Streetcar: A Fair’s Farewell

On the closing night of the 1984 World’s Fair, Congressmember Lindy Boggs stood on the big amphitheater stage. With the passing ships on the river as the background, Boggs and Seymore D. Fair, the event’s pelican mascot, plus some miscellaneous dancers, performed the fair’s last act as they swayed to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long.” A few weeks earlier Richie had performed that song live at the finale of the Los Angeles Summer Olympics where the world’s athletes who had assembled on the field served as the chorus for a global audience. By contrast, the closing at the fair was far more modest; Boggs, plus a pelican and a few extras before a crowd of teary eyed fair fans.

Since the fair had been a financial failure, Boggs was the only office holder who took part in the finale, for which the budget was so deeply cut that even the song was borrowed.

This year is the 35th anniversary of the exposition, which ran from May 12 to November 11 of ‘84. By August, the verdict for the event was already in: It was an economic disaster, partially because of an overestimated attendance that did not materialize; on the other hand, it did stimulate riverfront development, and oh, locals loved it.

New Orleans was founded in 1718 along the river, but it wasn’t until 1984 that most New Orleanians discovered the river. Prior to that the Mississippi’s banks were mostly an industrial area blocked by warehouses, a brewery and “No Trespassing” signs. But by ’84 urban waterfronts around the world were being converted to leisure use. The heavy industry was moved away from the old town areas to accommodate bigger ships and containerized cargo. Because of its fair, few waterfronts were converted to leisure as quickly New Orleans’. During the summer of ’84 locals, many toting season passes, headed to the river during their free time. In what was once a dreary industrial neighborhood, there was wonderment of color, light and music. A monorail rolled above carrying its load to and from the new international pavilion. Gliding capsules known as the gondola, dangled passengers across the river.

At the German Beer Garden, fair-goers flapped their arms to the chicken dance. Oversized Belgian waffles were introduced to the world. And there was even a space shuttle, loaned by NASA, parked near the midway.

Old industrial streets and buildings were suddenly part of an entertainment area, including the previously little known Fulton Street and the nearby Federal Fiber Mills, which now housed both condos and a depot for the monorail.

On the April day before the fair was to open, there had been a media tour and it had been a disaster. Carpenters were still swinging hammers; painters were yielding their brushes; electricians were running wires. Nothing seemed ready. “Don’t judge us by what you see today,” Fair President Petr Sprurney told the media who had gathered from throughout the country. But no one listened. Later that evening, I was walking through the press room when I heard a radio reporter record his report: “Less than 24 hours before its scheduled opening the world’s fair in New Orleans is nowhere near ready…” The word spread around the continent faster than a speeding monorail.

But Spurney was right. There was a miracle along the river that night, and the next day the fair was indeed ready, only the image of trouble had already been cast.

Locals would know better though. Like “Brigadoon,” the musical set in Scotland about an idyllic village that only appears once a century, the fair provided the summer of a lifetime.

Lindy Boggs and Seymore must have felt the same emotion that those in the tearful audience were feeling. And the emotion continued—all night long. .

1984 World’s Fair, Congressmember Lindy Boggs stood on the big amphitheater stage. With the passing ships on the river as the background, Boggs and Seymore D. Fair, the event’s pelican mascot, plus some miscellaneous dancers, performed the fair’s last act as they swayed to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long.” A few weeks earlier Richie had performed that song live at the finale of the Los Angeles Summer Olympics where the world’s athletes who had assembled on the field served as the chorus for a global audience. By contrast, the closing at the fair was far more modest; Boggs, plus a pelican and a few extras before a crowd of teary eyed fair fans.

Since the fair had been a financial failure, Boggs was the only office holder who took part in the finale, for which the budget was so deeply cut that even the song was borrowed.

This year is the 35th anniversary of the exposition, which ran from May 12 to November 11 of ‘84. By August, the verdict for the event was already in: It was an economic disaster, partially because of an overestimated attendance that did not materialize; on the other hand, it did stimulate riverfront development, and oh, locals loved it.

New Orleans was founded in 1718 along the river, but it wasn’t until 1984 that most New Orleanians discovered the river. Prior to that the Mississippi’s banks were mostly an industrial area blocked by warehouses, a brewery and “No Trespassing” signs. But by ’84 urban waterfronts around the world were being converted to leisure use. The heavy industry was moved away from the old town areas to accommodate bigger ships and containerized cargo. Because of its fair, few waterfronts were converted to leisure as quickly New Orleans’. During the summer of ’84 locals, many toting season passes, headed to the river during their free time. In what was once a dreary industrial neighborhood, there was wonderment of color, light and music. A monorail rolled above carrying its load to and from the new international pavilion. Gliding capsules known as the gondola, dangled passengers across the river.

At the German Beer Garden, fair-goers flapped their arms to the chicken dance. Oversized Belgian waffles were introduced to the world. And there was even a space shuttle, loaned by NASA, parked near the midway.

Old industrial streets and buildings were suddenly part of an entertainment area, including the previously little known Fulton Street and the nearby Federal Fiber Mills, which now housed both condos and a depot for the monorail.

On the April day before the fair was to open, there had been a media tour and it had been a disaster. Carpenters were still swinging hammers; painters were yielding their brushes; electricians were running wires. Nothing seemed ready. “Don’t judge us by what you see today,” Fair President Petr Sprurney told the media who had gathered from throughout the country. But no one listened. Later that evening, I was walking through the press room when I heard a radio reporter record his report: “Less than 24 hours before its scheduled opening the world’s fair in New Orleans is nowhere near ready…” The word spread around the continent faster than a speeding monorail.

But Spurney was right. There was a miracle along the river that night, and the next day the fair was indeed ready, only the image of trouble had already been cast.

Locals would know better though. Like “Brigadoon,” the musical set in Scotland about an idyllic village that only appears once a century, the fair provided the summer of a lifetime.

Lindy Boggs and Seymore must have felt the same emotion that those in the tearful audience were feeling. And the emotion continued—all night long.