Party like it's 1999

Three wide-eyed promoters and the almighty A.H. Belo Corp. plan to boldly carry Big D and the rest of the world into the new millennium

It is 5:15 p.m. on May 7 in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety-eight.XOrdinarily, it would be quitting time for the hardworking denizens of Big D. But this Thursday is no ordinary weekday, and this moment is more than just the beginning of the evening traffic jam.

Inside the marbled elegance of the Hall of State on the grounds of Fair Park, a crowd of unsuspecting Dallasites has gathered to hear an announcement that historians will record as the beginning of mankind's journey to "The Turn."

Complimentary Chardonnay flows while a sturdy chef carves a honey ham into dainty pieces. Dallas politicians mingle with a select crowd of local boosters.

An actor dressed as Sam Houston appears and, for just a spell, time seems to slip back to 1836 when the great statesman secured Texas' independence from Mexico. Eleanor Roosevelt is here, too, her presence a reminder of the 1936 Texas Centennial--the historic exhibition that lifted Dallas out of the Depression and introduced the city to the world as a modern metropolis.

The crowd falls silent as Jeremy L. Halbreich, president and general manager of The Dallas Morning News, takes the podium. The daily already claims the title of "Texas' Leading Newspaper," but as Halbreich begins his speech, it becomes clear that the News has its heart set on becoming the Leading Newspaper of the Millennium.

The information Halbreich shares is profound: On the eve of a new millennium, a California dreamer and the marketing department of the News have learned that the face of the future is human--and human beings will prevail in the year 2000 and beyond.

More importantly, Dallas, Texas, U.S.A., will lead the country and hopefully the world into those long-awaited, much-anticipated 1,000 years during a 40-day event at Fair Park called "The Turn: America at the Millennium."

"Dallas has always been known as a city of dreamers and doers," Halbreich says. "This event is no exception."

Between Thanksgiving weekend 1999 and January 1, 2000, Halbreich says, a million people are expected to flock to Fair Park for an event billed as "the last great exhibition of the 20th century."

Under the marketing direction of the News and its parent company, A.H. Belo Corp., soon-to-be-named corporations will unite as sponsors of the $30 million, privately funded event that will make Dallas the destination place for millennium thrill seekers across the country and around the globe.

To prove he's not kidding about the money part, Halbreich turns over the podium to the man Dallas' corporate giants trust when it comes to spending tax dollars: His Highness himself, the Honorable Mayor Ron Kirk.

"If there is any city ready for the 21st Century," Kirk says, "I think it's our own."

What is especially appealing about the event, Kirk emphasizes, is that it will be funded privately. "No city tax dollars will be spent," he says.

In the background, Halbreich nods. He and his army of reporters have just helped Kirk gain victory at the polls and secure the construction of a new arena and a revamped Trinity River--two projects that Kirk says demonstrate how Dallas has already made its "Turn." Now, Kirk is here to help Halbreich make his Turn.

Kirk hands over the podium to Jeffrey Kaplan, the California promoter who dreamed up The Turn. Most Dallasites don't know Kaplan, but the sales team at the News does. Every year, Kaplan's production company produces The Dallas Morning News' Skifest and World Golf Expo.

Dressed in a loose suit reminiscent of the one David Byrne wore in Stop Making Sense, the 35-year-old Kaplan glances at a script, steps away from the podium, and begins detailing the highlights of The Turn.

"Through a feat of engineering," Kaplan says, The Turn will install a 10-story dome that encloses an area inside Fair Park the size of five football fields. In addition, three colossal geodesic balls will be erected on the grounds and filled with enough educational and entertainment goodies to please kids and parents alike.

"Just as the Hubbell space telescope has become a window to the universe that enables us to look forward and backward across time," Kaplan says, "The Turn will be a window that lets us look across a thousand years to see the past and the possible."

Those items will be temporary, he cautions, but there will be one permanent addition to Fair Park--an addition that, much like the star in the story of Christ's birth, will guide people from around the world to Dallas.

A second hush falls over the crowd.
In 1936, Kaplan recalls, a great bank of 40 lights illuminated the Hall of State during the 1936 Texas Centennial like a fluorescent crown. As part of its sponsorship of the event, Kaplan says, the News will recreate those lights--all 40 of them--not just for The Turn, but for all time. The gift, Kaplan says, will forever be known as "The Dallas Morning News Legacy of Lights."

Actors portraying Louis Armstrong and Mexican artist Frida Kahlo join Kaplan, Sam Houston, and Eleanor Roosevelt. The Lincoln High School Choir, gathered in front of the podium, inches closer.

The message behind this carefully orchestrated reception is becoming clear: In all of the world, there is no better place to welcome the future by celebrating the past than inside the historic Fair Park. What city but Dallas--the big city in the big state of Texas that big men built with nothing but sheer grit--is better suited to host the beginning of tomorrow?

"To celebrate the millennium, some people are going to see the sun rise on the Pyramids," Kaplan says. "What are we going to do in Dallas?"

The actors and choir chant: "We're gonna turn!"
Some people, Kaplan continues, will rent the Concorde and fly around the world. "What are we gonna do?"

"Turn!"
Some people will go to their local corner store and buy a bottle of champagne to celebrate the millennium, he says. "What are we gonna do?"

The crowd is swept with emotion. Like the dreamers who brought the world to Dallas in 1936, by God, this can-do crowd will introduce the world to the future. When that clock turns from 1999 to 2000, this crowd knows what it's gonna do. It's gonna turn.

In Dallas, the masses are gonna turn their heads to the future, and the future is advertising.

Yessir, here on the banks of the Trinity, in a city founded on real estate speculation, retailing, banking, and salesmanship, the new age of man will come rolling in, brought to you by the proud sponsors of corporate America.

And there at the front edge of the wave, sounding the clarion call like Gabriel blowing his horn, will be Texas' Leading Daily.

In Dallas, the millennium isn't only going to turn, it's going to spin.

Ever since mankind was blessed with the power to wonder, the future has been a source of speculation. Now, the generation that walks this fragile planet finds itself awake on the eve of a new millennium.

What does the future hold? How will humanity fare when the sun sets on the 1900s and the years begin with the number 2?

Will there be good shopping there? What brand of clothes will people wear? What will the face of the future look like?

For generations, preachers, poets, and scholars have struggled and failed to predict the future.

Until now.
"In the world of The Turn, the future wears a human face."
The young doer who settled upon this startling conclusion sits at a conference table inside a barren, third-floor suite in the Renaissance Building in downtown Dallas. He is Jeffrey Kaplan, a self-assured, handsome man whose blue eyes dance with excitement as talks about the year 2000.

"It's the right time for society to look back, take a breath, and see where we've come from," Kaplan says. "It has been said that all achievements have been done on the shoulders of greatness, and it's time to look back at that greatness and just be glad for a moment."

Kaplan lives in California, where he is the head of the Los Angeles-based Events Marketing & Management and two other promotion-oriented corporations that specialize in putting on golf and ski exhibitions across the country, including annual shows in Dallas.

Although Kaplan dreamed of The Turn two years ago, it wasn't until January that he moved to Dallas and began preparing for his biggest show ever.

"It's really challenging not to get too excited," Kaplan says. "I love every part of this. I want to run out, and I want to do all the things that have to do with this thing all the way to the end."

Of course one man, no matter how able, can't make The Turn by himself. Seated with Kaplan at the table are his two partners, David Shinn and Jean Compton. Earlier this year, the trio forged a new company called The Turn Group, a partnership of the three with The Dallas Morning News.

Any skeptics out there who might think The Turn is some fly-by-night operation can rest easy. In and around Dallas, at least, none of the partners has any civil or criminal records to speak of. In fact, their reputations appear solid.

In local film circles, Compton is best known for her work on the screenplay of the Dallas-produced Can't You Hear the Wind Howl? The Life and Music of Robert Johnson. Last year, the film made its debut at the USA Film Festival and went on to win the 1998 Lone Star Award for best documentary. Compton also is a member of The Writer's Garret and has been active in local dance and theater projects.

Some 17 years ago, Compton forged a creative relationship with David Shinn, the president of Show Works Inc. Most people in Dallas probably haven't heard of Shinn, but he is known well in the trade show industry for his ability to put together one helluva exhibit.

In fact, companies like Nortel, the Richardson-based telecommunications giant, love Shinn because he is able to take new technology the company creates and build an exhibit that visually communicates how potential buyers can use that technology to increase profits.

"I'm always looking for a new, creative, or different way of communicating our story," Nortel spokeswoman Connie Fisher says. "I can always rely on the fact that [Shinn] will come up with something different."

With their combined experience in the creative world of corporate promotions, The Turn Group trio appear suited for the seemingly impossible task of preparing, in just 18 months, the largest exhibition that any of them has ever taken on.

"This is the most important thing any of us have done in our lives. I mean, it's that important to us," Kaplan says. "This is an international event that just happens to be taking place in Dallas."

The details of construction and financing of The Turn have yet to be hammered out, but clearly Kaplan and company already have been sipping from the millennium punch bowl.

The magical wonders that await humanity in the next thousand years are already evident in the public relations material The Turn is circulating around town. In a slick 16-page promotional folder, The Turn borrowed a quote from T.S. Eliot to communicate the importance it sees in its once-in-a-lifetime event:

"I have heard the key turn in the door and turn only once."
The heart of The Turn is expressed in the folder's centerfold, which expands into four pages that bring the exhibition and all of its possibilities to four-color life. There, a massive dome rises 10 stories above the Fair Park Esplanade and connects the Centennial and Automobile buildings.

Down below, smiling children snuggled in scarves and mittens glide across a skating rink, while dancers form a human V on a lighted, elevated stage where artists will perform every weekend throughout The Turn.

Off to the sides, parents take their children by the hand and lead them through unseen exhibits that will be erected inside the Centennial and Automobile buildings.

Because The Turn will occur during the winter, the dome is designed to protect visitors from the elements by wrapping the Esplanade like a massive electric blanket. But as David Shinn explains, there also is a psychological dimension.

"It connects the whole space and creates one large environment that the whole event can occur within," Shinn says. "Covering the Esplanade really makes the Esplanade area the heart and center of the event."

Three colossal geodesic balls, each rising six stories, will be erected in front of the Hall of State. When Jean Compton retells the story of how she came up with the idea of the balls, giggles rise from the third floor of the Renaissance Building. Initially, Compton confesses, her partners thought she had lost it.

"I said right in the middle of it, you have to have a big geodesic dome, and David looked at me," Compton says, batting an eye at Shinn. "I was pounding on the tables. I said we have to have a dome. I just see it. I see a dome."

Shinn took Compton's vision of circles a step further. He thought the event shouldn't just have one dome, it should have three: one is a replica of the earth, another looks like the moon, while the third looks like a big golf ball.

Mother Earth. Sister Moon. Golf. It's a cosmic convergence.
The balls and exhibit rotate around four themes: The Mainstreet Experience (in the buildings) illustrates our relationship with the past; the Earthly Kingdom (in the earth dome) illustrates our relationship with the environment; the Global Village (the golf ball) illustrates our relationship with other people; and the Cosmic Sea (moon dome) illustrates our relationship with the future.

"The idea is that history has turning points. We know that the day the bombs didn't drop with Khrushchev and Kennedy that that's a turning point, because we got to continue on," Kaplan explains. "If you had a baby two days ago, that'd be a turning point for you."

In order to pique people's enthusiasm for the event, The Turn Group is preparing a participatory aspect of the show.

An area will be designated Unity Park, where every Sunday parishioners of all faiths will be encouraged to skip their ordinary services and participate in "Unity Celebrations."

Turn visitors may submit photographs of turning points in their own lives and enter them into a contest. They also will be asked to bring various items, such as their favorite compact disc, and place them in a see-through model of the space shuttle, which will act as a time capsule.

When the event is over, Kaplan says he plans to donate the shuttle to the city with the hope of having it displayed in a park.

"What I'm trying to do is break out of the box," Kaplan says. "Is it interesting in 2000? Maybe. But in 2010 or 2015, when a 15-year-old that was there suddenly has their kid, and they're saying, 'Hey, that's my CD,' and the kid goes, 'Wow, what was a CD?' That's the kind of thing we're talking about, so everybody leaves their mark."

While The Turn's plans continue to evolve, several questions linger. For instance, why did Kaplan choose Dallas as the world's focal point for the millennium, and how on earth will he get the news of The Turn out to a million people?

Kaplan has been asked those questions a lot lately, and he can fire off a response quicker than NASA can launch the space shuttle into orbit.

"We've got a worldwide presence. We've got a strong geographic advantage--D/FW airport being here is a very convenient gateway for visitors to come from everywhere," Kaplan says. "We've got great civic leadership. We've got a forward-thinking corporate community. [Dallas] makes as good sense as any other community in the U.S."

A few other factors play into Kaplan's hand.
All big events need money to succeed. And, as Kaplan knows, getting money requires corporate sponsors.

For Kaplan, there was no question about which company he'd choose to peddle his dream to first. Since the late 1980s, Kaplan and Events Marketing and Management have teamed up with The Dallas Morning News to produce the annual Skifest exhibition and the World Golf Expo.

Certainly not everyone in Dallas has been to one of these shows, but most News subscribers have probably read about them. Every year, the newspaper generously offers up its news pages to help Kaplan publicize these annual shopping sprees.

Before last year's Skifest, for example, the News published a special section about the event that included 20 articles about what skiers could purchase during the three-day expo. Just in case the special section wasn't enough to draw a crowd, the newspaper published four additional "news" stories during the three months before the event.

So when it came time to find a messenger for The Turn, Kaplan made a beeline for Belo. There, he was embraced with love: Not only is Belo giving The Turn free advertising space, but it is also pimping the event to the Dallas business community on his behalf.

And what is the sales pitch? In the world of The Turn, the time to buy the future is now, according to the company's slick promotional materials.

"On the eve of the new millennium, The Dallas Morning News and its production partners are developing a monumental exposition that celebrates human triumphs and aspirations and showcases the contributions of leading corporations," the pitch goes. "For those who become corporate partners, this unique event is an opportunity to claim the future."

And sell it.
Unfortunately, all of the details about the Turn-Belo relationship will, for now, remain a secret. Halbreich chose not to speak with the Dallas Observer about the event, and his employees are under strict orders not to speak with us.

A cynic may see this passing-of-the-hat as a shallow attempt to corral new Belo advertisers, who will profit from their charity by participating in a business trade show masked as a celebration of humanity. Or it may be viewed as the act of a responsible corporate citizen that is simply ensuring a smooth transition into a brighter future.

Like all heads-up news organizations, the News knows that the discovery that the "future wears a human face" is certainly a big scoop. Publicity surrounding this news must be handled with caution. After all, how will people handle the news that the future will be a happy, human place led by the achievements of corporate America? What will they think of a new millennium that's sponsored by news organizations, which will knock down the meddlesome wall between editorial and marketing?

In this new age of civic journalism, conceived in the corporate mergers of the 1980s and 1990s and destined to mature in the new millennium, the News is implementing The Turn with steady determination.

Once Halbreich realized the significance of Kaplan's vision, he approached business leaders with the information himself, fulfilling something of a Dallas and Belo tradition.

One need only look to the great 1936 Texas Centennial for evidence. The late Robert L. Thornton, former candy salesman, mayor, and banker, won Dallas the honor of hosting the much-sought-after Centennial only after he personally secured the financial commitment of the Dallas business community.

With every step Thornton made, the mighty Belo was at his side. In fact, when there appeared a slight chance that Thornton's bid for the Centennial might fail, the News came to the rescue.

In his historical account of the Centennial, Centennial '36: The Year America Discovered Texas, author Kenneth Ragsdale reports that the News published a story that trumpeted how Dallas had defeated Houston and San Antonio for the bid before the committee that was making the decision had voted.

The story, immediately decried as fiction by members of the Centennial committee, may have been a slight lapse in journalistic ethics, but dammit, the city's future was at stake.

In the grand tradition of the Centennial, Halbreich personally brought news of The Turn to the who's who of Dallas business during an exclusive luncheon at the Dallas Museum of Art earlier this spring. The attendees included Ross Perot Sr., developer Raymond Nasher, and restaurateur Norman Brinker.

"It was one of those meetings where I thought, how did I end up on the invitation list? Some very impressive folks were there, and it went very well," says Craig Holcomb, the executive director of Friends of Fair Park. "Jeremy Halbreich stood up and said, 'Belo Corporation is behind this project, and we want you to know about it.'"

While the News is driving The Turn's publicity campaign, Kaplan already is getting the kind of editorial coverage he's accustomed to when he puts on his golf and ski expos.

The first printed word of The Turn appeared in the form of a lengthy article on the front page of the News' Metropolitan section on May 2, five days before the event was officially announced at the Hall of State reception.

A second, shorter story appeared inside the metro section on Friday, May 8, a day after the reception. Packed with quotes from Mayor Kirk and Kaplan, who could know that the News' own Halbreich had taken the project under his wing? Certainly no one who read that story, or the editorial that appeared the following Sunday under the headline: "Dallas' Turn: Here is ideal way to usher in the new millennium."

The editorial proudly compared The Turn to the 1936 Centennial and boasted how the event will be like no other millennium event in the country. After reminding readers that the event will be privately funded, the editorial encouraged all residents to help make the "bold dream" of Dallas marketing advisor Jeffrey Kaplan a reality.

"Mr. Kaplan's vision should be embraced by all who want this city to play a major role in ushering in the 21st Century," the editorial stated. "This city was at the forefront in celebrating the first century of Texas. And now it will be at the forefront of celebrating America's great past and boundless future."

A week earlier, the News published the first of what will undoubtedly be countless advertisements about The Turn. The full-page ad, which targeted the business community, depicted a beaming Mayor Kirk standing in the shadows of the Mobil Oil Pegasus on top of the Magnolia Building downtown.

"We're turning a thousand years into a major event," the ad states, presumably quoting Kirk. "In the closing weeks of 1999, Dallas will be the proud host of a major consumer exposition that offers tremendous benefits to the community. I hope you'll take a serious look at this opportunity."

On May 17, another full-page ad geared to the same audience featured a picture of the directors of the Asian-American, Hispanic, Black, and Greater Dallas chambers of commerce sitting proudly inside the Hall of State.

"You don't get ahead in business by letting opportunities get away--especially one this big," the ad stated. "You have a chance to put your name on this exciting event. And your brand on the future. So take the shot. Because we can't make The Turn without you."

For now, Kaplan isn't saying which CEOs have signed onto The Turn, but corporate miracles are already happening. Before Halbreich's May 7 announcement at the Hall of State, he and his employees managed to snare CBS as a major sponsor.

That was surely good news for Kaplan, who is just beginning to enjoy all the marketing clout the growing A.H. Belo family has to offer, including WFAA-Channel 8, plus its 16 additional television stations and five newspapers scattered from coast to coast.

Now Kaplan numbers on his team the sprawling CBS radio and television empire, which makes Belo's business portfolio look like a poorly endowed man's fig leaf.

With a lineup like that, people across the country will soon be learning about The Turn. In fact, they'll probably hear about it every time they get into their cars, turn on the television, or pick up their local paper--every day for the next year and a half.

"This is all part of history, so we're really not very worried that we're not going to get the attendance," Kaplan says. "That's just not a major concern of ours."

After spending several weeks courting business types, the tone of The Turn ads shifted gears as the News began the task of slowly persuading the public that The Turn and the future are good.

The front-page centerpiece of the Sunday, May 24, edition of the News was a glowing feature article that detailed the renovations under way at Fair Park, which has been crumbling in neglect ever since the 1936 Centennial.

Titled "Progress in Pieces," the article accurately described how a combination of city, state, and federal money has finally amounted to enough cash to get the Fair Park structures back on their foundations and safe from the elements.

There was no mention of The Turn anywhere in the article, but word of the event could be found a little deeper in the issue. Near the back of the front section, another full-page ad featured a shot of Craig Holcomb standing beneath a towering statue in Fair Park under the caption: "The Best Things Turn Up At Fair Park."

"In addition to the exposure it will bring to the park, The Turn has made a substantial commitment to the preservation of this important landmark," the ad continues. "I encourage you to get involved in this extraordinary event. Because we can't make The Turn without you."

The commitment the ad refers to is written into the lease The Turn Group signed with Fair Park. As part of the deal, the city will take 25 percent of the gross proceeds from food and beverage sales (less taxes) during the exhibition.

Half of the 25 percent cut will be dedicated to the restoration of artwork in the Esplanade area, including murals hidden beneath the paint on Centennial Hall and the Automobile building.

It's hard to guess how much that 25 percent cut will amount to, but Fair Park General Manager Eddie Hueston says that the agreement was something The Turn organizers insisted upon having in the contract.

"They wanted to leave a legacy," Hueston says.
At Fair Park, finding money to help restore artwork, much less keep the buildings from collapsing, has mostly been a losing effort until recently. When the park opens for this year's State Fair and, later, The Turn, Hueston says most visitors will be stunned by the renovations.

In the future, Hueston says, he's hoping The Turn will hoist Fair Park high up on the list of places people go for fun. "We happen to believe that The Turn will help focus people's attention to the fact that the park has made The Turn too."

When asked whether the timing of articles like the Fair Park story were part of a strategic marketing plan The Turn Group has hammered out with Belo, Turn spokeswoman Becky Young says she's pretty sure that's not the case.

"It's my understanding that their editorial [coverage] is really separate from their marketing support," says Young, who adds that she'll have to fight for coverage in the News "just the same as anyone else would."

The timing of that particular edition of the Sunday paper must have been a coincidence. Or, better yet, perhaps it was an omen of the good things yet to come inside the pages of the News.

Let there be no doubt, The Turn Group knows it has a lot of work to do if it is going to convince people to come to Dallas for The Turn, regardless of what news coverage they get in the Leading Newspaper of Texas.

Many people around the country and around the world already are staking their own claims to the millennium, and the competition is stiff.

Richard Landes is a history professor at Boston University and cofounder of the Center for Millennial Studies, an academic organization that is tracking the various events being planned in and around 2000.

Landes hadn't heard of The Turn when he spoke with the Observer last month, but students of the millennium such as himself are keeping an eye on Dallas and North Texas.

Given the region's reputation for militia movements and its large population of fundamentalist readers of the Book of Revelation, Landes says he wouldn't be surprised if some really big event soon turned the world's eyes on Big D.

"If somebody were to say to me, 'What city is most likely to have a major ramification [stemming from] apocalyptic enthusiasm in the year 2000?'" Landes says, "along with Rome and Jerusalem, I'd put down Dallas."

So far, Landes says he's identified two basic themes surrounding this millennium: indifference and full-throttle enthusiasm.

"Some people say, 'Millennium, schmillennium, why should I bother thinking about it?'" Landes says. "On the other hand, you have people that go bonkers--they spend a million dollars on a dome, then scramble to find things to fill it with."

The dome he refers to is under construction in Greenwich, England, the world's official timekeeper. Although The Turn Group is hoping that their balls will be the best, the Brits are going to have the biggest.

When the Greenwich dome is finished, it will be the largest in the world and will become home to a silver statue of Britannia, which will be 20 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty.

As part of the yearlong exhibition, the U.K. also is planning to build a subway station that will unload an estimated 12 million visitors in the new "Millennium Village," where 1,400 homes are under construction. The total cost of the project, including the dome, is 4 billion British pounds.

As part of the British millennium orgy, the U.K. has created a Panel 2000 whose members are charged with creating a new image for Britain. "Panel 2000 is also remarkable because of what it is setting out to do: It is tasked with improving the way Britain projects itself overseas," according to information posted on the Internet.

Maybe they'll come up with a decent cookbook--and learn to use it.
Other countries, however, are more obvious destination points to celebrate the turn. In Bethlehem, the city of Christ's birth, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has formed a "Bethlehem 2000" committee to prepare for the millions of pilgrims expected to flock to that historic city.

Still more millions of people are expected to march like cows heading for the slaughterhouse into Megiddo, Israel, to mark the end of the millennium in "gloomy style," according to Internet postings.

Located 45 miles north of Tel Aviv, Megiddo is the fabled city where Christians believe the Antichrist will rise up. To offset the potential for disaster, city planners are going to create a "contemplation chamber" as well as 15 exhibition rooms, light shows, and holograms, and hire period actors to guide tourists through 6,000 years of religious history.

In Italy, the Vatican doesn't appear to be worried about losing its stranglehold as the world's Christian capital, but city officials are spending more than $4 billion to give the place a makeover for an expected 20 to 40 million visitors.

A Chicago-based company, called "The Billennium, The Official Celebration of the Year 2000," is the only organization that has obtained a globally registered name for year 2000 celebrations. The group is planning massive New Year's Eve 1999 bashes at sites around the globe, including Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China, and the Pyramids.

And while The Turn Group will create a time capsule in the form of a see-through space shuttle back in Dallas, the Billennium is threatening to launch its own time capsule into orbit aboard a satellite.

On a smaller scale, 35 women in the small village of Bobcaygeon, Ontario, are busy knitting 1,000 pairs of mittens so the town's children "will have warm hands for the winter of 2000."

Back in the United States, New York's Times Square will be converted into a massive television screen on New Year's Eve and broadcast countdown scenes from around the globe. (That's in addition to the traditional dropping of the ball with Dick Clark, presuming he's still alive.)

In Southern California, a group of promoters are planning "The Biggest Concert, Party and Celebration ever held on the Planet Earth," according to the group's website. That party will be held on 4,500 acres of yet-to-be-chosen land, where five of the largest stages ever built will feature three days of nonstop rocking, eating, boozing, and puking.

After hearing a brief description of The Turn, BU's Landes says the Dallas event sounds like it has potential to stand out among the crowd, providing that the promoters resist the urge to let their corporate sponsors sugarcoat the past.

"Tourism is a secular pilgrimage. This event is going to happen during the Christmas shopping season. OK, so they're clever. But if they're really clever, they'll be original," Landes says. "If you paint a history that suits the people who are sitting pretty right now, you're really not doing very well."

Kaplan and his partners, who all make a living by creating exhibitions, don't want anyone to get the wrong idea about their intentions: They are not putting on the biggest exhibition in their lives for the money. (They declined, however, to discuss how much money they have invested in the project or how they are getting paid.)

And, more importantly, Kaplan swears The Turn's exhibitions will go well beyond tacky corporate pitches.

"This is not a place to pick up brochures," says Kaplan, who offers up a hypothetical. "Let's say Mattel takes an exhibit space. You're not gonna see Mattel toys, walk out, and buy 'em. That's not the purpose. You're gonna see the history of toys, and Mattel is going to put together that exhibit and put their name on it.

"They're going to add to the content by providing us with the history of their particular industry."

One exhibition that The Turn Group's promotional folder describes will take place inside the Mainstreet Experience. There, visitors will be able to "trace the history of communications from the printing press to the cyber-newsroom."

Hmmm.
Maybe the exhibit will include an interactive business plan that allows young entrepreneurs to learn how companies like, say, A.H. Belo or CBS, use the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Reform Act to monopolize the nation's airwaves and stamp out the voices of competitors.

Only the future will tell.
Yes, all of the details about how The Turn exhibitions will look and who will sponsor them are all things that Kaplan and his partners are busy knitting together.

But there is one thing that's for sure.
The citizens of Dallas and beyond will soon be hearing all about the details of the approaching Turn, especially those people who subscribe to The Dallas Morning News.

Given the early press it's already gotten, The Turn is fast becoming reminiscent of the 1936 Centennial.

Back then, in order to attract the interest of potential Centennial visitors, a committee of advertisers and newsmen, led by a News reporter, went so far as to create a newspaper geared specifically toward covering the Centennial.

"Texans," Ragsdale wrote in his history of the exhibition, "were about to be subjected to the greatest historical brainwashing in the state's history."

The past, as they say, is prologue.

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