Sunshine Williams :
METRO | Muhammad Ali, the Astrodome,
and me

We had ringside seats on the second row, and were splattered all night with blood, sweat, and snot!

Muhammad Ali Ernie Terrell

Muhammad Ali fights Ernie Terrell in the Astrodome, February 6, 1967. Image from Flickr / Creative Commons.

By Sunshine Williams | The Rag Blog | June 7, 2016

HOUSTON — News of Muhammad Ali’s death brought back memories from my past. In January 1967, I started work in a construction shack outside the Astrodome with Wayne Chandler, formerly with the Astros publicity office, to form the publicity/public relations office for Astroworld, which was under construction. Just the two of us, plus a photographer named Harold.

We worked in the frigid winter months without heat until my frozen fingers could barely type on the IBM Selectric. Over the next 16 months, we put out an average of 3,000 pieces of mail a week, including news stories, photos, maps, sketches of park rides and amenities to newspapers, radio, television, and travel agents, to get the word out in-state, nationally and internationally prior to the opening on Memorial Day, 1968.

Since I was the only model available, my image was mailed all over the world.

Harold took countless photos of the rides as they came online, and since I was the only model available, my image was mailed all over the world. We had a one-hour remote radio show with Don LeBlanc on KODA-FM from the park, interviewing the engineers, designers, etc., many of whom had helped build Disneyland. In those days before computers, air compression, underwater and over-mountain cables and tracks were used for motion on the rides and displays.

We even had video fashion shoots for Sakowitz and Nieman-Markup — in the winter with summer wear and in the summer with winter coats and boots. The models either froze or suffocated! One amenity for my three kids after it opened is that I brought them to work with me in the mornings and turned them loose with lunch money and then brought them home after work. They loved it!

Astrodome 1965-2

The Astrodome in 1965. Photo by Ted Rozumalski / The Sporting News Archive / Public Domain.

As it turned out, Muhammad Ali was coming to the Astrodome on February 6, 1967, to fight Ernie Terrell. I was given two tickets and took my son, James, who had just turned nine years old on November  3. We had ringside seats on the second row, and were splattered all night with blood, sweat, and snot! Ali won by unanimous decision after all the hits were counted.

I hate violence, and never would have gone otherwise, but, what the hay? Why not, on this auspicious occasion? It was an adventure and an unforgettable experience, and that’s what I’m all about. And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut used to say. Ali also fought in the Astrodome on November 14, 1966, against Cleveland Williams, and twice in 1971 after he was reinstated: on July 26 against Jimmy Ellis and Nov. 17 against Buster Mathis. He won all three.

The Astrodome, the Eighth Wonder of the World, had just opened in 1965.

The Astrodome, the Eighth Wonder of the World, had just opened in 1965, after three years of construction. Judge Roy Hofheinz, Harris County Judge, had arranged for the county to foot the bill, then he leased it back for $1 a year. It was the home of the Astros, the Oilers, and many other events, including Ringling Bros. Circus, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and several Elvis Presley concerts, one of which I attended in 1970. There were four shows with over 208,000 total attendance.

Harris County is still on the hook for millions of dollars while they and the Houston Historical Society decide what to do with the structure, which was partially demolished in 2013.

[Sunshine Williams is a semi-retired real estate broker who lived in Crested Butte from 1977 to 1982, when she returned to South Austin. She turned 82 on May 29, and is writing her memoir, the working title of which is Eyewitness to My Life.]

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One Response to Sunshine Williams :
METRO | Muhammad Ali, the Astrodome,
and me

  1. Ruth Roberts (512-635-3635) says:

    Sunshine, what a great column! You have lived one helluva life, dear friend.

    You told me you were interested in my porch chairs; I think you said “at any time”, but I won’t hold you to it. I’m hoping to move to an apartment (and get rid of having to worry about keeping the place up!).

    Lemme know – and HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY!!!! May there be many more!

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