Supporting fairs

When the debt-ridden Louisiana World's Fair finally slams its gates shut this weekend, more than a few financial experts will want to know what went wrong. Americans have always had a deep cultural penchant for world's fairs - and all the hoopla and family fun, the midway atmosphere, and, yes, educational trappings that are part of such presentations.

In Louisiana's case, attendance - and thus, gate receipts - lagged behind costs. The crowds never came. Some fairs have been moneymakers despite sparse crowds, for example the Seattle World's Fair in 1962. And given its location distant from large population centers, Louisiana had a disadvantage in attracting the huge crowds that attended Expo 67 in Montreal or the New York World's Fair in 1964-65.

Are world's fairs an anachronism? Should they be left to the purview of the largest cities? The citizens of Chicago are now weighing such questions, as they consider whether to stage a fair in 1992.

World's fairs have their uses. At their best, they tend to presage future trends. That role is increasingly filled by television in our electronics age. Still, they have a place in our era and can succeed, given careful local planning.

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