Do Not Open ‘Til 6939: Westinghouse buried the first time capsule on September 23, 1938 for display at the 1939 fair. More than 100 items meant to represent life at the time were inside, including: Bausch & Lomb eyeglasses, slide rule, plastic Mickey Mouse child’s cup, Elizabeth Arden makeup, Camel cigarettes, asbestos cloth, dollar bill, wheat seeds, a leather-bound rag-paper copy of the Holy Bible, and messages from noted men including Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann. The capsule also included a fifteen-minute newsreel containing speeches by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Howard Hughes, and Jesse Owens; clips of sporting events including a Harvard-Yale football game and the Big League All-Star baseball game of July 1938; a fashion show in Miami; and a demonstration of the United States’s military prowess from an event at Fort Benning, Georgia. Westinghouse also created a time capsule for the 1964 New York World’s Fair that was buried on October 16, 1965. A monument at the site of the time capsules still stands at its original site at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, NY.
Fun Facts About the Aquacade
Trudy: Another star of Billy Rose’s Aquacade was Olympic gold medalist (Paris, 1924) Gertrude Ederle. She is known as the first woman to swim across the English Channel. On August 6, 1926, she departed Cape Griz-Nez, France just after 7:00 A.M. and arrived at Kingsdown, England fourteen hours and thirty-one minutes later, beating the records of the five men who had accomplished the feat prior to her.
Brrr: May temperatures in New York City in 1939 were colder than normal, which resulted in unpleasant pool conditions for the swimmers. Thus, Billy Rose installed an expensive heating system in the pool to keep the water at seventy-five degrees. As fall weather crept in, Rose put in an additional $10,000 to increase the pool temperature to eighty-two degrees. Rose also spent around thirty dollars a day on steaming hot coffee to keep his swimmers warm.
Heading West: After its great success in New York in 1939, Billy Rose also staged the Aquacade at the 1940 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. He chose seventeen-year-old Esther Williams, a champion swimmer who would become a Hollywood film star, to be the female lead, and she was joined by male lead Johnny Weissmuller. (Olympic gold medalist and film star Buster Crabbe took over Weissmuller’s role in New York to swim alongside Eleanor Holm—at that point, Mrs. Billy Rose—during the New York fair’s 1940 season.) Williams’s Aquacade audition was held at the L.A. Athletic Club pool during her lunch hour from her job at the I. Magnin department store where she earned seventy-six dollars a month. During that audition, Williams wanted to show Rose how strong she was, so she dove into the pool and handily completed 100 meters. Rose told Williams that instead of swimming fast he wanted her to “swim pretty” and offered her the job on the spot. She boarded a train to San Francisco the very next night. In her fascinating and informative autobiography, The Million Dollar Mermaid, Williams recounts episodes when she was seduced by both Rose and Weissmuller. She tells of confidently rebuffing them both.
Thwarted Dreams: Before swimming in the Aquacade, Eleanor Holm was a champion swimmer who had won a gold medal in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics and was a member of the 1936 U.S. Olympic team. However, in what would become a scandal of the time, while on the S.S. Manhattan en route to Berlin for the Olympics, Holm was kicked off the team after being accused of being drunk and breaking the 9:00 P.M. curfew.
Aquabelle Number One’s Salary: Esther Williams was swindled by her unethical agent while swimming in the 1940 Aquacade. She entrusted her agent with her finances and was unaware of what her salary was. Billy Rose issued Williams’s weekly $500 paychecks to this agent, but he took more than his fair share and paid her only $125 a week. Master of Ceremonies Morton Downey (another man Williams, in her autobiography, accused of harassing her) revealed that information to her. Holm apparently made $2,000 a week in the same role, but, according to Williams, this didn’t bother her as Holm was more accomplished. Williams would go on to confront her agent, and this episode became the inspiration for a storyline in We Came Here to Shine.