Being the host country, the United States pavilion was among the most prominent, occupying an angular silver wedge of a building that was filled with a history of the energy industry and visions of our spacey Utopian future. The Saudi Arabians, meanwhile, brought with them a scale model of Mecca, which is as close as many non-Muslim visitors would ever get to seeing the real thing. I snapped a photo of an outrageous Philippine "Jeepney," which was adorned with enough chrome and mirrors to make any modern hot-rodder blush. And I dragged my parents and sister to the Hungarian pavilion, where the world's largest Rubik's Cube spun on an axis in honor of its inventor, Erno Rubik.
The biggest splash in the fair may have been made by the People's Republic of China. Its pavilion drew the longest lines in the park as people strained for a glimpse at some of the then-reclusive country's cultural treasures, including many works of art that had never before left the motherland. (In a telling nod to the wave of capitalism about to be unleashed, souvenir copies of just about everything were for sale.)
Yes, it was a hopeful time, rendered quaint by the ensuing years that saw withering support for alternative fuels and a retrenching of oil-based technology. And today, more than a quarter-century later, governments and industry once again hope to stimulate research into cleaner, more sustainable ways of powering the world. To that end I say, Good luck. I hope you mean it this time.
As for the fair itself, it's back, in a way. World's Fair Park, containing a handful of the old structures and plenty of walkways and green spaces, opened in 2002 as a venue for concerts and other events. And last year, the gold-dusted Sunsphere tower (pictured, in 1982) reopened with an observation deck and cafe, for those who want unparalleled views of Knoxville or just a fleeting taste of a bygone era. And no, it's not a storage warehouse for a wig store, but thank you to the Simpsons for the excellent reference.