When Kansas stepped back to finally wish itself a happy 150th birthday Saturday in Wichita, here's what it saw: Longhorn cattle clip-clopping down Main Street, Gov. Sam Brownback and Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer waving from horseback on either side of the cattle drive, and an unpredictable mix of Kansas businesses, organizations, places and marching bands pass by in an hourlong parade.
The grassroots effort not to let the sesquicentennial slip by without a statewide celebration drew a rough estimate of 3,000 people, said Jan Hiebert of the Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau.
A Home on the Range concert drew 2,000 people and stirred state pride afterward at Century II, while rainfall near the end of the parade put a damper on an encampment that had been planned outside the convention hall.
"This is really special for us," Deanne Langness, head of the Goodland Cowboy Marching Band, said. The band doesn't usually get to march in parades, but they drove 6 1/2 hours Friday and stayed in a Park City motel overnight to be in what was billed as the Kansas 150 Festival.
The hit of the parade for the Goodland high-schoolers and for many others was nature —in the form of horses and the 30 head of longhorn cattle that moved along in good formation near the front of the parade, their great horns sometimes just a few feet from little children sitting along the curbs.
Adults grinned, providing their own parade of upheld iPads and cell phones to record the march. At one point the lead cows stopped, as if posing, before their drivers got them moving again.
"Hi cows! Where's the beef? I won't eat ya! That one's a little skinny," Pat Stewart of Wichita hollered at the passing bovines.
"They are so pretty," Katie Prevatte of Wichita said in an awestruck tone.
"You forget how big those longhorns are," Dan Allen of Augusta said. He had two of his children in tow but confessed with a grin that, "I think I came to see Carl Brewer on a horse."
Other things Allen got to see: suffragettes clutching sunflower bouquets, Confederate soldiers looking somber, square dancers promenading to "Home on the Range," and residents of Lucas —"expect the unexpected" — lounging in old bathtubs.
A solitary old sailor marched in uniform behind the banner for the Old Soldiers & Sailors Reunion in Erie, while people from Spirit AeroSystems clutched tethers to two giant airplane balloons, escorted by a car driven by Batman and Robin.
"That's the old Batmobile," Robert Trujillo of Colwich told his children.
A red Nissan Cube carried the message of the Red Line Division of the Midland Trail, an early transcontinental route, that Highway 24 is the "shortest best route across Kansas," and a seemingly unmanned giant Salvation Army kettle rumbled down the middle of the street.
There were some wide-open spaces between people along the early part of the parade route down Main Street. The parade didn't bring in the tends of thousands of people that a Wichita River Festival parade does — but the magnitude depended on your perspective.
"I didn't expect it to be this large. This is awesome," said Teresa Bauck of Emporia.
Robin Justice, a junior at Washburn University from Newton who was in the parade, said she thought it was great that so many people came out.
Marching bands from Goodland to Wichita to Parsons to Leavenworth provided a good beat, but it took the announcer to tell the crowd to applaud for the high-schoolers who traveled all the way from Goodland.
When the rain arrived, people sought shelter at Century II, where booths at the encampment were either shut down or moved under the eaves. Many paradegoers walked into the open doors of a Fit for Life Expo that was going on in concert with the Prairie Fire Marathon that is being run downtown this morning.
The Goodland marching band was kicked out of an adjoining hallway that was apparently off-limits though not closed off. Because of the rain, they decided to grab something to eat and then head back home.
The Leavenworth marching band, on the other hand, had driven to Wichita on Saturday morning and stayed for the Home on the Range concert before making the same-day drive back home.
Ron and Joyce Young of Derby were excited about the concert because they'd seen an earlier, smaller version in Hutchinson and loved it. They found the parade disappointing.
"I guess we expected to see more old-float types, more history," Roy Young said.
On the other hand, said Judy Montgomery of Garden Plain, "that was the best parade I've ever seen."
The Home on the Range concert filled about three-quarters of the Convention Hall, drawing thunderous cheers for the African-American Arise choir, the Diamond W Wranglers and the Wichita Children's Choir among the 120 performers.