Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Where were you in '82?

World's Fair. Knoxville, Tenn. My hometown. Thirty years ago.

Going to the 1982 World's Fair isn't my first memory. But it's one of the highlights of childhood. My dad to this day says all I talked about that year was wanting to go to the "1982 World's Fair."

Remember the TV commercials? "You've GOT to be there!"

What I remember is walking past a gate, Dad holding me while we went into the Sunsphere (which I thought was HUGE at the time), eating Chinese food for the first time, and seeing my cousin, Sheila, who worked at the fair.

The large Rubik's Cube (the popular toy was introduced at the fair) now resides in the lobby of the Holiday Inn next to the Sunsphere. I saw it by happenstance last Saturday. My friend Dean Harned tells me the Ferris wheel that was here is now in New York.

The fair was former Knoxville banker Jake Butcher's triumph. And, with Shakespearean irony, his family's banking empire began to collapse the day after the fair closed that October. The reason? Bank examiners couldn't book hotel rooms.

The "scruffy little river city" showed it could do it and, yep, that fair actually made a profit. The USA has only hosted one other World's Fair since '82 (New Orleans in '84.)

Sadly, the city of Knoxville neglected the World's Fair site for many years. The U.S. Pavilion was imploded in 1991. The Sunsphere itself was closed to visitors until then Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam reopened the observation deck to the public in 2007. (Oh, I forgot to tell you: I did eat in the revolving restaurant up there in 1983-84.) For years and years, the fair site's amphitheater was used as a storage area.

The 1996 episode of "The Simpsons" that spoofed the site was dead-on in some ways, even though the Sunsphere never did house wigs. Heh, heh.

The good news is all that has changed. The Sunsphere, as I mentioned, is open. The amphitheater is no longer storing boxes. The World's Fair Park has a splash pad and is usually filled with folks on sunny, warm days.

Ahh, what memories, 30 years ago. Can't believe it and part of me still can't believe Knoxville did it.

But did it Knoxville did!

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Blogger Dewayne said...

and I did mail the letter!

11:10 AM  
Blogger Lola Alapo said...

I was still in utero ;-)
By the way, did you see Josh Flory's post today regarding the construction of the Sunsphere?

4:58 PM  
Blogger Jake Mabe said...

I didn't see it...looking at it now. Thanks, Lola!

5:11 PM  

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