Drinking Alone at The World’s Fair

WorldsFairActress_CourtesyOfNYPL

The New York Public Library recently opened its vast digital photo archives to the public — somewhere in the range of 180,000 images. Lucky us!

In honor of this release—and our annual Drinks issue—we found a cool beverage-related photo from the archives. Taken at a bar within the 1939 World’s Fair, the woman in the picture is smoking, drinking and looking a bit melancholy (à la Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks). We caught up with Thomas Lannon, manuscripts and archives curator at NYPL, to learn more about this compelling picture.

Edible Manhattan: The caption lists this woman as an actress. Do we know who she is?
Thomas Lannon:
This photo came from the promotion and development division of the World’s Fair, basically their PR arm. Chances are she is a staff actress,* which could be a lot of things. There were chorus lines and historical re-creations but also a lot of bawdy entertainment—burlesque and the “living magazine,” where you could pay to take pictures of topless women.

EM: How would the PR team have used this photo?
TL: Honestly, they probably didn’t. If you look through the 13,000 images from this collection, you find A LOT of photos of pretty young women. It’s pretty clear the male photographers are basically taking pictures just to flirt with their subject.

EM: What do we know about where she was drinking?
TL:
This was one of the many, many places to drink in the fair’s “Amusement Zone.” There was one restaurant sponsored by Heineken with a big windmill. There was a very large beer hall. There was a place called Old New York that was like a fake re-creation of a restaurant from the 1890s. It’s listed as a bar, but it’s hard to say if she’s drinking alcohol. Is there a froth on her beverage? Hard to say.

BONUS:
We figured out who the lone lady is in the picture above, using her ever-so-unique headgear to track her down. Meet performer Evelyn Eckhardt, looking really bummed to punch a timeclock:

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And here’s Evelyn in actual “performance mode.” Lannon tells us the World’s Fair was rife with burlesque, risque even by today’s standards. Looks like it!

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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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