Each Thanksgiving Day in New York City since 1924, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the biggest event on the calendar. But not this year *sad face.
It’s only been cancelled three times in its 90 year history, due to helium shortages during the WWII years.
But this year, with Covid changing all sorts of events the world over, Macy’s is figuring how to keep the tradition alive and will include smaller numbers for social distancing as they “re-imagine” the parade.
This year we’ll be watching the balloons and socially-distanced marching bands from the comfort of our living rooms…
What is Thanksgiving Day actually celebrating?
For my non-US readers, Thanksgiving Day falls on the fourth Thursday in November and you’d be forgiven for thinking it is all about stuffing one’s face with turkey and green bean casserole (get my recipe here >>) and watching football from the vantage point of the couch all afternoon.
But giving thanks to God for the harvest, that’s what Thanksgiving is really about – ever since the pilgrims first came over from Britain to America and harvested their first crops.
In November of 1621, the newly arrived Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians from southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island gathered at Plymouth for an autumn harvest celebration, and thus the tradition of Thanksgiving began.
And by the way, a New England road trip in the fall is simply magical. (Bookmark this post for next year!)
Thanksgiving is also known for the three-hour live TV coverage of the parade in NYC with hundreds of floats, helium balloons, marching bands and the occasional superstar looking for a bit of nationwide coverage.
Most blogs about the iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City focus on the event itself, but this post covers all the funny and terrifying balloon accidents over the years!
Originally the Macy’s Parade was a Christmas parade with Santa enthroned on Macy’s balcony on 34th Street.
The first enormous helium balloons appeared in 1927 and have been the parade’s hallmark ever since, now involving around 8000 handlers, wranglers and marching bands in front of a crowd of over three million – and millions more who watch on TV.
The night before the parade is also an event in itself that you should get to if you’re in town: the filling of these monstrosities with helium just off Central Park and holding them down under netting until their flight the next day.
And when Thanksgiving day dawns one can only imagine how hard it is for the “balloon wranglers” to control these beasts should the weather turn inclement.
And yes, over the years there have been a few Thanksgiving day balloon disasters.
Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons that have run amok!
1927: Felix the Cat was the first one to make an appearance in the parade – but he caught fire after tangling with telephone wires.
1957: Popeye the Sailor’s hat filled with water during a heavy rain, which threw it off-course and poured 50 gallons of water on an unsuspecting and unhappy crowd.
1985: Kermit the Frog experienced a nasty stomach injury and collapsed to the ground in a heap.
1986: Raggedy Ann crashed into a lamppost and sent it into the street. The same year, Superman had his hand torn off by a tree. Neither incident caused any injuries to humans.
1993: Sonic the Hedgehog crashed into a lamppost at Columbus Circle and broke an off-duty police officer’s shoulder.
1994: Barney tore his side on a lamppost and had to be removed from the parade with the help of knife-wielding officials, crying kids and cheering adults.
1995: Dudley the Dragon, who was leading the parade, was speared and deflated on a lamppost and showered glass on the crowd below.
1997: This is the worst balloon disaster I found. High winds pushed the Cat in the Hat into a lamppost. The falling debris struck a parade-goer, fracturing her skull and left her in a coma for a month. She sued the city for $395 million and “settled for an undisclosed sum” in 2001. Size rules were subsequently implemented in 1998, banning larger balloons.
Those same high winds also caused the New York Police to have to stab and stomp down Barney over crowd concerns. They also stabbed Pink Panther for the same reason. I have searched Youtube for two days trying to find footage of the balloon stabbings, alas nothing. (If you have any please comment!)
2005: M&M‘s balloon caught on a streetlight in Times Square. Two sisters were struck by falling debris, suffering broken teeth and other injuries. The M&M’s balloon was retired after 2006 and replaced by a float saluting Broadway theatre and musicals. The sisters got a lifetime supply of M&Ms.
2008: a balloon took out the NBC camera booth taking their pictures off air. No word on “who” was the naughty gas-filled perpetrator.
2011: the Kool Aid man deflated and fell over. A bit like some of the people he purports to assist I’m thinking.
2012: Buzz Lightyear ripped his helmet and nearly went beyond infinity, ending up in a river while his handler ended up in hospital.
2019: Ronald McDonald had to be led off the parade with a tear in his leg. The rip was noticed in the morning as he was still trapped under his net, but Macy’s staff apparently couldn’t find tape to fix the 3-inch tear so sent him on his way. However the tear grew and he began to sag and was taken off for “aesthetic reasons”.
If you’re heading to NYC to watch the parade (not in 2020 though), this link to the Playbill Guide has a map of the parade route and tips on the best places to stand for the best views, plus who is performing.
You might like to read my post on how to have a fantastic New Year’s Eve in NYC!
About Megan Singleton
Hi, I’m Megan Singleton and I’m the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I’ve pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!)
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