Book about 1962 World’s Fair resurrects memories for local teacher, expo’s 9 millionth visitor

January 10, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

 Paula Jones, fifth-grade teacher at Sunset Elementary School, holds the sign she still has from Oct. 14, 1962, when the 6-year-old Paula Dahl set a Century 21 Exposition milestone near the end of the Seattle World’s Fair. By Greg Farrar 

The future envisioned in 1962 resembled something lifted from “The Jetsons” — space-age cool, conveniences galore and optimism as boundless as the cosmos.

April marks 50 years since the Century 21 Exposition opened on the Seattle Center grounds, brought the vision to life and transformed the region.

Paula Becker and Alan Stein, staff historians for, collected memories from the fair in the book “The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and Its Legacy” — a comprehensive account of Century 21. The authors plan to lead a discussion about the book and present a slideshow of fair images Jan. 17 at the Issaquah Library.

Seattle civic leaders intended to use the fair to stimulate the economy and create a cultural and social hub in Seattle Center.

“Seattle certainly wouldn’t be what it is today” if the fair did not happen, Becker said.

The authors also produced a book about the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition — a seminal moment in Seattle history and the inaugural world’s fair hosted in the city.

But the backers behind the Century 21 Exposition sought to redefine how communities around the globe came to see Seattle, then a remote Pacific Northwest city.

“There were a lot of people who we interviewed who were involved in actually bringing the fair to fruition, but then there’s lots and lots of people around — they went to it as a little kid or they went to it as a teenager, it was their first job,” Becker said. “Those people have such ownership over the history of that event. It was really fun and also an honor to bring that up again and put it back on the table.”

If you go

‘The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and Its Legacy’ discussion and slideshow

The stories unearthed during the research encompassed the 9 millionth visitor to the fair, a then-6-year-old girl.

Nowadays, the girl is Paula Jones, a fifth-grade teacher at Sunset Elementary School.

“Everything seemed so futuristic, like ‘The Jetsons,’” she said.

Jones’ family planned the outing as a last trip to the fair before the expo closed. In particular, the Space Needle captured the girl’s imagination.

“I could hardly believe that you could go to eat in a revolving restaurant,” she recalled.

Organizers clustered around Jones the moment she entered the gates as the 9 millionth visitor — the attendance target planners set before the fair.

Officials handed the girl a hand- lettered sign featuring the number 9 million to wear on a string around her neck. (The sign, sans string, is on display in Jones’ Sunset Elementary classroom.)

Jones received VIP treatment during the fateful fair visit — and some surprises. Organizers asked her to speak to a crowd gathered on a plaza. Mortified, the elementary school student managed to say “hello” in the microphone as the crowd applauded.

Jones contacted Becker and Stein after reading about the Century 21 Exposition book. The authors came to refer to Jones as “Little Paula” from the photo.

“We were just so excited when she contacted us,” Becker said. “You don’t always know if these people are still around. She was still around and she had her sign in her room. How cool is that?”

The fair also offered a snapshot of a hopeful era — pre-assassination and pre-unrest 1960s.

“It’s such a seminal time,” Becker said. “It was at the very edge of the end of something, and we all thought it was the beginning of something. The world changed so fast after 1962.”

Though the Cold War simmered in the background, Century 21 Exposition organizers and attendees focused on a constructive future — even if reality later fell short.

“Afterwards, you had the Vietnam War and you had Watergate,” Stein said. “There was still that kind of pie-eyed optimism.”

The event also captured imaginations around the globe, especially as images from Seattle started to proliferate in the mass media. Life magazine featured the Space Needle’s construction on the cover. In the fair’s opening days, “Today” dedicated hours each morning to the expo.

“For Century 21, the idea that through determination and a really fortuitous combination of various talents that the different people that were involved in making the fair happen brought to the table, they were actually able to pull this off that had an almost-global impact on the way that their city was perceived,” Becker said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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