Pieces of Spokane’s prime
Expo ’74 memorabilia collection celebrates city’s place in history
The Expo Guy never visited the world’s fair in Spokane.
He hadn’t been born yet.
But Levi Hanson has embraced the memory of Expo ’74 with both arms, acquiring hundreds of fair-themed souvenirs, knickknacks and esoteric bits of memorabilia.
“It’s sort of an adventure, trying to find these things,” he said.
Hanson haunts antique shops (where some know him as “the Expo Guy”), sales and online auction sites. He has collected Expo ashtrays, plates, spoons, towels, baby bibs, phonograph records, matchbooks, postcards, signs, snow globes, salt and pepper shakers, aprons, key chains, cups, mugs, shirts, mud flaps, soap, flags, and on and on.
He even owns an official Expo ’74 recreational vehicle. That Winnebago has seen better days. But if Hanson gets it restored in time for the 50th anniversary of the fair 10 summers from now, he might put together a rolling exhibit.
For now, several items from his collection are on display in the World’s Fair show currently at the Chase Gallery, “Legacy of Expo ’74.”
Arts curator Karen Mobley, who put that exhibit together, called Hanson’s collection amazing.
The 37-year-old South Hill resident moved to Spokane from Vermont in 2003. His plan at the time was to study design at Washington State University, couple that with a recently acquired culinary arts degree and perhaps become a restaurant consultant.
But going back to school never happened. Today, Hanson is a rural mail carrier.
What did happen, however, was he fell hard for Spokane.
“It’s just an interesting place to me,” he said. “It’s kind of this rich meets poor, conservative meets liberal hodgepodge.”
About three years ago, without any real plan or goal, he started buying Expo ’74 souvenirs. He sort of viewed it as saluting what is arguably his adopted hometown’s finest hour.
“This is not a money-making venture,” said Hanson, smiling. “There is not a lot of demand for this stuff. But I love that Expo happened and think it continues to be an inspiration.”
Well, to some.
“People my age think I’m crazy, and I suspect some have thought of staging an intervention.”
It’s not just that he has spent more than $5,000 on his benign obsession or that it sucks up much of his free time.
Some hear about Hanson’s collection and wonder if he is guilty of living in the past.
He said he understands that suspicion. He gets the “Let’s move on” sentiment.
“I think it’s time for the next big thing in Spokane,” he said.
He just happens to believe Expo ’74 can help point the way.
Hanson has an appealing laugh and doesn’t regard his china cabinet full of Expo souvenirs as a shrine. And, yes, it has crossed his mind that not every woman visiting his home for the first time would think his collection shouts “normal.”
Still, he has acquired so much Expo stuff now that tracking down items he doesn’t own has gotten to be a bit like pressing in the last few pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
“One of the fun things is you never really know where the Expo logo is going to show up. But most of what I find now is stuff I already have.”
His rivals for Expo gewgaws in online auctions can be in Australia or Japan. Some of his finds have been purchased from sellers in Europe. And he has friends who keep an out for Expoiana when traveling.
Most of Hanson’s fair memorabilia, though, has come from local sources.
“I realized after a while that if I looked in the darkest, dustiest corner of every store I went into, there might be some Expo memorabilia there.”
Maybe it will all end up in the pop culture wing of a museum one day, he said.
But for now, the hunt for world’s fair gift-shop leftovers goes on.
“It was a capitalistic free-for-all,” he said. “But it’s part of Spokane’s history.”