About What Remains
In 1980 and 1981, I worked at the Museum of Man in Balboa Park in what was once the California Building from the San Diego Panamanian Exposition of 1915. In 2004, I read Erik Larson's Devil in the White City, which intertwined the true tale of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the story of a cunning serial killer. I became intrigued by worlds fairs. Why did people create them? Why were there so many of them? How did they flourish despite economic depression and war? Why are only a few of them famous? While working on my masters degree in American History at Humboldt State University, I had a chance to meet, talk, and listen to Robert W. Rydell, an expert on world's fairs in 2005. I was hooked. I started researching and writing about world's fairs as a hobby, after all....I already had a full time job.
When my mom died, in 2011, I started interviewing her friends about their experiences with world expositions as a way to stay in touch with them, without only having my dead mom to talk about. I thought I'd put a pamphlet together about people from Homer, Alaska who had visited fairs in their youth. As they told their stories, their memories rekindled my enthusiasm for the subject. I started conversations with people I didn't know and asked them about their experiences. I approached older people sitting on park benches near where fairs were held. I called parents of friends and interviewed people in assisted living. What struck me most was that the stories they told weren't really about the fairs at all. The stories were about the bonds they had felt with their parents or classmates, about riding in cars and buses, losing hats, or buying new nylon stockings along the way. No matter how big and grand the fairs were, aside from a few buildings, the personal impressions and stories of the people who attended are What Remains.