Flashback 1982: “You’ve Got to Be There!”

Flashback | Gate 21

Continuing with my non-sports posts during the off-season, here’s another little flashback … to 1982.

1982 World's Fair Logo26 years ago this week, the Volunteer City was counting down to its big debut on the international stage — the opening of the 1982 World’s Fair.

Yeah baby, the World’s Fair had arrived!

Ahh, Ronnie Reagan — a man of few words…

Before it was all said and done, more than 11 million people would visit and — for the briefest of periods — Knoxville became known as more than simply “a drinking town with a football problem.

The fair was a success by most benchmarks. The Fair was profitable, albeit to the tune of a whopping $57.00. This was a rare feat for World’s Fairs — the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans actually declared bankruptcy before the that fair was even over. It was one of the highest attended Fairs in history. It also boasted having pavillions from some countries which were hardly best friends with the United States at the time (several of the participating countries were already on George W. Bush’s nascent “List of Un-nice Weirdo Meanies” — later to be known as the “Axis of Evil”).

Here’s a little more information about the World’s Fair than you probably could ever want…

Man those are some snazzy graphics … makes me wish I still had a Commodore 64…

I have limited memories of the actual Fair itself even though I did attend (I was 6 years old at the time, and still have my World’s Fair Activity Book to prove it), but remember much of the pomp and fanfare that accompanied it — such as the rockin’ television ads which played all across the country.

So, just where exactly were they proposing to land the Space Shuttle — on Kingston Pike?

There were so many things to see and do: talking robots, the first Petro’s Stand (yum), the Imax Theater, have a swig of World’s Fair Beer, and even watch some guy making … Moonshine!!!

World's Fair Beer

1982 World\'s Fair Map

World’s Fair Map — Click to Enlarge

The World’s Fair also included what was then the World’s Largest Ferris Wheel, an NFL exhibition game, and near constant entertainment. The high water mark for the Fair — or more importantly for Knoxville — came on the Third Saturday in October, when less than two weeks before the Fair ended, Knoxville hosted not only visitors from around the world at the Fair, but also the Alabama vs. Tennessee game at Neyland Stadium. On that day — 16 October 1982 — it is estimated there were more people in the downtown area of Knoxville than at any other time in history. When the game ended, and the Tennessee Volunteers had defeated the No. 2-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide 35 – 28, the goalposts came down, and all hell broke loose. (See, I managed to get something in here about sports…)

Despite these successes, however, the momentum of the Fair ultimately flamed-out — just like the Fair’s Logo.

Actually, it would be more appropriate to say that the Fair, and the City of Knoxville, both abruptly hit a brick wall while travelling at the safe and prudent speed of 150 mph one day after the Fair ended. That was the day that FDIC agents marched past the Sunsphere, up Main Street, and through the front door of the United American Bank Building (now First Tennessee) for the sole purpose of commencing their audit of the bank’s assets and uncovering the fraud that had been going on behind the scenes for several years. This would lead to “Stinky Jake” Butcher spending 10 years in prision, and precipitated the 4th largest bank failure in US history.

With that, all of the work, effort, planning, and money that had gone into ensuring the World’s Fair helped Knoxville propel itself into the future pretty much up and vanished like the Tennessee offense under Col. Dandy Sanders.

Still, the subsequent bust aside, the Fair was Knoxville’s moment in the sun (no pun intended).

Now — more than a quarter century later — some of the re-re-development intended to follow closely on the heels of the World’s Fair is finally occurring. World’s Fair Park now looks like something other than a gravel parking lot. The Convention Center has given people a reason to return to the downtown area. The Sunsphere (despite my claims to the contrary) has been shored up, and has re-opened for visitors. Most importantly, however, the City of Knoxville has finally acknowledged one important thing…

“Malfunction Junction” on I-40 was never a good idea …

Huh-huh, watch ‘er go BOOOM!!

Of course, it would have been nice if they had figured this out a little earlier, and made the process of improving the roads beyond the status quo ala’ 1982, a little more gradually. I suppose a little progress is better than none, but apparently “Tennesssee Smart Fix” is the one perpetual legacy of the World’s Fair.

TN Smart Fix Project Map

If anyone has any idea whatsoever exactly what the hell this map purports to show, please let me know…

God help us all when we face traffic this football season with half of the roads into downtown Knoxville closed. I guess we’ll all just have to look up, pray for patience, …

… and let the Sunsphere be our guide.

– Go Figure …

Images Courtesy of: ExpoMuseum.com1982WorldsFair.comThemeParkBrochures.netKnoxville ChamberBabyBoomerBobCity of KnoxvilleKnoxville News SentinelTennessee Dept of Transportation

About the Author: "Lawvol" -- I'm just a guy living in North Carolina who has an unnatural fascination with the color orange. Just because I'm a Tennessee alum and die-hard Volunteer fan doesn't mean that I can't poke a little fun at the Big Orange and anybody else for that matter. Feel free to complain all you want. >> Read more from this author

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6 Responses to “Flashback 1982: “You’ve Got to Be There!”

  • hooperNo Gravatar says:

    Just for you:

    From the East, your best bet appears to be to take 640 and come down 275. All exits from 275 will be intact throughout the construction and you’ll avoid the impending “one-lane-with-a-left-turn-traffic-light” hell on pavement that will be the Hall of Fame exit on Gamedays. I anticipate that most traffic from the east will attempt HoF because it appears to be a much more direct route.

    From the West, things should actually be easier. Will all the through traffic taking 640, the remnants of 40 should have less traffic than normal to all UT exits.

    From the South and North, no change.

    So, if any Florida fans ask you for advice, be sure to send them along HoF. ;)

  • MoonDogNo Gravatar says:

    Excellent post, especially for someone that has one foot in the grave.

  • lawvolNo Gravatar says:

    That’s the joy of writing it in advance… I had 26 years to get this one together — I figured it had to be halfway decent.

  • I think the best part was the second video, where they were talking about the wind turbine, and how only a little power from a generator got it started, and wind kept it going (you had to power the wind turbine…), and also about all of the different energy solutions on tap for the future!

    I was there too, although I was 2. I remember a few years afterwards in my preschool classes, my teacher needed some empty cans to melt crayons in, so she opened up some cans of “World’s Fair Air” to use since the cans were empty. World’s Fair AIR. I kinda wish I had a few of those now though, that’d be a cool memento.

  • Oren AdkinsNo Gravatar says:

    I was used to my parents reminiscing about the old days, but seeing the commercials from 1982 made me feel nostalgic for those simpler times.

  • “The 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans actually declared bankruptcy before the that fair was even over.” Well there’s your problem! Very nice look into the past, thanks lawvol. I had a quick look at the map and saw the “Stroller and Wheelchair Hire” section..not something we see often at today’s fairs.


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