It’s been thirty years since the World’s Fair came to Knoxville. For some of our alumni it was a simply a good time, for others it was a life-changing event.
While attending the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, I took time out to be one of the select group of entertainers who roamed the streets of the 1982 World’s Fair, entertaining guests from all over the world. As one of the magicians at the Fair, I frequently did shows in the Elm Tree Theater and one of my highlights was serving as master of ceremonies for the show that included Ernő Rubik the inventor of the Rubik’s cube.
But the highlight of my summer was the thrill I got performing while hanging upside down from the US pavilion and recreating Houdini’s famous escape from a straitjacket. You might say I saw the World’s Fair from an upside down perspective.
This experience led me to want to be in the entertainment business and now my partner and I own and operate The Comedy Barn Theater®, The Smoky Mountain Opry, and the Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Theater in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
David. G. Fee (’85)
We met at the Stroh House on July 1, 1982. We married in 1985 and had our wedding reception at the Stroh House (Foundry).
Beth and Jerry (’79 & ’82), UT Martin
My wife Nancy (’73) and I attended the 1982 World’s Fair as part of the alumni program that housed us in Morrill Hall, where I had lived as an undergraduate, and provided tickets and some meals. We had our 3-year-old son with us and had a great time. I purchased a poster from the fair and framed it, and it is still hanging in our downstairs game room. A somewhat humorous recollection is my wife discussing how many times as students we wished we were spending the night together in Morrill Hall. Now we were finally doing that, but married and with our 3-year-old. Somehow, it just wasn’t the same!
Gary Dunavant (’72)
As an employee of the fair, I took advantage of free admission. I learned about other cultures and countries by touring the various exhibits and watching the performances. While visiting the Mexico exhibit I decided I would one day visit Mexico to see Mayan and Aztec archeological sites in person once I finished college. I did achieve that goal. Today, I live in the Washington, DC, area, and I’m still interacting with people from many different cultures. My experience working at the World’s Fair prepared me for my current profession and for living in a diverse area, where I could walk outside my door and listen to forty-seven different languages being spoken.
Cindy O’Conner (’83)
My wife and I drove to the fair from out here in California. My favorite part was the display about my grandfather’s grandfather, Dr. Crawford Long. He was the first doctor to use ether on a surgery patient. I still have a bumper sticker from the fair under the glass of my desk. It says “A VISIT TO REMEMBER” and “THE 1982 WORLD’S FAIR.” It was put out by Texaco and has Texaco’s seal on it. Two of my children went to UT and a grandchild is in school (Chattanooga) now.
Crawford Long Sachs
I was running for judge in the summer of 1982 and could not go every day, but I recall going at least once a week. Favorite memories include the China Pavilion, especially seeing (and feeding) the huge fish, the Philippines’ exhibit, and eating Petro’s, which was introduced at the fair and made in a small Fritos bag. Also attended some special events featuring local groups at the Tennessee Amphitheater.
I was a host/elevator operator for Hardee’s, the restaurant concessioner at the Sunsphere. This entailed taking groups up in the elevator to the restaurant, as well as escorting VIPs to the restaurant one floor below. One not-so-fond memory was getting stuck in the elevator one evening for four hours just inside the Sphere with a group of VIP guests. Among them were a vice-president of First Tennessee Bank and some clients of his. All in all it was a good job and good experience, though. I met many interesting people from all over the world.
Warren Dunbar (’86)
I was a co-op engineering student and was on campus during the summer and winter quarters for three years. During the summer of 1982 I was housed in Carrick Hall, and I happened to get a room several floors up with a window facing the east. In addition to using my season pass to walk to the fair whenever I could spare a break from studying, I was also one of many students who had an excellent view of the nightly fireworks from my dorm room window. It made for a great study break. I particularly remember one night when a few of us gathered to watch the nightly show, and it went on and on. We found out later that it had been a special presentation of Japanese fireworks sponsored by the Japanese pavilion. It was a great summer!
Mary Scott Krempasky (’85)
I was a theatre technician for the state show Sing Tennessee. I also met my husband at the fair. We have been married for twenty-eight years.
Nancy Z. Thweatt
I was there! I especially had an interest in the multi-colored electrical substation (I am an electrical engineer). It was hot and there were long lines, but I was back at UT after living and working in Miami for eight years. It was great!
Jack McNeal (’74)
We used to get people all the time over on the Ag campus asking where the World’s Fair was, and I would tell them, “See that big shiny gold thing in the sky? Just head for that.” The Stroh House was a favorite among the students, and the band would play Rocky Top on request. I still look fondly at the Sunsphere when we pass it on the interstate on our way to see relatives in Nashville.
Bonnie B. Tillotson (’85)
I had fond memories of the World’s Fair…the steel drum band, entertainment every evening, and fireworks!
Nissa Dahlin-Brown (’79, ’89, ’03)
I worked for the fair for eight months and was a stage manager at the Court of Flags and occasionally at the Folklife exhibit. I actually got my start in the entertainment business working shows for the UT Campus Entertainment Board.
Buddy Oakes (’77)
I fondly remember entering UT Knoxville in fall 1982 as a freshman and immediately becoming actively involved on campus, both as a reporter at The Daily Beacon and as pledge president in Chi Omega sorority! A couple of my fellow Chi Omegas and I had a World’s Fair season pass and we would venture down to the fair site after classes, walk around, and absorb all the sights and sounds of the celebratory atmosphere! Meeting and talking with people from different countries and learning about their way of life was truly memorable!
Beth Scott Clayton (’86)
My mom and I moved to Knoxville in early summer of 1982. My parents had just divorced and my mom and I moved to be with family. The Fair was a perfect introduction to the city that I was to grow to love. I was so excited to get my season pass and look at my goofy picture! I loved going to the Korean Pavilion and seeing the robot paint the calligraphy. I loved the Ferris Wheel and seeing fireworks. I had a Ruby Tuesday burger for the first time and was surprised to see them served on an English muffin! Seeing the Sunsphere and the Clydesdales was a fun sight, too! It was an awesome way to bond with the family that I would get to know and love.
Tiffany Horne Fannin
I remember the Wall Street Journal wrote an article about the World’s Fair and described Knoxville as a “scruffy little city.” Being a resident of Knoxville at the time, and a UT graduate, I was insulted. On the opening day of the World’s Fair, I was interviewed by a local TV station out of Asheville, North Carolina. When they asked me my thoughts of the opening festivities and the Word’s Fair in general, I made the comment “I guess we showed the Wall Street Journal!”
The funny thing about it all is that a childhood friend’s husband had his TV on and tuned to that station in his motel room in Asheville. Since he knew me, when he heard my response, he whipped around in time to see me on the news. Small world at the World’s Fair!
Katherine B. Taylor (’75)
We watched the fireworks each night from different locations on campus. One night we decided to stand on the banks of Ft. Loudoun Lake near the barge that was being used to launch the fireworks. We thought it would be cool to see the fireworks explode directly over our heads. It was cool for the first couple of explosions. Then, the ashes and debris from the fireworks began falling on us. We spent the rest of the fireworks show scrambling to distance ourselves from that barge and removing particles from our eyes, clothes, and hair!
Jeff Smith (’87)
I took a course prior to the World’s Fair in 1982. The International Tour Management Institute from San Francisco came to Knoxville to train local guides for the World’s Fair and surrounding touring venues such as The Great Smokies Nat’l Park, Chattanooga, Nashville, Biltmore House and Gardens, etc.
Now as a professional Tour Manager working with Tauck World Discovery, I have guided groups throughout the Orient, India, Australia, the Soviet Union (as it was called then), Scandinavia, the UK, Ireland, Switzerland, Portugal, throughout Canada, and the United States!
It all started for me in 1982!
Steve Jolis (’77)