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Balloon Glow Illuminates World War I Museum And Memorial As Kansas City Reopens

Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Balloonists fire their burners Sunday night on the north lawn of the World War I Museum and Memorial.

A massive crowd gathered at the National World War I Museum and Memorial on Sunday for hot-air balloons, food trucks, music and military displays, part of a weekend-long tribute to America's war dead.

Kansas Citians took advantage of accommodating weather — and the lifting of COVID-19 precautions — to swamp the World War I Museum and Memorial grounds on Sunday for a hot-air balloon glow.

Organizers say more than 30,000 people gathered to watch 12 hot air balloons inflate and illuminate their colorful fabric bags, called envelopes. There were food trucks and a festive atmosphere ahead of a planned Memorial Day observance on Monday.

Carlos Moreno
Katrina Combs and her daughter, Keona, 2, walk through the water feature at the World War I Museum and Memorial on Sunday. Combs is a Marine veteran.

Usually the Kansas City Symphony performs at Union Station the Sunday before Memorial Day, drawing thousands of people to the museum grounds. But the event has been canceled two years in a row because of the pandemic.

The balloon glow was planned with social distancing in mind, though in recent weeks COVID-19 public health orders have been rescinded.

“One of our objectives is to help people be able to access thinking about the service of veterans and the sacrifice of veterans, which is what Memorial Day is about,” said WWI Museum CEO Matthew Naylor.

He said there was a link to World War I with the balloon glow.

Carlos Moreno
Crowds wait and watch on the north lawn of the World War I Museum and Memorial where hot air balloons began to inflate Sunday evening. Organizers at the Museum and Memorial estimated the crowd exceeded 30,000 people.

“Dirigibles, or hot air balloons, were used for reconnaissance, and that was the sort of the beginning of that technology,” he said. “We see it really in its glory. It will be a beautiful sight for us all.”

Long lines of visitors snaked through the grounds waiting for a chance to buy from food trucks. Not expecting such a massive crowd, many sold out of food early.

But as people stood in line, the orange, red, purple and other brightly-colored canopies turned upright, eliciting cheers and applause.

Carlos Moreno
Donovan Jones, 17, fills up a bag of kettle corn inside a food truck Sunday on the south lawn of the World War I Museum and Memorial. Jones stayed constantly busy as crowds formed long lines for everything from popcorn to Thai to crepes.

The sky darkened. Balloon pilots blasted their burners into the envelopes, making the balloons glow and illuminating the museum grounds and Liberty Memorial around them. The glowing envelopes cast long shadows, and the burgeoning crowd soaked in the sights and sounds of one of Kansas City’s first mass gatherings in over a year.

Many in the crowd expressed relief, including Marine veteran Katrina Combs.

“We definitely needed this as a community with everything that happened last year," said Combs, who attended with her husband, an Army veteran, and their 2-year-old daughter. "It’s really great to see people out and about.”

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