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How Kansas town survives 'Day After' fame (and fortune)

By Lucia MouatStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 30, 1983



Lawrence, Kan.

Once in a while these days a carload of visitors turns off Interstate 70 toward Lawrence in search of the missile silos. Longtime residents of this friendly university town in the midst of flat Kansas wheat country patiently explain that the Minuteman missiles that 100 million Americans saw launched on their television screens Nov. 20 in ABC's ''The Day After'' were only props.

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It's been well over a year now since the movie cameras were rolling here on the controversial film that simulated the effect on Lawrence of an atomic attack on nearby Kansas City. Some 200 residents and students here had temporary acting jobs. Hundreds more volunteered as unpaid extras.

The excitement level was high. ''That's all we talked about here for awhile, '' recalls Tracy Kite as she waits on the regular steady stream of morning customers at Jennings Daylight Donuts on Massachusetts Street, the city's main shopping corridor, which appeared strewn with debris and abandoned cars in the movie.

But more than a month has passed since the well-publicized television event that put Lawrence on the map for many Americans. And this community of 52,000 has been sitting back to take stock of all the increased attention coming its way.

The movie's most tangible effect has been economic.

A study by the local University of Kansas Institute for Economic and Business Research suggests that the filming itself, including ripple effects, jacked up the area's income by a sizable $2.1 million.

The cooperation between townspeople and ABC Circle Film personnel was such that John A. Myers, director of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, predicts that Lawrence would get ''glowing reviews'' from ABC if and when the reference was needed.

''I do think all this will have some impact on our ability to bring additional film companies to town,'' Mr. Myers says. ''The relationship between the people of this community and ABC was absolutely unbelievable.''

And Lawrence officials are also hoping there may be some softer economic spinoffs from the increased name recognition. One Texas manufacturer, prompted by the movie to look up Lawrence on the map, recently phoned an offer of a Midwestern dealership to a Lawrence businessman.

''It may give us a little edge over another town of the same size in trying to attract a modest-size convention - it certainly makes us better known,'' says Lawrence Mayor David Longhurst. He recently attended a National League of Cities conference in New Orleans where other mayors often asked what he thought of the movie and if Lawrence was really ''still there.''

''I don't know exactly what the impact is, but it certainly isn't negative,'' Mr. Meyers says.

Though it has no direct connection with the film, industrially diverse Lawrence (there are Quaker Oats, TRW, and Hallmark plants here among others, and unemployment is a low 3.5 percent) recently hired its first economic development director. And a new research park site is being cleared in the hope of attracting a number of chemical and pharmaceutical firms, areas in which the university is particularly strong.

No stranger to controversy, Lawrence was settled in the 1850s as a ''free state'' or antislavery center and lost 150 local residents in a massive 1863 raid on the town by a self-styled general named William Clark Quantrill and a group of proslavery advocates. And last year Lawrence voters approved a nuclear freeze referendum by a strong 74 percent margin.