This model shows the two-towered Court of Peace facing the Lagoon of Nations.   More information

Grover Whalen and New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia released 500 white doves at the dedication of the Court of Peace.    More information

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Polish children in traditional costumes helped raise their country's flag during the dedication of the Court of Peace.   More information

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A "Fairyland of Light": a model of the Court of Peace, with evening light display.   More information

A poster for the 1940 season featured the Lagoon of Nations and the Fair's new slogan, "Peace and Freedom."   More information

Court of Peace celebrations showed how "the peaceful customs of the world are revealed at the Fair."   More information

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The nightly spectacle over the Lagoon of Nations was described as "a Niagara plus a Vesuvius."   More information

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H. Earl Hoover captured the fountains at the Lagoon of Nations and the British Pavilion.

The Union Jack "whips from the standards" in front of the British Pavilion.   More information

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The motorcade escorting the King and Queen of England approaches the Trylon and Perisphere.   More information

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were greeted by a 21-gun salute and the Fair’s mounted guard of honor.   More information

The King and Queen take a moment to sign the Fair's official guestbook.   More information

The Magna Carta, a main attraction at the British Pavilion, was housed at the Library of Congress between seasons.   More information

This poster was put on display in the Hall of Metals. The Italian Pavilion was next door.    More information

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Empty projectiles represented “armor-piercing … anti-aircraft … and trench mortar shells" used by the British.    More information

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An "instrument of the war in which England is now engaged,” this German parachute was captured off the coast of England.    More information

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A visitor to the British Pavilion points out a bullet hole on this “trophy” of the war.    More information

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Two curious children examine bombs in the British Pavilion.   More information

The bomb that exploded at the British Pavilion on July 4, 1940 killed two detectives.   More information

Clicking needles mark the start of the War Knitting Marathon in the Australian Pavilion.    More information

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Tiny Vance Swift answered Uncle Sam’s summons and registered for the draft.   More information

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On December 12, 1939, the New York Post reported that Fair employees had been taken prisoners of war.   More information

Irmela von Koschembahr (center) was a baroness in Germany before fleeing Berlin.    More information

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War and Peace (at the Fair)

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The Peaceful Customs of the World

A Royal Visit

"No Longer Confined to the Battlefield"

A Deadly Blast

Echoes of the European Crisis

At a meeting of the Advisory Committee of the War Veterans of the World's Fair, held on April 2, 1937, participants asserted that "the Fair would be the finest sample of a cooperative effort that has ever been developed.... The great enterprise we hope will result is a great peace movement.... With all the powerful diplomats here in 1939, a movement working toward a world peace movement may be initiated and consummated in the year 1939, and the New York World's Fair is the vehicle which it is hoped may bring about that movement."
In accordance with this effort, the Court of Peace was built directly behind the Trylon and Perisphere. Flanked by the Hall of Nations and the United States Federal Building, the Court spanned more than seven acres. It also sat near the Lagoon of Nations, where some 60 nations hosted foreign pavilions and exhibitions.
The Court of Peace was dedicated on Armistice Day, November 11, 1938 — the 20th anniversary of the signing of the peace agreement that brought an end to World War I. Throughout the ceremony, there was a distinct emphasis on international cooperation — Greek, Russian, Polish, and Belgian children were invited to wear traditional costumes and attend the raising of their nations' flags as 60 international banners were hoisted simultaneously. To top off the occasion, Grover Whalen and New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia released 500 white doves as their message of peace.
Throughout the two seasons of the Fair, the Court of Peace was used to stage various events, particularly in relation to the foreign pavilions. However, it would not be long before the 20th century's second "Great War" made its presence known at the Fair.

The tone and focus of the British Pavilion shifted dramatically between the two Fair seasons, as it became one of the most dominant examples of the war imagery and consciousness that would transform the 1940 Fair. During the first season, the British Pavilion was but one of the 60 national pavilions, hosting exhibits about the history and cultures of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Magna Carta (1215) was perhaps the most notable piece in the British exhibit and a popular draw for visitors.
In late May 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited the Fair. An enormous crowd at the Fair’s reception headquarters, Perylon Hall, greeted them before they embarked on an official tour of the grounds, designed to last three hours. Every building that they visited during their seven scheduled stops was closed to the general public and 60 motorcycle policemen and a procession of 25 cars carefully escorted them through the grounds. The Fair’s PR Department announced that, “King George, according to early advices, will be dressed in a morning coat and top hat. Queen Elizabeth will wear a white afternoon frock and brimmed hat.” George VI was the first British monarch to enter the U.S.

Less than six months after the Fair opened, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced that the British were at war with Germany. This declaration came on September 3, 1939, the same day King George VI delivered the famous statement recently captured in the film The King's Speech: “For the second time in the lives of most of us, we are at war. Over and over again, we have tried to find a peaceful way out of these differences between ourselves and those who are now our enemies, but it has been in vain. We have been forced into a conflict…. The task will be hard. There may be dark days ahead and war can no longer be confined to the battlefield.”
By the 1940 season of the Fair, war was on display at the British Pavilion. “Instruments of war” and captured “trophies” were installed in an exhibit designed to “acquaint the American people with the details of war as their British cousins know it.” The exhibit did not sanitize the conflict; visitors could literally reach out their hands and touch the bullet holes in the propeller of the first German airplane shot down over England. Projectiles were on display — “concentrated destruction — in lots ranging from two to two thousand pounds.” In the pavilion's Hall of Metals, Cecil M. Pickthall, the commissioner to the British Pavilion, posted the notices and posters, “commonplace” on English streets, that declared war and asked for fortitude.

On July 3, 1940, William Strachan, an electrician in the British Pavilion, noted something irregular. According to The New York Times, he saw "a small bag that looked like a buff-colored canvas overnight case in the fan room." Just the day before, the pavilion had received a bomb threat. On the Fourth of July, Strachan heard the bag ticking, and he turned it in.
Detectives Joseph J. Lynch and Ferdinand A. Socha of NYPD's bomb squad were called to the scene. It was approximately 4:45 pm. They began attending to the bag, which had been carried to a cleared section of the grounds behind the Polish Pavilion.
Life magazine described the scene: "They had just cut a strip off a corner and discovered dynamite inside when, with a roar, the little bag disappeared, leaving in its place a 3- by 5-ft. hole bordered by two dead detectives, two others badly hurt." Detectives Lynch and Socha were killed instantly.
No Fair visitors were harmed. In fact, at first very few people realized that a tragedy had occurred, since July 4th fireworks had been going off earlier in the day.
The heroism of Lynch and Socha, as well as that of other police and Fair staff, saved thousands of innocent bystanders. Had the bomb, which appeared to have been on a timer, remained in the pavilion, "It would have exploded when the place was at the peak of its tea-time holiday business," the Times noted. The police could not trace the initial telephone bomb threat, so the bomb's origins remain a mystery to this day. A $26,000 reward for information is still unclaimed.
During the second New York World's Fair in 1964, a plaque was dedicated to the memory of Lynch and Socha in front of the New York City Pavilion.

As the 1940 season progressed, the war began to manifest itself throughout the Fair. The Australian Pavilion hosted a “War Knitting Marathon” in which more than 50 women competed to produce the most and best knitting for the Allied relief effort. National conscription legislation was passed on October 16, 1940 (the first peacetime draft legislation). Fair employees signed up en masse, including little people from Morris Gest’s Midget Town: “40 men, averaging three feet and five inches in height," held a meeting and decided to enter the draft, even though only some of them were American citizens. They decided that, if drafted, they could perform the duties of gunners and bombardiers satisfactorily.
The Fair also became a resource and haven for refugees. The administration received several folders' worth of letters from individuals in Germany, Hungary, and Poland containing appeals for assistance in obtaining entrance visas to the U.S.
For those already in the States, the transition proved easier. The employees of the French Pavilion’s restaurant established themselves permanently in New York and eventually helped to usher in New York haute cuisine. Others found work and sustenance at the Fair itself. The PR Department issued a photograph of one notable employee: Irmela von Koschembahr, a 23-year-old German baroness who was forced to flee “a 26-room home in Berlin.” During the 1940 season, she earned her livelihood by working as a waitress in the 5 and 10 Cent Restaurant at the Fair.

 

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