Speaking of white and smooth, a main feature of the the 1939 New York’s World Fair that E.B. White attended way back in 1939 was “The Perisphere,” a white spherical building in appearance halfway between Buckminster Fuller’s Epcot Center and “The World’s Largest Egg” in Winlock Washington. Inside the Perisphere, like the yolk of an egg, full of promise, was the exhibit “Democracity,” with its miniature model city ‘Centerton’. “Not a dream city, but a symbol of life as lived by the man of tomorrow,” the narrator’s voice in the exhibit helpfully explained, making it all perfectly clear. A vision of the future ready to hatch. How could I make a joke here about White going in to see this yolk? E.B. White, among many others, paid his fare and rode “the world’s longest escalator” up into the Perisphere.
The Perisphere. (Photo credit: architectuul.com)
The World’s Largest Egg, Winlock Washington.
Who wouldn’t like to see this model city of the model city? It even had slot cars that actually moved around the city. I like this kind of thing.
When I was a kid I liked the little towns my brothers and sisters and I would build with Lincoln Logs. I liked the little toy hospital we had with the elevator that could be cranked from the ground level to the second story. Who does not like to look into the little rooms of dollhouses and ponder the existence of the tiny people who live there? I remember one time in my childhood crouching down to look into a dollhouse and being surprised to hear the voice of a big person looking down at me. “Are you going to move in there?” she asked. (When I say big person I mean a girl about my age that I knew. She’s grown up and gone to Hollywood to see if she can make it there.)
Something about these little worlds we make seem to us mysterious and beautiful. We want to jump into them the same way I wanted to jump into Heidi’s world when my dad was reading “Heidi” aloud. The presentation of the future at this fair, however, was not very similar to Heidi’s alpine home life.
Here are some of White’s observations from inside the fair:
“Tomorrow does not smell. The World’s fair of 1939 has taken the body odour out of man, among other things. It is all rather impersonal, this dream. The country fair manages much better, where you can hang over the rail at the ox-pulling and smell the ox….There is no shoving in the exhibit hall of Tomorrow. There is no loitering and there is usually no smoking. Even in the girl show in the amusement area, the sailor is placed in a rather astringent attitude behind glass, for the adoration of the female form. It is all rather serious minded, this World of Tomorrow, and extremely impersonal.”
In essence, the vision of tomorrow was of a future less alive than the present. But think of the Masons, for example, with their ideas of things ancient and their rather serious minded extremely impersonal ordered ceremonies. Did they believe in the body odour of man?
There is a similarity between this dead sterile view of the past and the dead sterile view of the future. Is it that the people who are dead are not here now, and the people to come are not here now, so we cannot think of them as having the things that go with life? The gritty dirt, the sweat, the deep, deep joys and griefs.
These days it is popular to say that people were so very different in the past that they did not even love their children in the old days. Have you heard that? That Family affection is a modern creation? That is a load of rotten rubbish!
Listen to Gregory of Tours write in the 6th century:
“This sickness began in the month of August and seized upon the little ones and laid them on their beds. We lost dear sweet children whom we nursed on our knees or carried in our arms and nourished with attentive care, feeding them with our own hand. But wiping away our tears we say with the blessed Job : “The Lord has given; the Lord has taken away; the Lord’s will has been done. Blessed be his name through the ages.” (History of the Franks)
Or look at Francis Chantrey’s statue The Sleeping Children in Lichfield Cathedral of two little girls who had died – shown sleeping in each other’s arms, as their mother remembered them.
(The Sleeping Children, 1817. Photo Credit: Web Gallery of Art)
Their feelings were like ours, but now they are to us odourless, cold statues. Even when we watch old footage of Hitler, he does a sort of ghost’s dance for us. We cannot touch him either physically (with a bullet) or intellectually.