Just one flip of a light switch on the Country Club Plaza produces them every Thanksgiving: 30,000, easily; 90,000, maybe.
But a quarter-million?
A Star editorial in 1980, titled “The Innumerable Host,” poked fun at the way Plaza lighting organizers loosely arrived at six-figure crowd tallies for the ceremony, while police controlling the crowds often whispered guesses closer to 50,000.
“Why not a million?” the newspaper asked. “Why not 2 million?”
Why not just throngs — or, “shoulder-to-shoulder crowd,” as The Star reported for last year’s ceremony?
That’s accurate, yes, but gatherings of a history-making nature demand specifics, with law enforcement usually serving up the crowd estimates. In Kansas City, it would appear that not even the biggest news events of the last 125 years came close to drawing, to a single place, a million spectators, revelers or delegated participants.
But, whoa … have we seen throngs:
World Series parade for Royals, Oct. 28, 1985 : Police estimated 225,000 fans lined the downtown curbs. The Kansas City Times also reported:
“The parade was marred by more than a dozen fires, most of which occurred when shredded paper balled up under cars and then pressed against vehicle exhaust systems.”
Republican National Convention, mid-August 1976 : Although 30,000 visitors barely rivaled the turnout for Kansas City’s erstwhile Future Farmers of America conventions, the GOP stretched our hotel space to the limit.
Reporters found Nebraska delegates in Grandview, Indiana delegates in Blue Springs and Illinois delegates split between Kansas and Missouri.
Super Bowl parade for Chiefs, Jan. 12, 1970 : More than 100,000 fans reportedly rushed to the victory rally at Liberty Memorial mall.
“With a look stamped on his face that smacked of disbelief at the size of the welcome,” wrote The Times, “Hank Stram, the Chiefs coach, led his warriors in the parade like a Caesar returning to Rome.”
V-J celebration, Aug. 14, 1945 : “The City is Wild,” the headline declared.
Alas, nobody issued official estimates of the number of people who left work or clogged streetcars headed downtown, where pillow feathers cascaded from hotel windows in the wake of radio reports of Japan’s surrender in World War II.
This vignette from The Times was descriptive enough: “A crowd-battered Marine stood at Twelfth and Baltimore muttering: ‘Guadalcanal was never like this.’ His face was purple with lip stick and every time he shook himself free from the embrace of one girl, another seized him.”
Parade for Charles Lindbergh, Aug. 17, 1927 : Again, no official crowd sizes — perhaps because people had amassed “over one of the longest parade routes in the history of the city.”
Newspaper photos showed spectators clustered 10 and 12 rows deep along a parade that stretched from the airfield at the northwest edge of downtown, south to Linwood Boulevard and back north to Muehlebach Field at Brooklyn Avenue and 22nd Street.
Just three months after his historic solo flight to Paris, Lindbergh spoke here by invitation of local aviation promoters: “His only acknowledgement of the applause was an almost constant smile.”
Groundbreaking for Liberty Memorial, November 1921 : An uninterrupted sea of humanity spread from the hilltop Memorial site down to the front doors of Union Station, then all the way east to Grand Avenue.
Newspaper accounts of “more than 100,000” seem fair, given photographs of the scene — a modern-day Chiefs crowd and then some. Among dignitaries at the groundbreaking were five prominent World War I commanders, including U.S. Gen. John Pershing, and Vice President Calvin Coolidge.
Priests of Pallas festivals: 1887-1912 : Would you believe 500,000 spectators in 1902? If The Star’s math was true, that’s triple the city’s population at the time.
The weeklong Mardi Gras-like festivals of October drew crowds from all over — enough to eventually crush the Priest of Pallas tradition. Parade floats advanced from the horse-drawn variety to gliding upon trolleys, straining the city’s electric system.
And the transit system could no longer handle the scurrying hordes.
— Rick Montgomery