A look at World’s Fairs, aramas & more
World’s Fairs were first created to help understand the customs of people from around the world and give attendees a chance to see wild animals, strange plants, try exotic foods and view new products through exhibitions. World’s Fairs were held from the late 1800s until 1984. The last was in New Orleans and was a financial disaster. Disney’s Epcot is based on the World’s Fair theme.
In 1889, France unveiled the Eiffel Tower and Thomas Edison showed off his electric record player at their World’s Fair. A delightful book about the fair is Eiffel’s Tower by Jill Jonnes. In 1939, Chicago’s fair created a sensation and a chilling book about a serial killer in Chicago during the fair, Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Of course, many Hammontonians attended the New York World’s Fair in 1964.
In 1926, Philadelphia hosted the Sesquicentennial Exposition, a World’s Fair to celebrate the 150th birthday of our nation. It was the brainchild of John Wanamaker who had been on the committee for the 100th celebration. The fair was planned for Fairmount Park which was under construction. Philadelphia soon had financial hardship from WWI and Prohibition, plus suffered from the outbreak of the Spanish Flu. Relentlessly, Wanamaker never gave up on the Sesquicentennial.
Twenty buildings were constructed, 30 countries brought exhibits, and the first bridge to span the Delaware River was built between Camden and Philadelphia in anticipation of the huge crowds. It was later named the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.
The fair opened on May 31, 1926 and ran through November. At the entrance was an 80-foot replica of the Liberty Bell, covered in 26,000 light bulbs. Sesqui-Centennial Stadium, later known as John F. Kennedy Stadium, was built to house religious ceremonies, a patriotic pageant and numerous sporting events. The largest of which was a championship boxing match between Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey, which drew a crowd of 125,000 people.
The Curtis Organ, still one of the largest pipe organs in the world, was displayed. Treasure Island was a 5-acre amusement area. Rides included the popular Cyclone, plus there were sideshows, entertainment, food, boat rides, Noah’s Ark complete with animals, a replica of the Canadian Rockies, a miniature railroad, mountain slide and Robinson Crusoe’s Beach.
Because of hardships facing our country, the crowds never materialized. The fair was a failure and lost over $20 million. The buildings were demolished the next year, and for decades, the land lay barren. Finally, in 1962, Aquarama Aquarium Theater of the Sea, opened on that site. Across from the Aquarama site was built a bowling alley and a drive-in movie theater.
Aquarama was an enormous success at first and every school age child within 50 miles traveled to the 1,200 seat arena to see the dolphin and whale shows with whales named Willy and Winky. There was a huge two story circular 155,000 gallon tank, pools, smaller aquariums, tropical vegetation, a snack bar and souvenir shop.
Ed Hurst even broadcasted his dance party television show from Aquarama, but by the late 1960s, Aquarama was financially failing and was demolished in 1969. The penguin exhibit was sold to the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. Nonetheless, the name Aquarama still conjures up joyous childhood memories.
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I have always loved the sound of the suffix, “arama.” It is probably from my love of the French fries at our very own Nino’s Pizzarama. I believe we had a store on the Pike called Sleeparama. Many of us in elementary school made diaramas in shoe boxes, took our kids to the Echelon Mall for Saturday afternoons of fun at Exhilarama. We remember a 1960s TV show called “Zoorama” and there is a beautifully painted Cyclorama in Gettysburg.
I began to search for other aramas and found that almost any pet knickknack can be purchased on the Petarama website and Amazon sells Colorama coloring books and Colorama markers. There is a Skate a-rama USA in Georgia and quite a few Bowlaramas across our country. Georgia has an annual Fisharama/Turkeyrama, an outdoor show. Minnesota also has a Fisharama event. Kentucky has Shop-o-rama that sells everything from hardware to underwear under one roof. Valley Village, California has a Burgerama as does New Delhi, India. Portland, Oregon has Rose City Dance-a-rama featuring the band Wild Asparagus. Not sure what type of dancing, but the photos show a lot of happy people spinning and sashaying.
I continued my research by adding animal names to arama. In Tirumala, India they call herds of deer walking down the street a deerarama, but Alberta, Canada calls it a deerarama when multiple deer are dead along a highway. Believe it or not, there is even an upscale cat hotel for boarding you pampered pet on the Golden Coast of Australia called Catarama.
Donna Brown is a former Hammonton Middle School librarian and a columnist for The Gazette. To reach Donna Brown, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.