On May 25, 1986 a fundraising benefit for the homeless and hungry was held called “Hands Across America”. On that day, approximately 5.5 to 6.5 million (due to the enormity of the recording keeping this number varies by about 1 million!) people joined together holding hands to form a human chain across the continental United States.
The line spanned 4,152 miles. It started in New York City’s Battery Park and ended at the RMS Queen Mary Pier in Long Beach, California. Many participants donated $10 to reserve their place in line and to donate to the cause.
Corporation sponsors were encouraged to organize different sections of the line and were allowed to sell promotional products like t shirts and memorabilia in their sections. They could purchase a section of the line from $15,000 per mile to $50,000.
Citibank, Coca Cola, McDonald’s were just some of the sponsors. Video feeds were donated from ESPN and MTV. An estimated 5.5 – 6.5 million people and several hundred corporations were believed to be involved in this event.
Celebrities at different locations across the United States joined in help the cause. Some of the famous names (not in any particular order) included: President Ronald Reagan, Liza Minelli, Cardinal John O’Connor, Yoko Ono, Jerry Lewis, Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, Michael Jackson, Governor Bill Clinton, etc.
And of course, many shared in the fun by adding some humor, so also in attendance were: 50 Abraham Lincoln impersonators in Springfield, Illinois, 54 Elvis Presley impersonators in Memphis Tennessee, Mickey Mouse and Goofy in Long Beach, California, and even R2D2 in Baltimore, Maryland.
There were some breaks in the chain, especially across long dessert roads. In some cases, balloons marked the path, or truckers tooted their horns as they travelled the road. Some places had rain with poor turnouts. But most places had amazing turnouts. A cornfield in Illinois served as the center point to this benefit, and approximately 16,000 people showed up in celebration and community awareness of homelessness.
Ken Kragen organized and dreamed up the event. The theme song “Hands Across America” was played on hundreds of radio stations at exactly 3:00 Eastern time and 12 Noon Pacific time that day. The song “Hands Across America” was written by Marc Blatte and John Carney. The song only went up to #65 on the Billboard Hot 100 that year.
And of course, people found things to protest over. Senator Edward Kennedy led a protest that every state was not included in this benefit. Political leaders from the south joined the protest, and so did some the upper Midwest (Minneapolis and Milwaukee). Even Hawaii had a say in the event, reminding people that Hawaii was part of America also.
The entire event lasted 15 minutes long. During the 15 minutes the chain of people holding hands from one side of our nation to the other sang the song “Hands Across America”. The fundraiser raised $34 million and got media and political attention to focus on assisting the homeless.