Maybe it’s just me who figured at the time, everyone was caught up in the giddy, optimistic hype of the World’s Fair. I guess I hadn’t counted on E.B. White. His nonplussed review of the 1939 New York World’s Fair is included in Essays of E.B. White. Here’s the best part [of the fair, that is. The whole essay’s a short, pleasant read]:
Another gay spot, to my surprise, was the American Telephone & Telegraph Exhibit. It took the old Telephone Company to put on the best show of all. To anyone who draws a lucky number, the company grants the privilege of making a long-distance call. This call can be to any point in the United States, and the bystanders have the exquisite privilege of listening in through earphones and of laughing unashamed. To understand the full wonder of this, you must reflect that there are millions of people who have never either made or received a long-distance call, and that when Eddie Pancha, a waiter in a restaurant in El Paso, Texas, hears the magic words “New York is calling…go ahead, please,” he is transfixed in holy dread and excitement. I listened for two hours and ten minutes to this show, and I’d be there this minute if I were capable of standing up. I had the good luck to be listening at the earphone when a little boy named David Wagstaff won the toss and put in a call to his father in Springfield, Mass., what a good time he was having at the World’s Fair. David walked resolutely to the glass booth before the assembled kibitzers and in a tiny, timid voice gave the operator his call, his little new cloth hat set all nicely on his head. But his father wasn’t there, and david was suddenly confronted with the necessity of telling his story to a man named Mr. Henry, who happened to answer the phone and who, pn hearing little David Wagstaff’s voice calling from New York, must surely have thought that David’s mother had been run down in the BMT and that David was doing the manly thing.
“Yes, David,” he said, tensely.
“Tell my father this, began Dvid, slowly, carefully, determined to go through with the halcyon experience of winning a lucky call at the largest fair the world had yet produced.
“We got on the train, and…and…had a nice trip, and at New Haven, when they were taking off the car and putting another car on, it was awfully funny because the car gave a great–big–BUMP!”
Then followed David’s three minute appreciation of the World of Tomorrow and the Citadel of Light, phrased in the crumbling remnants of speech that little boys are left with when a lot of people are watching, and when their thoughts begin to run down, and when Perispheres begin to swim mistily in time. Mr. Henry–the invisible and infinitely surprised Mr. Henry–maintained a respectful and indulgent silence. I don’t know what he was thinking, but I would swap the Helicline for a copy of his attempted transcription of David’s message to his father.
“The World of Tomorrow” was originally published in May 1939 in The New Yorker.