10/13/2015

Cadillac's 'KISS' weekend includes monument unveiling

CADILLAC, Mich. (WZZM) A 4,300 pound granite monument commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Kiss concert at Cadillac High School was unveiled Saturday, capping a journey that began eight months earlier from the other side of the world.

The slab of black granite was shipped from India to Long Beach, Calif. before making the 1,860 mile journey to Patten Monument Co. in Comstock Park, Mich.

"It arrived in excellent condition, not a scratch,'' said Andrew Bolt, president of the 98-year-old business specializing in bronze and granite monuments quarried in the United States and across the world.

A laser engraver worked non-stop for four days etching the black slab, which measures 6 feet tall by 5 feet wide and is bolted to a poured concrete slab. Etching took place Sept. 29 through Oct. 2 and the monument arrived in Cadillac last Thursday.

A crisp, clear Saturday morning provided the backdrop for the official unveiling attended by several hundred people including nearly two dozen players from the storied 1975 Vikings football team. The slab sits on a corner of the high school's Veterans Memorial Stadium overlooking Lake Cadillac.

"Absolutely beautiful,'' said former Vikings assistant coach Jim Neff, who along with former head coach David Brines unveiled the monument as members of the Kiss tribute band Mr. Speed looked on. "It resembles a granite building.''

The $20,000 monument was financed by eight major civic and corporate sponsors, along with the Cadillac High School Class of 1976. It served as a backdrop for thousands of photos taken by legions who attended the Homecoming parade and the tribute band concert Saturday in the school gymnasium.

Neff, who organized the 40th anniversary event, kept information about the slab including inscriptions, under wraps so it would be a surprise at Saturday's 11 a.m. unveiling. Even employees at Patten Monument Co. north of Grand Rapids were sworn to secrecy.

"It was OK on our part keeping it secret, we are kind of used to doing jobs that have unveiling dates,'' Bolt said. "And it's really exciting whenever we can do something that's outside of our normal product this definitely qualifies.

"It's fun to be part of something that creates a real buzz and it makes me proud of the skill our employees put forth for the city of Cadillac,'' Bolt added. "When people think of granite, they don't think of an image that crisp.''

Crisp indeed.

One side has the band's iconic name and etched signatures of the four original Kiss members. There's also a 153-word summary of the band's connection to Cadillac High School and an iconic photo of the group posing on a city fire truck.

On the flip side are the words "Cadillac High Kiss Loves You!'' surrounded by five photos from 40 years ago. The upper left and lower right corners lists the football team's win-loss record for the 1974 and 1975 seasons.

The team lost its first two games in 1974. Prior to the third game, Neff began playing Kiss music in the locker room and the Vikings went on to win its next seven games to become North Central Conference co-champs.

They started the 1975 season with a 3-2 record leading up to the Kiss concert. The Vikings beat Chippewa Hills on the weekend of the Kiss invasion. They went on to win the next four games and were again crowned North Central Conference co-champs.

The monument sits outside the fenced football field for easy access. The vista affords views of the high school football field from one side and Lake Cadillac on the other.

Visitors leaving town Monday stopped by the monument for a final round of photos, said Joy Vandrie, executive director of the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau. "We are still having people from out-of-town getting their final pictures with the monument,'' Vandrie said. "How do you do a follow-up to such a glorious weekend?''

The monument is a super-sized replacement of a bronze plaque that read: "Kiss Loves You.'' The band gave it to the high school as a gift after its Oct. 9-10, 1975 appearance. The plaque was stolen from a wall outside the high school office within a year and has never been found.

"Its whereabouts remains a great mystery,'' Neff said. "Kiss fans have looked for this for ages.''

The Cadillac High School Class of 1976 replaced it five years ago; it's under glass and includes photos from the concert and the story behind the event.

Publicity about the 40th anniversary and tribute band concert brought thousands of visitors to Cadillac for the weekend. As estimated 1,800 people attended the tribute concert in the school gymnasium, Vandrie said.

"It was crazy; it was the biggest turnout for a Homecoming parade that I've ever seen,'' Neff said. "I had no idea how the town would go and my goodness it was packed.''

Vandrie called the Kiss weekend a "phenomenal success,'' noting that about half of the concert tickets sold online were to people living outside of Cadillac.

"We had people here from other cities, other states,'' Vandrie said. "The fall colors were turning, the weather was excellent it couldn't have been better.''

The Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau is putting together a video of the tribute weekend to forward to band members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, she said.

"They've been away for 40 years,'' Vandrie said. "We want to show them that Cadillac still loves Kiss and we want them back to see the monument.''

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