Hugs. Tears. Breaking voices. Balloons sent skyward. And, of course, even after all these years…broken hearts.
Thirty-four years after 114 innocent souls died in the collapse of the Hyatt skywalks — during a late-afternoon tea dance — a stylized, polished-steel heart was dedicated to those who died and were injured in the July 17, 1981, disaster, the greatest in Kansas City history.
As was abundantly clear this morning, on a hillside across the street from what was the Hyatt Regency Kansas City hotel, the memorial is just as much for the living — those who lost relatives and friends and those of us who simply will never forget.
The memorial was nine years in the making. The ramrod — the chairman of the Skywalk Memorial Foundation — was Brent Wright, whose mother and stepfather died that fateful day. Along with others, Wright pushed relentlessly for the memorial and helped raise more than $500,000 to see it created and erected and to establish an endowment fund to maintain it.
The sculpture, called “Sending Love,” was designed by Kansas City artist Rita Blitt, who was among more than 200 people attending the dedication. The stylized heart, appearing poised to lift off into the sky, stands atop a matte black circular base that bears the engraved names of the 114 victims. (Note: In a story posted this afternoon, The Star’s Matt Campbell says the sculpture depicts a couple embraced in dance…Oh, well, the beauty of art is what you see in it and how it affects you, right?)
The memorial is at the north end of Hospital Hill on ground maintained by the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department. A semi-circular stone and concrete bench offers visitors a place to sit, reflect and pay homage.
One of those who spoke most movingly at the dedication program was Frank Freeman, whose domestic partner Roger Grigsby died in the collapse. Freeman was seriously injured.
Voice cracking, Freeman said, in part:
“I’m overcome with joy and pride…This is a moment (when the skywalks collapsed) that wrenched loved ones from our arms but nor our hearts…The wounds remain. It is never gone.”
Of all the speakers, Freeman was the only one to allude to the cause of the disaster, mentioning the “careless, inexcusable design” of the skywalk support system.
…In a design change, engineers decided to use offsetting support rods instead of a single set to suspend the skywalks from the hotel ceiling. The change doubled the stress on the rods supporting the upper skywalk, on which people were standing and swaying to the band music…It was the first time most Kansas City area residents heard the term harmonic vibration.
The Hyatt name remained on the hotel until 2011, when it became a Sheraton property.
I have closely followed — and contributed to — the memorial effort, and this is a great day in Kansas City, commemorating the worst tragedy in our city’s history.
Here are some photos: