In 1981 the suspended walkways—or “skywalks”—in Kansas City’s Hyatt Regency hotel fell and killed 114 people. It was the deadliest building collapse in the United States until the fall of New York’s Twin Towers on 9/11. In Skywalks R. Eli Paul follows the actions of attorney Robert Gordon, an insider to the bitter litigation that followed. Representing the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against those who designed, built, inspected, owned, and managed the hotel, Gordon was tenacious in uncovering damaging facts. He wanted his findings presented before a jury, where his legal team would assign blame from underlings to corporate higher-ups, while securing a massive judgment in his clients’ favor.
But when the case was settled out from under Gordon, he turned to another medium to get the truth out: a quixotic book project that consumed the rest of his life. For a decade the irascible attorney-turned-writer churned through a succession of high-powered literary agents, talented ghost writers, and New York trade publishers. Gordon’s resistance to collaboration and compromise resulted in a controversial but unpublishable manuscript, “House of Cards,” finished long after the public’s interest had waned. His conclusions, still explosive but never receiving their proper attention, laid the blame for the disaster largely at the feet of the hotel’s owner and Kansas City’s most visible and powerful corporation, Hallmark Cards Inc.
Gordon gave up his lucrative law practice and lived the rest of his life as a virtual recluse in his mansion in Mission Hills, Kansas. David had fought Goliath, and to his despair, Goliath had won. Gordon died in 2008 without ever seeing his book published or the full truth told. Skywalks is a long-overdue corrective, built on a foundation of untapped historical materials Gordon compiled, as well as his own unpublished writings.
R. Eli Paul is the former director of the Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Kansas City Public Library. His public history career has spanned four decades, including previous tenures at the Nebraska State Historical Society, Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, and the National World War I Museum. Paul is the author or editor of several books, including Eyewitness at Wounded Knee (Nebraska, 2016), Autobiography of Red Cloud: War Leader of the Oglalas, and Blue Water Creek and the First Sioux War, 1854–1856.
"Paul's account is clear and well-paced even as he takes the reader through the weeds of legal arguments, filings, and rulings. It is a laudable and worthy addition to the skywalks story."—Steve Paul, Missouri Historical Review
“Through this overdue telling of the skywalks collapse, readers confront powerful, disturbing questions about the ways truth and justice after a tragedy can be crushed by the quick social need for narrative consensus, and about the consequences that land on flawed but courageous dissenters like Robert Gordon.”—James N. Leiker, coauthor of the award-winning The Northern Cheyenne Exodus in History and Memory
“Skywalks is the story of an obsession. But the obsession belongs to lawyer Robert Gordon. R. Eli Paul, the retired head of the Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Kansas City Public Library, has completed the job that Gordon could not. Paul brings not just rigor to the job but insight. This book is about influence and power in 1980s Kansas City, Missouri, and it is among the best literary nonfiction about place.”—Max McCoy, award-winning author of Elevations: A Personal Exploration of the Arkansas River