© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ground Broken On Memorial For 'One Of The Worst Tragedies In Kansas City's History'

Kyle Palmer

Ask Kansas Citians of a certain generation, “Where were you the night the skywalk collapsed?” and they will give you an immediate answer.

Thirty-four years on and the memories of that night are still fresh for many.

“It was one of the worst tragedies in Kansas City’s history,” says Brent Wright, president of the Skywalk Memorial Foundation.

Wright and several others officially broke ground Friday on a memorial to the tragedy. It will be in Hospital Hill Park near Gilham Road and 22nd Street, just across the street from the hotel in which the disaster occurred.

Litigation tied to the disaster played a role in delaying the memorial

“This is long overdue to those who lost their lives, to those who were injured, and to the first responders,” Wright told a crowd of more than 100 gathered on a humid summer morning.

On July 17, 1981, during a tea dance in the lobby of the then-Hyatt Regency hotel, a four-story high skywalk collapsed onto a walkway two stories beneath it. That walkway also collapsed. In total, 114 peopled died and another 200 were injured.

“We had gone out for a fun time,” recalls survivor Sol Koenigsberg, who attended the dance with his wife Rosette. “All of a sudden, it all went dark.”

Now 90, Koenigsberg was on hand at the groundbreaking, along with 92-year old Leonard Rose. Rose found himself trapped in the rubble that night for more than four hours.

“It was an out-of-body experience,” he says. “I had broken bones in my head, my back, my arms.”

As anniversaries of the disaster came and went, some doubted whether the memorial would ever actually happen. Ultimately, the Skywalk Memorial Foundation raised more than $500,000 for the project. Kansas City-born artist Rita Blitt designed an abstract sculpture as the centerpiece of the memorial.

More than 30 organizations and individuals are listed as donors to the memorial fund, including Hyatt Hotels, which ran the hotel at the time of the disaster. It is now a Sheraton.

Kyle Palmer is the editor of the Shawnee Mission Post, a digital news outlet serving Northeast Johnson County, Kansas. He previously served as KCUR's news director and morning newscaster.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.