Estimate 3.1 Million Came To 50th Annual Air & Water
Hey, maybe they all came out to see
Bill Murray's parachute jump. Attendance
figures cited by the city of Chicago for last weekend's 50th Annual
Chicago Air & Water Show invited skepticism, and called
attention to the imperfect (cough) science of gauging crowd
attendance at air shows and other large public events.
The Chicago Tribune reports city organizers estimate around 3.1
million people visited the show from Friday afternoon through
Sunday... far above the usual 2 million visitor average the show
has garnered in years past, when it was only a two-day affair.
That's an impressive number... but many say it's unlikely the
show attracted an extra 1.1 million attendees for that extra
half-day. By comparison, officials point out, the city's
world-renowned Taste of Chicago festival pulled in 3.56 million
people over 10 days.
Over-inflated attendance numbers are nothing new for air
shows... but the matter isn't necessarily one of nefarious intent.
Organizers in Chicago admit the method for calculating attendance
numbers at large public events like the waterfront air show is an
imperfect science, at best.
Cindy Gatziolis, spokeswoman for the Mayor's Office of Special
Events, says aerial photographs of the crowds were compared against
mathematical formulas used by police to estimate known crowd levels
in a number of areas. Those numbers are then increased to account
for new arrivals, who add to the crowd as others head home.
"We do see constant flow coming in and out," Gatziolis said.
And if Chicago's estimates are off... well, it wouldn't be the
first time that's happened. Initially, officials said over a
million people attended the 1979 papal mass by Pope John Paul II in
Grant Park; months later, aerial photos showed the crowd to be
somewhere between 65,000 and 350,000 people. That large spread is a
prime example of how hard it is to estimate crowd levels, officials
In another infamous example, the National Park Service took flak
for saying only 400,000 or so people attended the 1994 "Million Man
March" on Washington, DC. A study by the Boston University Center
for Remote Sensing later said the crowd was somewhere around
873,000, with a 15 percent margin of error.
Amidst allegations of deliberate undercounting for the
racially-charged event, the Park Service stopped trying to count
Though questions will likely remain for some time regarding how
many really attended Chicago's air show, there are signs attendance
was definitely up. Over 9,000 programs were sold, 3,000 more than
in past years... a number roughly in keeping with the 50 percent
increase in attendance cited by officials.
Organizers ran out of press credentials Friday afternoon, and
some souvenir stands ran out of products to sell by Saturday. (And
Bill's jump went fine, too.)