By Dorri Partain
Whether the photo is black and white or taken in today’s digital format, generations of Kansas City youngsters have posed with the Country Club Plaza’s Easter statues.
While the original creator is unknown, the human-sized white bunnies first appeared in 1922 at the Crestwood Shops, a then-new retail development by J.C. Nichols. The bunnies moved from the sidewalks at 55th and Oak streets to Nichols’ newest development, the Country Club Plaza, in 1931 and they’ve made annual Easter time appearances there ever since.
The Plaster of Paris rabbits weigh 200 lbs. each and are decorated as boy or girl bunnies, with the boys wearing decorated jackets and the girls in flowing floor-length dresses. Each boy has their respective name painted on their jacket collar, while the girl’s names appear on the side of the basket on their arm.
Originally there were five boys: Lee, Nickolas, Brian, Joe, and Peter. Joe was snatched from his location in the 1990’s and has never been replaced. The girls are named Bess, Ellyn, Sue, Kate, and Amy – who was originally named Flo but was renamed for a maintenance worker’s daughter one year during the annual paint-touch-up process.
In 2015, all the bunnies were outfitted with specially made Royals’ baseball jerseys bearing each rabbit’s name and the number 15 to celebrate opening day at Kauffman Stadium.
Each year since about 1970, the bunnies have been joined by a menagerie named the Wonderland Animals that includes a turtle, pelican, elephant, kangaroo, and lion that may be more appealing than the giant bunnies to young Plaza visitors.
Prior to 2001, when the glowing red light bulb bunny eyes were removed, many children were spooked by their appearance, referring to them as “demon rabbits.” White or albino rabbits actually do have red eyes, but the change has been a positive move. To ensure the bunnies will last for generations to come, they were given a fiberglass coating in 1971.
In this photo dated 1937, children named Paul and Gladys clasp hands while posed with an unnamed Plaza bunny.