THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Saturday, August 9, 1975 1
Page Six THE MiCHIGAN DAILY Saturday, August 9, 1 97~
By BETH NISSEN
When President Ford h e a d e d the
National Cherry Festival Parade in Tra-
verse City on July 11, he was greeted
by 300,000 cheering people lining both
sides of the street. At least, there were
300,000 people welcoming him if you be-
lieve the official estimate of the National
Cherry Festival organizers.
If you read a morning-after newspaper
that subscribed to the Associated Press,
there were 250,000 people straining to
see the Chief Executive. And if you lis-
tened to the local radio broadcast, there
were an even half a million President
Crowd estimating simply means using
judgment to determine the quantity of
people present in any one place. To an
eyewitness observer, the above estimates
are examples of either incredibly poor
judgment or double vision. Estimates in
200,000 people along the streets would
be equivalent to 20 people in a telephone
booth. If there were half a million in
attendance, it would be equivalent to
41 people in a phone booth-well over
the recorded world's record for human
Given the available space in the area,
there were probably only 40,000 to 50,000
people watching and pointing at the
President. Yet even this estimate is
somewhat inflated as the crowd was not
packed solidly all along the streets; it
thinned out in the residential area to-
ward the end of the route.
However, no one is sure where the
numbers came from.
"According to the Traverse City Po-
lice, the crowd at the parade was run-
ning at 300,000," said Dorothy Walk-
meyer, Executive Director of the Na-
tional Cherry Festival in Traverse City.
Fudging the figures
the area media and national media
ranged from 100,000 to 500,000, with most
estimates hovering between 250,000 and
Mathematically, the most widely pub-
lished estimates can be emphatically
disproven. The parade route was a mile
and a quarter long. The sidewalks along
the route are 12 feet wide for two thirds
of the way, and five feet wide for the
remaining third. Counting both sides of
the street, the calculated total space is
127,000 square feet,
"It is usual to calculate about three
square feet per person if conditions are
not packed tight," said Captain Robert
Conn, an Ann Arbor Police officer and a
veteran crowd estimator. "And if con-
ditions are crowded, two square feet per
person is about the minimum space for
the purposes of estimation."
If there were 250,000 people along that
Traverse City parade route, each one
would be allotted one-half a square foot
-about the size of one square tile of
linoleum. Even if the crowd were only
100,000 strong, the space allotment per
person would be 1.28 square feet of
cement sidewalk;-or grass lawn in the.
residential section of the parade route.
For a town the size of Traverse City,
the crowds along the parade route were
very large, yet even along the most
crowded section of the route people were
standing no more than 8 or 9 deep. The
density of thercrowd as estimatedby'
officials was totally unbelievable, not
to m e n t i.o n physically excruciating
"I think 300,000 is an accurate estimate."
A dispatcher for the Traverse City
Police said the police had never given
an official estimate to anyone. "It was
the local media that w e r e saying
300,000," she said. "We don't know how
that figure was arrived at."
The Traverse City Record-Eagle finally
printed an estimate of 250,000 in their
story of the President's visit.
"I don't know where we got that num-
ber for sure," said Record-Eagle re-
porter Bill Pritchard. "I think we all
discussed it and decided after asking
each other 'what do you think?' I per-
sonally have trouble estimating any
crowd over 200."
The local radio station, WCCW, esti-
mated the crowd as "up to 500,000" in
attendance, amending it in later broad-
casts to 300,000.
"I have done the unofficial estimates
of the crowd at Cherry Festival parades
in the past," said John Anderson, Presi-
dent and General Manager of WCCW and
member of the Cherry Festival Board
of Trustees. "My procedure is to make
a rough count of one block and multiply
it by the number of blocks. Then I ad-
just it after talking to people and get-
ting estimates of the crowd in compari-
son to previous years crowds. There
are other ways, too, like using arithmetic
and cars and seeing what the parking
The local radio station WGTU used.
the estimate of 250,000 broadcasted by
the Grand Traverse County Sheriff's De-
"250,000?" asked Undersheriff Jack
Canfield. "Wonder how they got that.
As far as I knew we didn't do any offi-
cial estimate. That was probably some-
body's best guess. We count 'em like
you count geese in a geese sanctuary.
You just count all the geese in a square,
then you count squares and multiply."
"Experience is the best procedure for
estimating crowds," said Ann Arbor
police Captain Conn. "We know the ca-
pacity of certain places in the area that
often hold a lot of people. We know the
capacity of the stadium, and familiar
areas like the diag."
Crowd estimation in many cases en-
tails actually much more than providing
a numerical figure for the sake of gen-
eral information. The numbers of people
attending an event is a vital part of the
scene, and gives a distinct impression of
Prior to Ford's visit to Traverse City,
some White House staffers were con-
cerned that the city would not produce
a crowd worthy of the President, since
there are only 46,000 people in all of
Grand Traverse County.
"The locals were saying there were
500,000 people cheering for the Presi-
dent," said White House staffer Eric
Rosenberger. "They were just very ex-
cited by his visit, and I think they went
a little overboard. But it made it look
like the whole state was here to wave
Putting a head count on a crowd is
perhaps at no time more political than
during an election year and in campaign
reporting. Inflating the number of sup-
porters or hecklers can make or break
a public figure's popularity rating -
which brings to mind the power of the
journalist covering a particular event.
Even reputedly objective reporters
could subconsciously inflate or deflate
their crowd estimations to create an
impression that is more or less favor-
able to the cause at hand. And when
reporters do their best to give accurate
estimates, their copy is often changed
to agree with more official sources.
From an overall point of view, the art
of crowd estimation can become almost
ludicrous, because it is deceptively easy
to deal with pure numbers rather than
human beings. Estimating a crowd like
the one in Traverse City assumeshan
auction-like quality (300,000? Do I hear
400,000?). The difference between the
estimates published by Traverse City's
newspapers and radio station was not
merely a difference in numbers. It -was
a difference of 50,000 people, more than
the total enrollment of the Ann Arbor,
Dearborn and Flint campuses of the
University of Michigan.
It is obviously necessary to give a
more -specific description of the crowd
than to say that it was small, light, or
big, which means assigning a number
"It is all a matter of guessing," said
Grand Traverse County Undersheriff
Canfield. "It just depends on which
guess the newspapers want to believe,
and which guess they publish. Do people
think somebody counts all the feet and
divides by two? No, somebody just looks
out over a bunch of people and says,
'Well, looks like about 300,000 to me.'"
"I personally thought there were only
about 100,000 here in Traverse City,"
said Rosenberger. "But there is no one
central place doing the estimation, and
there isn't a perfect formula for it. You
end up with some pretty wild guesses
getting published as accurate counting.
No one ever really knows how many
there are unless theycount heads."
Beth Nissen is a member of the
editorial page staff.