It was, in most respects, a Thanksgiving like many others in Kansas City. Family dinners. Football on TV. Plaza lights.
But this year, at least in some quarters, it was impossible to forget a 6-year-old Kansas City girl and a young man from Ferguson, Mo., who didn’t live to celebrate it.
Riders on horseback spent part of the afternoon in the Ruskin Heights neighborhood spreading cheer to a community still grieving the loss of Angel Hooper, who was shot Oct. 17 while accompanying her dad to a 7-Eleven.
And Thursday night, thousands descended on the Country Club Plaza to witness the shopping district set aglow for the holidays.
At this, the 85th lighting ceremony, a small group of protesters staged a “die-in” in the midst of the crowd, another reaction to the grand jury decision not to indict the police officer who shot Michael Brown to death.
Meanwhile, fortified with turkey and pumpkin pie, some Kansas Citians headed out for a little Turkey Night shopping.
Night lights and ‘bodies’ on the ground
With temperatures in the 30s, it was an evening for heavy jackets and stocking caps but still a fine night to catch the Plaza lighting.
Then again, if you were among the throngs packed onto Nichols Road, you probably found yourself watching the ceremony on, yes, the giant screen behind the stage.
Only early birds got up-close views of Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon and general manager Dayton Moore, who with their families and a 7-year-old plucked from the crowd got to flip the big switch just before 7 p.m.
Dozens of spectators held cellphones above their heads to catch the moment the Plaza’s iconic towers and other buildings were lit. Fireworks filled the sky.
As the lights switched on, a multiracial group of young people staged a “die-in” to protest Brown’s killing in Ferguson.
Twelve of them fell to the pavement in the middle of Nichols Road. One, representing Brown, had a “chalk line” of Christmas lights around his body.
About other 10 protesters stood silently, holding signs with messages such as “Will you kill us too?” and “Am I next? Are you?”
Most of the people there for the lighting ceremony ignored the protest. A few joined it.
Several nearby police officers observed but did not intervene.
After about 30 minutes, the protesters got to their feet and walked as a group out of the Plaza.
As for others attending the lighting, it seemed that few headed for their cars without taking a picture of friends and family with those gorgeous lights behind them.
Faces in the crowd:
▪ Growing up in Trenton, Mo., Paul and Amanda Vandevender watched the lighting on TV. But now they live in Kearney, so they headed to the Plaza. One draw: Alex Gordon.
Some Plaza stores were open, Amanda noted. Eddie Bauer was doing a brisk business in hats and gloves, she said.
▪ Just after 6 p.m., Jiana Swan, a 17-year-old senior at North Kansas City High School, stood in a line outside Starbucks. A long line — more than half a block.
Swan was with her cousin, her dad, his girlfriend and the girlfriend’s kids. At home they’d enjoyed turkey, stuffing, greens, and macaroni and cheese. Now she craved a cappuccino.
▪ Shannon Darby of Lee’s Summit hasn’t been in a Christmas mood so far, but the Plaza lights might change that. “Might,” she emphasized.
She was with her friend Patrick Mellies of Shawnee, who, although he’s lived in the area since 2003, had never attended the lighting ceremony.
▪ Jim Suptic of Prairie Village planned to start shouting “Let’s go, Royals!” the second Gordon appeared on stage. He figured others would take up the chant.
Would the same have happened last year, when the Royals were not World Series contenders? Probably not, acknowledged Suptic, a lifelong fan.
“You haven’t lived in Kansas City until you’ve come to the Plaza lights,” he said.
▪ Rupert and Mandy James drove in from St. Joseph to “kind of break the monotony of sitting and eating with the family,” Rupert said.
Mandy, he added, is a huge Christmas fan. She put up the tree the day after Halloween. She’s watched “Christmas Vacation,” her favorite holiday movie, six times already this season.
Turns out there’s a reason. Two years ago, following an operation, she came down with a staph infection that almost killed her. After spending three weeks in the hospital, she was released a few days before Christmas.
No turkeys, just horses
Some in the Ruskin Heights neighborhood in southeast Kansas City were treated to the sight of horseback riders parading through their streets — and stopping to deliver about 50 goody baskets of fruit and homemade desserts.
This was the second year that Show Me Riders, a saddle club, decided to spend part of Thanksgiving Day spreading goodwill. The club chose Ruskin because it’s where Angel Hooper died.
As all that handsome horseflesh clomped by, people stood on front porches waving and returning shouts of “Happy Thanksgiving!”
“This is wonderful! What a nice surprise,” said Connie Blancett of Butler, Mo., who was visiting.
Considering everything that’s been going on — not only the senseless killing of little Angel but also the unrest sparked by Ferguson — “this is really nice,” Blancett said.
Earlier, as horses and riders organized at Ruskin High School, club member Dawn Dudley said they hoped to “bring up morale in the neighborhood and let people know we do care.”
Teddy Gasaway, 8, represented “the littlest boy and the biggest horse,” club president Buddy Lahl said. Teddy was up high on a strawberry roan Tennessee walker-Missouri fox trotter cross.
“This is my personal mount,” Teddy declared.
Robyn Barbee happened to be driving down 110th Street when one of the riders stopped to hand down a basket through her car window.
“I was shocked,” she said.
Meanwhile, the fellow with the most thankless task of the day didn’t seem to mind. He followed the horses with a shovel.
“You know, just part of the deal,” Danny Bey said.
Looking for bargains
Black Friday, bah.
Hundreds of shoppers across the Kansas City area couldn’t wait to get their shopping started, and plenty of stores opened for business Thursday night to accommodate them.
Nichole Johnson of Kansas City was one of those shoppers.
At noon, six hours before the doors opened, she snagged the first spot in line outside the Target at Ward Parkway mall.
Johnson was there for a big-screen television.
“Forty inches,” she said.
As for waiting outside for six hours with temperatures in the 30s? “It’s worth it,” she said.
Right behind Johnson in line was Daniel Juarez of Kansas City.
He, too, was on a mission to snag one of those TV sets. Juarez, who arrived at the store at 12:30 p.m., said it was the second year for him to take advantage of Thanksgiving night shopping.
“It’s very much worth it,” Juarez said.