News On This Day: Millions of Americans formed a human chain for charity

On This Day: Millions of Americans formed a human chain for charity

Celebrities like Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon and Liza Minnelli supported 'Hands Across America' at Battery Park in New York City. Photo: Getty
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On this day in 1986, long before ‘social distancing’ was part of our vernacular, more than five million held hands to form a human chain.

Called Hands Across America, the fundraiser event was organised by US music manager Ken Kragen and was intended to raise money for organisations fighting world hunger and homelessness.

The chain was formed on Sunday, May 25, about 3pm on the east coast, when millions of strangers held hands for 15 minutes.

A theme song titled Hands Across America, featuring singers Joe Cerisano, Sandy Farina and the band Toto, was played simultaneously on hundreds of radio stations at the same time.

The continuous human link was meant to stretch from New York to California, but complications got in the way.

Despite their claimed intent, there was no real chance of forming an unbroken human chain from coast to coast.

This was primarily because the link’s route spanned across hundreds of kilometres of deserted areas through the midwest and southwest that would have required hundreds of thousands of volunteers and huge operational costs to keep the chain intact.

But that didn’t mean Hands Across America was deemed a failure.

People join hands at the Hands Across America benefit in New York City. Photo: Getty

The quirky fundraising event was immensely popular in urban areas where there was greater enthusiasm and fundraising.

Many participants donated $10 to hold their place in the line, with the proceeds going to local charities.

Though Hands Across America raised $34 million, only $15 million was donated to charity after deducting the costs to produce the event.