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  #1  
Old Posted Jul 27, 2008, 12:44 PM
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Kansas City: Memorializing 1981 Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse (114 fatalities)

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/27/us/27hyatt.html

For Many, a Memorial Long Overdue



Dan White/Kansas City Star, via Associated Press

On July 17, 1981, two 32-ton skywalks at the Hyatt Regency in Kansas City, Mo., collapsed into the hotel lobby, killing 114 people.



Dave Kaup for The New York Times

Frank Freeman, left, survived the collapse, and Brent Wright lost his mother and her husband.


KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In the lounge at the top of the 40-story Hyatt Regency hotel, where people sip drinks and gaze at the twinkling skyline, there is no hint of the long-ago horror.

But for people like Brent Wright, it can never be forgotten. On July 17, 1981, Mr. Wright was 17 years old and working the loading docks at Macy’s, saving money for college, when he heard a radio bulletin about the hotel’s skywalk collapsing into a swing dance in the lobby. He tried to call his mother, Karen Jeter, wondering if she knew anyone there.

There was no answer.

“My mother was the talker, the hugger,” Mr. Wright, now a 45-year-old lawyer, said as he fought to choke back tears. “She liked popcorn. She liked tennis. And she liked to dance.”

Mr. Wright is a member of the Skywalk Memorial Foundation, which is leading a movement to build a memorial to the 114 people who lost their lives in the collapse, including his 37-year-old mother and her husband, Eugene Jeter. It was said to be the worst structural disaster in the nation’s history.

After 27 years, there is not so much as a memorial plaque to commemorate the tragedy. “It was fresh for a very long time,” Mr. Wright said. “It has taken this long for people to work through the grief.”

The foundation is raising money to build a garden and a fountain in Washington Square Park, about a block from the hotel, dedicated to the victims and survivors of the collapse, along with those who helped with the rescue. In a significant boost for the plans, the Hallmark company, which owns the hotel site through a subsidiary, has pledged $25,000 toward the cost, and the city has agreed to put up $100,000.

Although there are no plans to commemorate the actual accident site, the Hyatt Regency recently released a brief statement of support for the memorial in the park, noting that “the hotel and our associates continue to honor the lives of those that were lost.” An assistant to Rusty Macy, the general manager at the hotel, said the hotel would not comment beyond the statement.

The foundation still needs to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the memorial, which would require the approval of the city parks board.

Some people here see the Hyatt catastrophe as a modern-day Titanic sinking that set back the revival of downtown. The gleaming hotel, just a year old at the time, was the tallest structure in Kansas City, and its regular tea dances had drawn many residents back to a once-sleepy section of the city.

“It was the big buzz around town,” said Heather McMichael, a former television anchor who now works for a law firm doing pro bono work for the memorial campaign.

The dance that Friday evening had drawn about 2,000 people. When the two 32-ton walkways crashed to the floor at 7:05 p.m., a band was playing “Satin Doll.”

A video of the event shows revelers in high spirits, among them Karen and Eugene Jeter, swing-dancing and laughing in the last moments of their lives.


A highly critical investigation found a design flaw in the walkways’ suspension systems. Jack D. Gillum and Associates, the engineering firm that approved the final plans, was stripped of its license. Lapses were found in construction practices and the city’s enforcement arms. About $140 million was awarded to victims and their families, much of it paid by the Crown Center Corporation, a Hallmark subsidiary.

Kansas City’s progressive self-image was damaged, and a deep sadness draped the city for a long time. In the view of Richard L. Berkley, then the mayor, there was a reluctance to memorialize the tragedy.

“There was a feeling you didn’t want to remind people of it,” Mr. Berkley said.

Frank Freeman, now 64, survived the collapse, but he lost his partner, Roger Girgsby. He remembers hearing a “popping sound” of the breaking rods that held up the walkways, and then being showered with debris. In the instant after the crash, there was an eerie silence. Moments later, there was screaming.

When the authorities urged Mr. Freeman to go to the hospital, he initially refused. “I’m not leaving until I find Roger,” he said. The next day, he identified a picture of his partner at the morgue.

In some ways, Mr. Freeman is still looking for Roger, still unwilling to leave the hotel. On the 25th anniversary of the disaster, he stood outside the Hyatt Regency in 100-degree heat and soaking air, holding a sign that declared, “114 people deserve a memorial.”

Mr. Wright, now married with two young daughters, said the girls had plenty of questions about their grandmother, especially when the television news recounted the disaster. He and his sister, Shelly, 43, who has four daughters, have made a Mother’s Day tradition of going to brunch and then visiting the cemetery.

They take pictures of the family standing near his mother’s gravestone and tell stories about her. She was bright, stylish and something of a character. “She wasn’t afraid to act a little goofy,” Mr. Wright said. He feels certain she would get a kick out of their ritual, and relish the attention.

Mr. Wright said he even believed he knew what she would tell them: “Don’t cry the rest of our lives — but don’t forget your mother.”


....



learn more about this structural failure at wikipedia


Kansas City's Hyatt Regency is a 504 foot, 40-story hotel built in 1980. It was KC's tallest tower until 1986. The 1981 disaster was the deadliest structural collapse in U.S. history.

credit: wikipedia


NBC's Nightline from the night of the disaster
Video Link


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  #2  
Old Posted Jul 27, 2008, 6:20 PM
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Tragic.
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  #3  
Old Posted Jul 27, 2008, 6:20 PM
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I always got the sense that Kansas City was trying very badly to forget the ordeal...myself drinking many a beer in the crossroads in the valley, looking at the pretty lighted elevators going up and down the hyatt at dusk...not a clue...
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  #4  
Old Posted Jul 27, 2008, 7:51 PM
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I remember it....

Time magazine did a big story on it ...
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  #5  
Old Posted Jul 27, 2008, 9:17 PM
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I have heard about this event many times...I did't realize that many people died! How in the world was the death toll so high? Very sad. I am glad they are doing a memorial finally.
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  #6  
Old Posted Jul 27, 2008, 11:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MNMike View Post
How in the world was the death toll so high?
because the collapse happened while a couple thousand people were dancing on and below the suspended walkways.
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  #7  
Old Posted Jul 28, 2008, 12:36 AM
DBR96A DBR96A is offline
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My parents told me about this a long time ago. I was never aware that it was that bad.

Besides creating a memorial, you know what else they should do? Tear down the Hyatt Regency, or give it a facelift at the very least. It has that shitty '70s look to it, especially the rotunda on top.
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  #8  
Old Posted Jul 28, 2008, 3:40 AM
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I remember reading the Reader's Digest version. Must have been at my grandma's.
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  #9  
Old Posted Jul 28, 2008, 10:00 AM
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I barley remember something on this, was in second grade.
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  #10  
Old Posted Jul 28, 2008, 3:17 PM
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It seems like a strange thing to memorialize to me. Not much different from a huge car wreck or plane crash. It was just a bunch of people in the wrong place at the wrong time but not involved in anything extraordinary or heroic. Unfortunate yes, but a memorial to it is a stretch. That's why we have cemeteries and grave stones.
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  #11  
Old Posted Jul 28, 2008, 3:53 PM
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^^ That seems a bit callous, but I agree with you. I am all for a plaque or a statue, but this seems a bit much. This applies to these sorts of memorials all over the US. Don't all go hating on me, but I feel that way about the WTC memorial too. It SHOULD be memorialized, but it shouldn't dominate.

That said, it was an awful time for KC. It seems everyone knew someone who died or was horribly injured. Just awful. Teacher from my Junior High School - dead. My dad's first attorney - dead. Neighbor around the block - injured.
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  #12  
Old Posted Jul 29, 2008, 2:38 AM
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This article is making a mountain out of a molehill. It is nothing like the Titanic disaster in any way, shape or form, starting with the fact that more than 15 times as many people died on the Titanic. The Titanic also sank in a time when the world was much smaller. Just scaling the death toll of the Titanic disaster up to the U.S. population today (more than three times larger), the Hyatt disaster would have needed to kill about 5,000 people to have the same net effect. The words Titanic Disaster and Hyatt Disaster have virtually nothing in common, and don't even belong in the same sentence.

There's another really fundamental difference: The operators of the hotel had no idea of the danger; they didn't ignore repeated ice warnings as the Titanic sailed into the western ocean that fateful Sunday, April 14, 1912. The operators of the hotel were given a flawed device which failed; although there were some design and construction flaws with the Titanic, her crew negligently and recklessly smashed the ship into an iceberg while traveling at the fastest speed the doomed ship had ever achieved in her short existence on this planet. The Titanic received no less than seven ice warnings by wireless as the day progressed. Had these been plotted on a map, the ship's crew would have realized they were steaming into a massive ice field that completely blocked their course. In addition, as Sunday wore on, the temperatures dropped (both air and water), signaling they were fast approaching an ice field. Yet, the ship's crew lit even more boilers and pushed the ship faster and faster. The Titanic's speed accelerated from about 20 knots on the first day of her maiden voyage, to 22 knots on the third day and finally 24 knots on that fateful Sunday.

Kansas City was not "draped in grief." It didn't spend "years recovering." I was 14 years old at the time; my mom and her then boyfriend Charlie were supposed to have been there that night, but my mom didn't feel well and stayed home.

Give that my father died in a car accident just one year earlier, and I could have lost my mother as well, I just never viewed this as being anything other than a simple tragedy.

The New York Times is over-sensationalizing the Hyatt Skywalks Collapse to sell newspapers. It is modern yellow-journalism at it's worst.

--don
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  #13  
Old Posted Jul 29, 2008, 3:08 AM
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I remember the breaking news on this event like it was yesterday.
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Old Posted Jul 29, 2008, 10:36 PM
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I remember this well, too. I can't believe it's been 27 years already.
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Old Posted Aug 1, 2008, 3:51 AM
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Mountain out of a mole hill?

I'm a bit surprised at the comments I have read on this thread. Since this website is dedicated to skyscrapers I thought most of the posters would have at least done a little bit of homework before weighing in on the topic of whether a memorial is warranted or not.

Did you not know that this event was and still is the worst structural disaster in the entire history of the United States?

Did you not know that because of this disaster KC revised it's building code?

Did you not know that because of this disaster engineering schools all over the nation and the world now use the Skywalk Collapse as a teaching case study for students to learn about the ethical and engineering issues raised?

Did you not know that presentations are made annually to professional architect and engineering associations at national conventions and regional meetings to study how to improve the design and safety of buildings by analyzing the tragic failure of the Skywalks?

And to DonB who posted this: "The New York Times is over-sensationalizing the Hyatt Skywalks Collapse to sell newspapers." and "The operators of the hotel had no idea of the danger; ....The operators of the hotel were given a flawed device which failed." Please, I beg you to go to UTUBE and look up the National Geographic Videos called "Seconds from Disaster" that covered this story and pay special attention to the part where the National Science Board went to the hotel to conduct an independent review of the wreckage and it had ALL BEEN REMOVED. By who?? The building owners-they took every piece of glass and debris and hid it away in a warehouse so nobody could look at it. It took a court order to allow the NSB in to see it.

Oh and who am I? Just a woman, who at 15 lost her Dad and little sister in this event and had to learn that my sister was alive under the rubble for hours before she finally died...she was 11. Imagine, if you can, being 11 years old, out with your dad at a swanky hotel just having fun one minute then the next being trapped under all that concrete and steel. I'm also a woman who found out that her Dad might have survived but he (and countless others) drowned from the hotel's water system rupturing and it kept rising until rescuers were up to their knees in red water.

This memorial is not just in remembrance of all those innocent people but it is also a way for the survivors of those victims and those injured to honor and thank all of the firefighters, police officers, EMTs, doctors, nurses and countless others that helped try to free those trapped.

Trust me, I would rather not have to consider a memorial at all, I'd rather have my dad and sister back.
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Old Posted Aug 1, 2008, 6:26 AM
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This thread is a perfect example of why this forum is full of absolute idiots. they want to build a memorial to commemorate the night in which over 100 members of a community lost their lives in a single god-forsaken instant--or more importantly, the instant over 100 families lost a loved one--and people start talking about how these families are undeserving. Because it wasn't tragic enough????? Lord knows we are constantly inundated with stories of the Hyatt collapse. I mean, if I could have a nickle for every time I've read about this awful awful night--well I guess I'd have five cents.

Don B, your post was a veritable clinic in ignorance and stupidity. Bryson, your post made Don's look like poetry. I've known microcephalics who can articulate a point more eloquently than you.
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Old Posted Aug 1, 2008, 5:33 PM
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Old Posted Aug 1, 2008, 5:41 PM
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still unbelieving

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  #19  
Old Posted Aug 1, 2008, 6:28 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pico44 View Post
This thread is a perfect example of why this forum is full of absolute idiots. they want to build a memorial to commemorate the night in which over 100 members of a community lost their lives in a single god-forsaken instant--or more importantly, the instant over 100 families lost a loved one--and people start talking about how these families are undeserving. Because it wasn't tragic enough????? Lord knows we are constantly inundated with stories of the Hyatt collapse. I mean, if I could have a nickle for every time I've read about this awful awful night--well I guess I'd have five cents.

Don B, your post was a veritable clinic in ignorance and stupidity. Bryson, your post made Don's look like poetry. I've known microcephalics who can articulate a point more eloquently than you.
And you're any better with a post calling people you don't even know complete idiots. The hypocrisy is incredible.


My thoughts and prayers to the victims of this horrible tragedy. I hope they can find peace, whether it be through a memorial or otherwise.
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  #20  
Old Posted Aug 2, 2008, 8:30 AM
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gone over this collapse a couple of times in my engineering classes...

makes me somewhat afraid of becoming a structural engineer...
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