The Day SF Became Gotham City: How a Metropolis Is Making a 5-Year-Old's Wish Come True
See how Make-a-Wish helped a 5-year-old Batman fan become a real-life hero
On Friday, November 15, San Francisco became Gotham. The city did not do this for Comic-Con, nor to film a new movie. The city did this to fulfill the dreams of a five-year-old boy named Miles with leukemia.
Miles hails from Tulelake, in Northern California. He was diagnosed with leukemia at just 18 months old, but ended treatments in June. Fortunately, he is now in remission, and ready to take on his next big, brave mission: becoming Batkid.
“I’ve been planning the wish and working with the family since March,” said Patricia Wilson, executive director of the Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area chapter. “[Miles] worked with our volunteers up in Northern California. He wanted to be Batman. When I knew the wish, I made my crazy declaration that I was going to turn San Francisco into Gotham City.”
Wilson outlined a few crime-fighting escapades: Simple capers for Miles to solve around the city before the day’s end, concluding with a ceremony hosted by the mayor. She estimated the rallying venture would need a few volunteers for each caper, plus around 200 locals for the finale. This plan, however, was before the Internet found out.
“One of the volunteers saw everything that we’d planned out for this wish and said, ‘This is the coolest wish ever,’ and posted it to their Facebook page,” Wilson said. “One of their friends who happens to be a blogger saw it and wrote about it, and off it went. I’ve been playing catch-up ever since.”
Thanks largely to social media, Miles’s “Batkid” wish started getting nationwide attention.
“I’ve had people call me from Australia, Norway,” San Francisco Chief of Police Greg Suhr, whose department is assisting with Miles’s wish, said. “We were hoping to have 500 people there for the hero’s thank-you at City Hall and as of right now we’ve had almost 8,000 RSVPs.”
Wilson ballparked the total number of participants at over 10,000.
“Talk about a city with its heart in the right place,” said Chief Suhr. “There’s so many negative stories out there, and this one is just so uplifting. It just takes one of these to serve as a million miles of gasoline for me.”
Miles will be shepherded around the city by a “real” Batman, Eric Johnston, a Bay Area inventor and acrobat. Johnston will drive a Lamborghini that Make-A-Wish has customized into a Batmobile. Wilson says it’s “probably the only custom Lamborghini with a car seat.”
Miles’s day will begin by saving a “damsel in distress from the Hyde Street cable-car tracks. Next, he’ll proceed to the city’s financial district to foil the Riddler, who will be caught in the act of robbing a bank vault. Then, Batkid will get a message from Police Chief Suhr, offering to buy him and Batman lunch. Alas, Suhr says “they ll get another message from me apologizing for interrupting their well-deserved hero’s lunch, but ‘Please, Lou Seal [the Giants’s mascot] is in trouble!'”
The intrepid pair will rush off to AT&T Park, where they’ll save Lou Seal, at which point a message on the JumboTron will prompt them to head to City Hall for a hero’s welcome. Upon arrival, they’ll be greeted by what Suhr estimates will be a crowd of 10,000 – many of whom will be wearing custom “BatKid” t-shirts, designed by Suhr’s son – as Mayor Ed Lee then presents Batkid with a special Ghiardelli-designed key to the city.
“[Mayor] Ed Lee said, ‘Do you think he wants the real key to city?’ said Suhr. “And I said, ‘Mr. Mayor, when you were five, did you want a piece of metal in a felt box, or did you want a giant hunk of chocolate?’ And he said, ‘Point taken, Chief.'”
While the Make-A-Wish Foundation is well-known for their inspirational, heartwarming projects on behalf of children and families, but Wilson was humbled by this particularly rare and tremendous effort.
“I’ve been at Make-A-Wish [for] 15 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this. Over the past few days, Miles has been getting more mail in the office than we have, she said when asked about Batkid’s unprecedented appeal. “[People] want to have a positive impact and make the world a better place in a small way, and this is giving them the opportunity to do so.”
Chief Suhr agrees: “Talk about heroes, man. [People] talk about cops and firefighters being heroes for kids, but for Miles to go through what he went through…” He trails off. “They waited for his leukemia treatment to be finished so he’d have the strength for his day. That was my concern I thought it’d be a lot for him, but they said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ And it’s true. Look at the picture of him. He’s beaming. And he’s still beaming.”
Miles, the city of San Francisco, and everyone volunteering to make Batkid’s wish come true on Friday are proof that you don’t always have to wear a cape to be a hero.
“We are a city that knows how to come together,” San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee told PEOPLE. “Thank you to Miles for letting us be a part of his wish. San Francisco has truly been inspired by the courage of this little boy.”
Even President Obama was impressed – on Friday evening, the White House shared a Vine video applauding Batkid’s efforts. “Way to go Miles,” he says. “Way to save Gotham.”
If you’d like to help the Make-A-Wish Foundation, click here to find out how.