May 1 2007
10:24 am

Today marks the 25th anniversary of opening day at the 1982 World's Fair and Energy Expo.

The Knoxville News Sentinel has this multimedia website with stories, photos, video, and interviews.

WATE has this page with memories and an interview with then Mayor Randy Tyree.

WBIR has this report with video. They will have an interview with Jake Butcher at 6 PM and 11 PM, and a one hour special tonight at 8 PM.

Metro Pulse has this Jack Neely retrospective, with links to other articles.

Here's a blog with some photos, and here's a forum, both about the fair and the 25th anniversary. Here's another site with photos.

Here's a 1982 Time magazine article, "Barnburner in a Backwater", and here's the Wikipedia entry.

My recollections and some restored photos from the archives after the jump...

We had season tickets, that I believe my Mom and Dad gave us as a present. The main thing I remember was that it was virtually impossible to get into the China Pavilion, the most popular exhibit. I believe we finally got in on the last day, as we made a frantic last round to try to see all the things we missed.

I also remember everyone trying to figure out an angle to make money on the fair. Lots of folks planned to rent extra rooms or houses or condos to visitors. My Mom and Dad had a house on Sevier Ave. that they had been renting to U.T. students. They fixed it up for the fair. I think they rented it a few times, but I don't believe anyone made a windfall from fair rentals, and nobody got the premium rates promoters were promising.

Some friends had a pub in one of the Victorian Houses in the artist district (I think, we never actually went there for some reason -- maybe it was too rowdy or something). One of them told me stories about hassles with the city and the beer license people and inspectors. I seem to recall him saying they didn't really make any money, probably due to paying themselves out of inventory.

We didn't see every exhibit at the fair, but at least we went up in the Sunsphere and rode the chair lift and saw some shows at the Amphitheater (the two I seem to remember enjoying the most were John Hartford and the Jeff Lorber Fusion, which unfortunately made Kenny G. famous) and had many beers at the Strohaus and at the Australian pavilion (our favorite watering hole). We also went to see the fireworks often, and had a great spot staked out on what was I believe the TVA exhibit barge.

We didn't go as often as one might expect. I guess we had to work, unlike folks who planned their vacation around the fair. Along with many others, we hightailed it out of town just after the World's Fair, owing mainly to the ripple effect of the Butcher banking empire collapse. I had job offers in Memphis and Orlando. We chose Orlando. Probably the best move I ever made.

View from the chair lift

Crowds at the Korean pavilion

View of the park in front of the then Convention and Expo center.

The Saudi pavilion

The fair drew huge crowds

Tennessee flags, base of the Sunsphere, and "Jake's Mistake" in the background.

The L&N Railroad building where Ruby Tuesday's was

The Candy Factory

The popular Antigua and Barbados Gemonites Steel Band

The Strohaus Beergarten

Flags of many nations

The Court of Flags

The river was a central feature. Here's the then new Calhouns.

Lots of big boats along the river.

The floating restaurant, where the enormous carp popcorn feeding frenzy was a huge attraction. The smaller barge over to the left was, I believe, the TVA floating exhibit. We would go around back where you see that railing to watch the fireworks, which were launched from a barge not too far away. It was awesome.

Jake Butcher at the last day Closing Ceremony

Balloons at the Closing Ceremony

My favorite Sunsphere photo from the fair

All Photos (C) 1982 by R. Neal

bizgrrl's picture

What a great time was to be

What a great time was to be had by so many!

Those were the days, my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we'd choose
We'd fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

(by Mary Hopkins)

Brian A.'s picture

Nice flashback

I enjoyed the pictures.

Brian A.
I'd rather be cycling.

bill young's picture


The Bear's Last Lap
October 16,1982
Vols-35 Tide-28
11 years of pain OVER!!
200,000 folks;in the neighborhood

I listened to the end of the game with
Jim Cooper;who was about to beat the fool outa
Cissy Baker for congress @ my dad's shoe store
in Morristown.

We had a Democratic Party rally,that evening,
Mayor Tyree was there;he was the Democratic nominee
for governor.

Somebody told Randy he had a call on his car phone.
Came back in & said he had to get back to Knoxville.
The celebration was getting out of control.

25 years my my

rocketsquirrel's picture

john austin

hey cool. our friend and former Fourth and Giller, good librul attorney John Austin was quoted in the Time article from 1982. most of the landlords who tried to jack the rents didn't make much money, but I'm glad to know someone was keeping track.

Up Goose Creek's picture

Property values

I rented one apartment to some Worlds fair performers but didn't fool with the nightly rentals. Which turned out to be a good thing.

A few months after the fair I looked at my mortgage and thought about property values and realized: "hmmm..... I owe more on this house than it is worth". I guess I was ahead of my time as an underwater borrower. Ha ha. It was a bonafide CRA loan no less. All paid off in due time. (waits for conservative heads to explode).

Mello's picture

Good golly

For us it was half a lifetime ago. We were living in a tent in Cocke County because rentals were not to be found. The Old Man sure took pride in walking family and friends through those exhibits and pointing out what pipes he ran here and there.

What I don't remember is there ever being any crowds. I do remember thinking where is everyone?

Oh! I do remember our Cocke County neighbors complaining about the mile markers on 40 being changed to add kilometers.....

Opinari's picture


I remember the cool new K-Trans buses that lowered to accommodate elderly and handicapped passengers, and riding them every day from South Knoxville to Carnival World, in the old Kress building... ahhh, nothing like the basement of a huge arcade, where $5 per day bought unlimited tokens. For a kid, Carnival World was far superior to anything Worlds' Fair-related. Heh.

Those were the days.

Tess's picture


Thanks for the memories. It was a long time ago, but it was a good ride, wasn't it?

And, your memories are spot on as far as I'm concerned.

Gosh, that was fun. Why can't we do that again?

Up Goose Creek's picture


I lived in the little house at the time and it was nothing to walk over the RR bridge and on to the Fair site. (the CSX bridge has a walkway) On the way you'd pass an amusement park where the T-B parking garage stands now.

I'll always remember driving down Cherokee Trail at night and getting a glimpse of that HUGE ferris wheel through the trees.

Most nights I'd climb up on the roof to watch the fireworks.

Less is the new More - Karrie Jacobs

Cletus's picture

My parents encouraged us

My parents encouraged us kiddos to have a "World's Fair box" where we kept items from the Fair. I sealed it up not long after the Fair, and dug it out last night. Though I didn't go all the way through it, here's what I found thusfar:

1. it wasn't totally sealed; a mouse had been in it

2. a World's Fair watch, new, in box ('NIB') & with instructions (probably retailed at the fair for $20, probably worth that same $20 today)

3. World's Fair flame symbol painted by the Japanese pavillion's robot on the Fair's last day

4. unused postcard books

5. unopened deely boppers

6. couple sets of Sunsphere restaurant matchbooks

7. new (well 25 year old new) t-shirt

8. lots of programs

9. NIB sunsphere desk top model (with pencil sharpner in base; I'm sure you're swooning with envy ;-) )

10. big new Sunsphere poster

11. a few unopened decks of cards

12. family photos

Once I get thru the rest of the box, I'll try to report back what else was there. It was certainly fun looking back at all of the items.

Anonymous's picture

Sunsphere restaurant matchbooks...

was there a mention of the fair printed anywhere on the mb?
If there is and you would like to sell one I will pay $1.00 for a book but only if the World's Fair is mentioned...........

Cletus's picture

I recall the Park and Ride

I recall the Park and Ride lots way the heck outside the city because people thought there'd be such a parking nightmare. There was one all the way out at either Lovell or Watt Road. With no parking problems, these lots closed in about 3-4 weeks.

Also, lots of landlords got greedy thinking there wasn't enough housing, so they booted out current tenants. And most of the landlords promptly lost their shirts since their apartments weren't needed by the tourists. Heh.

redmondkr's picture

I knew a guy who built one

I knew a guy who built one of those park and ride lots on Lovell. He leased a farmer's land, agreed to restore it to its original condition after the fair, built the lot, bought a portable office - and never parked the first car.

It could not have happened to a more appropriate person.

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The Hill Online

 Georgie   's picture

Where was the Video Expo ARCADE held????

Desperately seeking a pic of the famed arcade that was part of the VIDEO EXPO, does anybody remember where exactly it was held and anything cool about the arcade! Thanks you Pac Mans & Galaga Queens!

fischbobber's picture

Video Expo

I worked at Video Expo along with Tim Burchett. Tim was the guy dressed up in a Pac-Man suit and I was the bodyguard. You wouldn't believe what people turn their kids loose to do. The building is still there, now a storage facility for U.T.

Georgie's picture

Thanks man!

Do you remember what section it was in and what the building name was? Also can you remember any details about the expo, like how did you get the tokens were they free or for change? Also about how many arcades were in the room? Would you happen to have any pictures, especially of that pac man suit lol. Thank you for any information regarding this famed Video Expo!

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