Normally, I would not take that many in a crowd – there were at least 10 Campfire Girls with us.”
My Mother in Law is looking to see if a copy of the newspaper article and photo might be in their file cabinet. Of course Liz remembers nothing of that day.
As I was putting together the story for this week’s blog, I was reminded of how there are days in our lives which become significant but we do not recognize it at the time. Family events like these highlight how crucial it is to stop and reflect on events which impact our lives.
I was six that year and I know that my family traveled to Seattle from Yakima for the event. But I cannot recall what we did or any specifics about it. I do know that the day it opened was my dad’s 39th birthday…now 58 years ago. Just last year on April 21st, all my siblings, their spouses, and two of my nieces, gathered together at the Adult Family Home where my dad had recently moved, to celebrate his 96th birthday. It was a lovely day and perfect weather.
Dad had told me that he didn’t want to celebrate his birthday. But my sister and I insisted and promised it would be ‘just’ family. We ignored his protests and proceeded anyway.
Dad rallied for the event and seemed to enjoy the cake, the cards, and a few small presents. Turns out that we were all glad we did. Six months and three days later he was gone.