On April 21, 2012, the six-month Next 50 celebration kicks off opening day festivities at Seattle Center, marking the 50th anniversary of the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, also known as the Century 21 Exposition, and looking ahead to Seattle Center's next 50 years. Thousands of people enjoy a warm sunny day -- not unlike fairgoers who came through the gates on April 21, 1962 -- and take in a variety of performances, exhibits, and general fun.
The day's events began at the International Fountain Pavilion with the opening of "Celebrating Century 21," a series of three complementary exhibits hosted by the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI). These exhibits explored Seattle's 1962 World's Fair and its impact on Seattle. "Centuries of Progress: American World’s Fairs, 1853 -1982" -- a national traveling exhibit from the Hagley Museum and Library -- provided context by looking at fairs' past. "The Future Remembered" -- a vast collection of artifacts, photos, and documents pertaining to the 1962 Seattle World's Fair -- were selected from MOHAI's collections by curators Paula Becker (b. 1963) and Alan Stein (b. 1961), staff historians at HistoryLink.org. And "Looking Forward: The New Heroes" featured Davis Freeman's photographs of young visionaries who have applied innovative solutions to create a better society.
Eric Taylor, lead staff for Heritage 4Culture, welcomed a large audience to the exhibit opening. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was performed by MOHAI executive director Leonard Garfield, Seattle City Councilmember Jean Godden (b. 1931), and photographer Davis Freeman. Once open for its six-month run, "Celebrating Century 21" welcomed more than 6,000 visitors throughout the first day.
At 11:00 a.m. a large crowd gathered at the Mural Amphitheatre for the Next 50 opening ceremonies, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1962 World's Fair. Emcee John Keister (b. 1956), the former host of KING-TV's comedy show "Almost Live," got things started by introducing Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn (b. 1959), who arrived to the ceremonies by bike. In his opening remarks, McGinn noted that much of Seattle's great reputation could be attributed to the 1962 World's Fair, which he felt started it all.
Albert Fisher (b. 1942) spoke next, recalling the fair's opening day ceremonies on April 21, 1962. Fisher, who was 20 years old in 1962, was the television liaison for the fair and told the story of his phone conversation with President John F. Kennedy, just before JFK pressed the telegraph key that officially opened Century 21. Fifty years later, almost to the minute, President Kennedy's opening day speech was heard again as it played out over the loudspeakers.
Other speakers included Congressman Jim McDermott (b. 1936), and C. David Hughbanks, who worked for the Century 21 Special Events Division and later for Seattle Center as director of marketing and planning. Actor Tom Skerritt performed a dramatic reading from The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World's Fair and Its Legacy -- the official 50th anniversary book.
The ceremonies also included performances by the Garfield High School Drum Line, the Chief Sealth High School Marching Band, the Chinese Community Drill Team, the Filipino Youth Activities Drill Team, and the Seattle Men's Chorus.
On the Grounds
For the rest of the day, there was fun for all throughout Seattle Center. The Space Needle offered rides to the top for only one dollar. New temporary art installations caught the eye throughout the grounds. Music filled the air. Scavenger hunts challenged puzzlers. Food trucks and carts filled walkways, tempting hungry visitors with a wide variety of delightful aromas. In the afternoon, an organized flash mob appeared, danced the twist, and then quickly dispersed into the crowds.
The celebration's final event took place at 4:30, when the Pat Graney Dance Company performed "The Chair Spectacle" around International Fountain. In this 30-minute performance, 100 dancers dressed in white danced on and around white chairs, accompanied by music and sounds from the 1962 World's Fair.
Although the day's festivities were now complete, some visitors stayed well into the evening, strolling the grounds and enjoying the beautiful weather. A half century earlier, fair planners envisioned the fairgrounds as a vibrant civic center long after the Century 21 Exposition was over. That vision has proved to be true well into the twenty-first century and beyond.