Well, live and learn. Cynical Old Me was as wrong as could be. By an overwhelming margin, readers have written in to say that they had a swell time at the Knoxville World's Fair.
As I write this, I have received 93 letters from people who attended the fair. The totals: 76 pro, 13 con and 4 mixed. About 50 fair-related phone calls broke down in approximately the same 6-to-1 proportion. That is a far cry from my prediction of four cons for every pro. But I've bet on the wrong horse before.
Sentiment about the fair, both pro and con, was so heartfelt and so detailed that I've decided to devote two days to it. Today, the pros. Tomorrow, the cons.
We begin with a rave, from Thelma W. Horacek of Fort Washington.
"My husband and I had beautiful rooms at extremely reasonable rates with a lovely southern family," she writes. "We could hardly have felt more welcome had we been honored guests."
Margie Jones of Springfield suffered through a bungled hotel reservation, disappointing food at the Chinese Pavilion and a misunderstanding about free reentry at the Sunsphere. However, she enjoyed the fair anyway, she said, "because we made up our minds before going that we were going to enjoy it."
Several correspondents thought that a mistaken notion of trendiness was one reason so many people have complained about the fair.
"It's the 'in' thing to hate the fair," pointed out Linda Koster of Waldorf. Mary Coxe of Falls Church decried the "chronic complainers who travel so little they do not know what to expect for their money." And get this one: Martha Kaufman of Greenbelt said that when she got home "and told people what a wonderful time we had, people thought we were just saying that to hide our disappointment."
This particularly apt note was sounded by Ben Fulton of Arlington: "Perhaps we of the Washington area shouldn't be too eager to knock Knoxville about staging a fair until we can hold a simple primary election without alienating 15,000 to 50,000 voters." Amen to that, Ben.
What did visitors enjoy most? The shop in the Chinese Pavilion, where you could find many things for less than a dollar, said Vanna Shields of Sterling. The Saudi Arabian exhibit was "well worth it," writes Sylvia Sittenfeld of Bethesda. The other fairgoers he met while on line were "unfailingly friendly and very talkative," says William S. Block of Gaithersburg.
Many correspondents did encounter lines, but of the 20-minute variety, not six hours. How to beat the crush? Hit the more popular exhibits early in the morning, counsels Judith Collins of Alexandria. Go in the middle of the week, says Arthur Burson of Northwest. Be sure to avoid any weekend when the University of Tennessee is playing football at home, especially the Oct. 16 "war" against Alabama, says John Hickey of Gaithersburg.
Heartwarming stories? The best came from Emory Hartsfield of Arlington. He buzzed up to the parking lot closest to the fair's main gate in a camper. Sorry, we're out of spaces, the attendant told him. Emory asked where else he might try, and the guy not only told him, but jumped in his car and convoyed the Hartsfield family there himself.
What about exorbitant food and drink prices? "Cokes, hot dogs, etc. at any of the Redskin games or at the Kemper Open cost just as much," notes Joe Candela of Bethesda. And what about cheaply made souvenirs? Hard to argue with the approach of Lynn Levine of Silver Spring. "They obviously were not worth the money, so I didn't buy any," she writes.
All in all? "Having visited both the '39 and '63 fairs, I can say that the Knoxville one was as good and as interesting as those were," writes Dr. J.I. Gurfein of Arlington. "I expected a fair comparable to the size of Knoxville -- and I got what I expected."
"Those who visited the World's Fair to be informed, entertained and enlightened were not disappointed," said Daniel K. Borsos of Silver Spring. "Those who went solely to be amused . . . would have been much happier at Hershey Park or Kings Dominion."