As baby boomers, we are so lucky to have good memories from some time in the past… even if, as the years roll by, it becomes the distant past. But Sherrill Pool Elizondo of Cypress, Texas, remembers a job in 1968, the middle of college, almost as if it was yesterday. Why? Because every day felt to her like the Fourth of July.
HemisFair ’68 in San Antonio, Texas occurred during a turbulent time in our nation’s history. An election year, social change, and the Vietnam War.
For most of us who worked at HemisFair it was a time between jobs or a hiatus from college. In 1968 I was a 19-year-old junior in college who pleaded with the dean of girls and with my parents to allow me to withdraw. A newspaper ad about the completion and opening date of HemisFair ’68 appeared shortly after my return home with a call for qualified guides. I made an appointment for an interview to be a U. S. Pavilion guide and met most of the requirements, but I wasn’t in the age range required.
Nevertheless I was hired! The adventure began with a training period in March before HemisFair opened April 6.
The U.S. Pavilion consisted of the Exhibits Building, the Migration Courtyard, and The Confluence Theater, all operated by the Expositions Staff of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The theatre screen was a 37 x 140-foot curvilinear and was the only one of its kind in the world. A controversial film entitled “US” was 23 minutes long and shown every day for six months, except when there were technical problems or occasional bomb threats.
Visitors were first directed to three separate lobbies to await completion of the previous viewing. After a bilingual speech, they were led into three separate theaters. After opening scenes with actual footage of immigrants arriving in America, passing the Statue of Liberty and arriving on Ellis Island, there was footage of the Wright Brothers, and then the audience heard a jet plane. The screen enlarged in each theater and curtains dividing the three theaters would rise. The screen then became full-size in a panoramic view for the 1,200 seat audience.
That theatre where I greeted thousands of visitors was eventually converted to a federal courthouse. Pavilion staff received a letter of appreciation from the Department of Commerce. These mementos along with newspaper clippings, a Life Magazine article, pictures of guides and dignitaries, and invitations for events, are my treasured keepsakes. A job interacting with the general public is a great teacher of human nature, one where I learned to be diplomatic and friendly under stress. I saw what real class is and what it isn’t. I learned that the way people are treated has a direct relationship on how they treat others, and that while people could be haughty and rude, a calm approach can diffuse bad situations.
It was all so memorable. Seeing and meeting famous people on a regular basis, knowing how to spot Secret Service agents, having my picture taken for the newspaper, being interviewed on TV, hearing President Johnson give a speech, the 21 gun salute that rattled the glass of the Confluence Theater, being invited to a party given by the Governor… I knew it all would come to an end, but life would go on when the final day in October arrived. A time for some to return to college, a time for others to return to Washington DC, a time for some to marry or for others to follow husbands wherever the armed services took them.
For us guides, the real show WAS the people, and the events that took place every day. The “pursuit of happiness” is supposed to be our “unalienable rights” as Americans. I don’t think I’ve ever fully or vigorously pursued it as much as I did in 1968 when every day was like the 4th of July and I thought all my tomorrows would be that way.