This well-preserved embossed tray was unearthed during a backyard gardening project at a South Kansas City home. It is a limited-edition souvenir that accompanied an invitation to the Priests of Pallas ball in 1906. Elite Kansas City businessmen and community leaders first organized and sponsored the Priests of Pallas festivities in 1887 and held the event every October through 1912, and then sporadically until 1924. The organizers created the ostentatiously staged event to entice people from throughout the region to downtown Kansas City for the week-long experience. They hoped to highlight the city’s progress and prosperity and encourage visitors to spend their harvest earnings in the local hotels and businesses. The founders selected the Goddess Athena, pictured in the center of the tray, as the primary symbol for the event. The Grecian theme promotes Kansas City as the “Athens of the West” — an important American city on the rise. At the height of the Priests of Pallas’s popularity, as many as 500,000 spectators viewed the themed parades, which featured extravagantly decorated floats.
The Priest of Pallas festivities were meant to boost Kansas City commerce, but they also served to project the class dominance of the elite organizers. Although people from all classes and backgrounds viewed the parade, elite Kansas Citians and those associated with them played leading roles by marshaling the parades and riding on the floats in elaborate costumes. And only elite Kansas Citians received invitations to the many parties and the exclusive ball on the final night. While not as controversial or as long-lived as St. Louis’s Veiled Prophet, Priests of Pallas nonetheless served a similar role by engaging the trappings of ceremony to demonstrate the elite’s social and economic power and set them apart from their working-class counterparts.
Categories: Arts & Culture, Business & Economy
Subject: Priests of Pallas; Dancing; Businesses
Contributing Institution: Private Collection
Region: Kansas City Metro