Of all the St. Patrick’s Day parades across Jackson County this week, there is no dispute as to which will be the shortest.
By BRIAN BURNES
The Kansas City Star
That would be the annual Blue Springs parade, all 66 feet of it.
That brevity is a point of pride with Pat Meyer, a founder of the annual parade, which will take place for the 36th straight year. The parade continues to be small, even though it annually attracts several hundred spectators to downtown Blue Springs.
“The crowd only participates by watching,” said Meyer.
No matter how brief, it will be one of several parades in the area this weekend, with processions scheduled Saturday in Belton, Brookside and Lee’s Summit — as well as Blue Springs. Kansas City’s big parade will be Sunday.
The Blue Springs parade dates to Friday, March 17, 1978, when several friends were doing what they often did on weekday mornings, which was have coffee in what was then the Lowe Drug store on Main Street.
“We were talking about how it was St. Patrick’s Day and the fact that we didn’t have a parade or anything,” said Meyer.
“So three of us decided to walk across Main Street and have our own little parade.”
They left Lowe Drug and sang “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” They approached the door of a bar then called The Gridiron, in hopes that it was serving green beer.
One problem: It was 9 a.m., too early for The Gridiron.
“We turned around and left,” Meyer said.
Meyer, then and now a health insurance salesman, had a sales call.
Joe Walker, who worked at Blue Springs Bank, went back to the bank.
But Ed Schumann, who sold mobile phones for Motorola, went back to Lowe Drug and encountered a reporter for The Examiner of Blue Springs. Schumann told the reporter about their parade, Meyer said, and the reporter wrote it up.
The story went viral — at least in 1978 terms.
It appeared on the wire services, Meyer said, and newspapers across the country picked it up. Soon, one of those stories caught the eye of Gene Shalit, the former “Today” film critic who in those years also had a network radio show.
Not long after March 17, Shalit devoted a few minutes to discussing some of the larger St. Patrick’s Day parades, such as those in Chicago and New York, and then threw in a reference to Blue Springs.
“He said something about a ‘wee little burg 20 miles south of Kansas City,’” Meyer said.
Blue Springs, of course, is due east of Kansas City.
No matter. The tiny Blue Springs parade had gone nationwide.
“Then people kind of forced us to have the parade again the next year,” Meyer said.
So they did, and have since.
Walker since has passed away, Meyer said, and Schumann now lives in San Antonio. These days Meyer and two friends — Bill Whitley and Jim Wallace — serve as official paraders.
In recent years honorary grand marshals have been named to recognize deserving citizens. This year the honor goes to longtime Blue Springs educator Barbara Landes.
So, on Saturday, the parade will leave what is now the Soda Fountain/Flower Shop at 1112 W. Main St. at 9 a.m. and arrive at what is now The Keg, at 1123 W. Main St., perhaps two minutes later.
Meyer is prepared to defend the parade’s reputation for being the shortest.
One year, he said, the late Oliver De Grate, Blue Springs public works director, measured the route at 66 feet. Commemorative plaques marking the parade’s starting and finish points have long been installed in Main Street sidewalks.
Meyer also has attempted to obtain official confirmation from the Guinness Book of World Records, only to receive letters noting that Guinness does not monitor that particular category.
Meyer also is aware of other cities — Hot Springs, Ark., and Boulder, Colo., — that have made similar claims about short parades.
And now there’s Maryville, Mo.
“A few years ago they challenged us saying that they thought they had the shortest parade,” Meyer said. “They said it was about 100 feet and that each year they would take another foot off the parade.
“We think it could be the shortest parade — in about 35 years.”
To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.