In a coffee shop full of business suits and faces buried in laptops, one red cape glided across the room. People paused their work and looked up. In its wake, the cape left a trail of smiles and laughter.
“Hey, Mr. Cape Man!” one guy shouted as he patted him on the back.
In Kansas City, this red cape is iconic.
Michael Wheeler has been running along the streets of Kansas City for over 45 years, of which the last eight donning the cape that has given him the identity of KC Superman.
Originally from Oklahoma, Wheeler has lived in Kansas City for 64 years and calls it home. He has been running since he can remember.
After graduating from Westport High School in 1970, Wheeler was drafted into the military in 1971. Once out, he said this was a dark time in his life. He was suicidal, depressed, and didn’t want to keep going.
His sister was murdered in Kansas City the same decade and Wheeler said it tore him apart. After the death of more family members, Wheeler said he had to do something.
“I’ve had five members of my family murdered in Kansas City,” said Wheeler. “My sister, uncle, two cousins, and my nephew. That’s what really made me take this to the streets. Going and running is my outreach.”
Wheeler said running is his way of making a difference. He decided to put on the cape eight years ago. Taking notice of the crime epidemic in the city, he asked himself what he could do.
He said he put on the cape and everything changed.
He runs approximately ten to fifteen miles a day, sometimes more.
With the red cape clasped around his neck by a safety pin, Wheeler said this is the fourth one he has had to make in eight years.
“They get tattered and worn out. I usually go to a costume shop and find a red cape and put the decorations on myself.”
He runs throughout the entire city, but said he always runs through what some consider rough neighborhoods, stopping to play football with the kids and take photos.
Wheeler has four children and nine grandchildren. He laughs when he says he can still win a race against his eleven-year-old grandson even after giving him a head start.
He begun to gain recognition, meet celebrities, and become famous around Kansas City.
He’s taken the cape to Ferguson, Baltimore, Dallas, and other cities plagued with gun violence.
“I was bold. I just ran through those cities and everyone wanted to meet me and take a picture.”
While he has been all around the nation, his heart is here in Kansas City. He said the people here have become his extended family.
He tells a story of running on Prospect Avenue when three men ran up to him. They simply wanted a photo, but a nearby KCPD officer came over immediately to make sure Wheeler was okay.
His favorite place to run is through the heart of downtown, along Ward Parkway, and near the Liberty Memorial where the full skyline is visible.
Running through Kansas City for 45 years, Wheeler said he has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. Even though he’s witnessed so much, he said he doesn’t want to become numb to the crime issue in Kansas City.
“I’ve seen body bags, I’ve seen people spraying off the streets after someone was killed,” he said. “People seem to be getting used to it, like it’s a common thing, but I don’t ever want to get used to that.”
He likens his life to the classic film, Forrest Gump. After being drafted, he laced up his shoes and started to run, finding solace in his shoes hitting pavement. He met officials and political leaders, being present for many historical moments.
He digs deep in his memory and thinks back on the murder of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.
“I was a big fan of MLK,” he said. “I was in my bedroom, listening to my reel-to-reel tape recorder, narrating the ‘I have a dream’ speech when he was shot.”
While the red cape has changed the spirits of thousands of Kansas Citians, Wheeler said it is time to hang up the cape.
A “Farewell to the Cape” run will be held Saturday, February 23. The run will begin at the Liberty Memorial and end at the KC Superman Mural at 41st St. & Pennsylvania Ave.
He said one of his favorite memories while wearing the cape was when he met Trent Green, a quarterback for the Chiefs from 2001 to 2006.
“I met Trent Green downtown,” he said, smiling at the memory. “I had my football with me. I said ‘Hey Trent, do you know how to throw a football? Hit me with a long pass!’ I caught it, did my dance, and I said ‘Tell Andy Reed I’m a free agent!’”
So what is next for Wheeler?
He said he will probably be busier now than he was with the cape. He aims to run through every capital city in the world. His goal of running around every capital building in the nation was met in 1998. It took him a full year.
He also plans to run the Great Wall Marathon in China this May.
Wheeler said there have been talks of displaying the cape at the Negro League Baseball Museum once he retires.
“I won’t stop running,” said Wheeler. “Not till my last breath.”
If you have a photo or story of KC Superman, please submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org. A book will be compiled for Wheeler to thank him for the positive impact he has made on everyone in Kansas City.