Kansas City St Patricks Day Parade
Written on February 1, 2016
Annual Kansas City St Patricks Day Parade
The Kansas City St. Patrick’s Day Parade is organized and staffed by a group of private volunteers devoted to providing Kansas City with a family-oriented parade celebrating the Irish heritage of our city and citizens. The Parade Committee is a non-profit 501C3 corporation.
The resurrection of this Kansas City legacy did not occur until 1973. In 1973 a group of friends meeting for a quick (or otherwise) drink and a bit of conversation at Hogerty’s Cocktail Lounge in downtown Kansas City decided a Parade downtown was just what the City needed; and so it began again. Radio talk show host Mike Murphy, P.R. person Pat O’Neill, SR. and local saloon keeper Dan Hogerty’s brainstorm came alive in Kansas City.
On Friday March 15, 1973 Daniel Thomas Hogerty led a St. Patrick’s Day parade of secretaries, businessmen and shoppers on what would again become a Kansas City Tradition. The block and one half parade route led from the Continental Hotel back to Hogerty’s lounge, of course. Billed as “the world’s shortest and worst parade” it drew hundreds of people to what became a downtown street party in the 1200 block of Baltimore.
By 1976 Hogerty, O’Neill, Murphy and friends were joined by the honorable Mayor Charles Wheeler and the parade featured a painted green calf along with several dogs and a goat. The City graciously parked a trash truck on Baltimore Avenue to collect the empty beer bottles.
The Parade was threatened with respectability in 1977. The presence of four floats, marching units from local Catholic High Schools, bag pipers and an extended route as well as television coverage lent the Parade a hint of credibility. Murphy vowed “no one would ever bring class to the Parade”. As long as he had anything to do with it (the Parade) it would remain “odd”. This was the year the Ancient Order of Hibernians returned to the Parade. The Ancient Order of Hibernians were organized in Kansas City in the 1870′s and participated quite grandly in the early Parades. The present day Hibernians descend from the original Parade entrants of the 1800′s.
By 1978 the crowd viewing the Parade grew to 35,000. Schools sanctioned their students’ entry in the event and the route wound over nine blocks through narrow downtown streets. Once again Dan Hogerty led the Parade. In 1979 the route was moved to the Loose Park, mid-town area and ended in Westport.
In 1981, the route moved back downtown and extended from the River Market area (River Quay as it was known then) over 16 blocks to end at 11th and Baltimore. The Parade Committee had now grown larger than the 1974 Parade. The Parade organizers boasted a Grand Prize of two round trip tickets to Ireland for the “best entrant”. Over 3000 participated in the Parade itself and the onlookers number over 110,000. For the first time in 1981 the Kansas City St. Patrick’s Day Parade was reported to be the third largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the Nation.
The 1982 revelers went back to basics, emulating their 19th Century counterparts, by beginning the day with a Mass said by Bishop Sullivan (head of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph). Bishop Sullivan reminded the worshipers of Irish decent that “the Irish are non-conformists and a non-conformist is a non-apathetic person, a responsive person”.
The route in 1983 moved back downtown, stepping off at the corner of Pershing and Grand Boulevard, the Parade headed due North along Grand Avenue, a boulevard created for Parades. The two mile Parade (almost 30 blocks) and was viewed by 300,000 onlookers. Monsignor Arthur M. Tighe, Pastor of Visitation Parish, described the Parade as “Kansas City’s Mardi Gras”. The blossoming of the Parade brought with it “rules” to curb rowdiness and insure the safety of onlookers and participants. The “last entry” in the Parade is now traditionally the street sweepers.
In 1999 the Parade crowd was one of the largest ever; reportedly up to 400,000 onlookers lined the Boulevard. Irish Tri-color banners adorned the Boulevard in early March in anticipation of the event. The Parade lasted from 11:30 ’til nearly 2:00 p.m. and the clean up continued until dusk.
In 2009, the Parade moved to Midtown starting at Linwood and Broadway and proceeding south along Broadway to 43rd Street. The area around Redemptorist Catholic Church where the Parade starts was traditionally called Kerry Patch in the 1800s after the large Irish immigrant population living there. Many of the stone buildings in the neighborhood were built by Irish with limestone quarried by Irish in the Penn Valley Park area.
Pat O’Neill describes this “Awakening of a sleeping giant” and the intent of the awakeners in his description of the rebirth and development of the “modern” Kansas City St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Radio personality Mike Murphy and public relations guy Pat O’Neill, Sr., must have been tapped on the shoulders of their leisure suits by the Ghost of Irish Past that day, March 17, 1973, in Dan Hogerty’s Baltimore Street saloon.
Surely they were inspired by spirits of some sort when they decided to wake up an increasingly lifeless downtown Kansas City with an impromptu St. Patrick’s Day parade. For it was exactly 100 years before–on March 17, 1873–that local Irish immigrants had staged the first Irish parade in Kansas City’s history.
“We, of course, knew that,” said Pat O’Neill, with a wink. “Actually, we just wanted to bring a little attention to Dan Hogerty’s place at 12 th and Baltimore. We hung a sort of makeshift sandwich board over Danny. On his stomach it said ‘PARADE’ and on his backside it said ‘END OF PARADE.’”
Another p.r. man, Dan Fennell, was dispatched, tongue-in-cheek, to clear any IRA snipers from the then-half-constructed City Center Square building up the street. Chiefs great Jim Lynch was recruited for additional security. An anonymous tip was called in to the KMBC TV newsroom, located just around the corner, on Central. And history was put in motion.
“A handful of us gathered outside the Continental Hotel on 11 th Street, and proceeded to walk the entire distance of about a block and a fifth,” said O’Neill. “At first we were out there in the street all by our lonesome, feeling a little embarrassed. But as we walked, people appeared out of nowhere, and before you know it, we had a crowd. Of course, we led them right into Danny’s joint, and he had more business than he’d had in years.”
A grand local tradition that had been dormant since the 1890s was re-rooted and quickly grew into the biggest event of the year Downtown. Even as more and more Kansas Citians moved to the suburbs and Downtown continued to decline, the parade grew behind the energy and charisma of ad hoc chairman Freddy Wyrsch and a group of young Irish that included Denny Lowe, Pat Hughes, Betty Wyrsch, Danny Ervin, Pat O’Connor, Jim Glynn, Mike and Cy Perkins, Ned O’Connor, Tom Wyrsch and Kathleen Aylward. The event continued to double and triple in size throughout the 1970s and ’80s.
By the mid-1980s, Kansas City’s Irish parade had become one of the largest in the United States and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee had expanded its role to include concerts, dance demonstrations and fund-raisers for local charities like Harvesters, the community food bank.
“I don’t think any of us ever dreamed our little publicity stunt would turn into a parade two miles long with several hundred thousand spectators,” said O’Neill. “We just wanted to drum up a little business for our friend, Danny Hogerty. Today’s parade is really a tribute to the popularity and appeal of Mike Murphy, and it’s a reflection of the marvelous sense of pride that still exists among the Irish in Kansas City.”
Jody Watson, the Lone Bagpiper, will, as he has for many years, lead off the march followed by color guards, bands, drill teams, floats of all description and revelers of all sort. During the years the Parade has evolved into the largest single day event in Kansas City and shows no sign of stopping.