Interesting Mishaps at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Interesting mishaps have happened at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Since I was a child, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been a marvel to me. Even now, in my sixties, I still get up every year and glance at it while I’m preparing the day’s meal. Tradition.

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The parade’s humble beginnings started in 1924 when employees of Macy’s dressed up in colorful costumes and marched through Herald Square to the infamous 34th Street store. They had floats and animals on display which were on loan from the Central Park Zoo.

Macy’s didn’t introduce balloons into the parade until 1927 when Felix the Cat, their first-ever balloon, made his debut. Felix wasn’t filled with helium, however. He was filled with hot air and had to be held up with sticks. Felix was manufactured by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.

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Most in the country wasn’t aware of the parade until it was featured in the 1947 film “Miracle on 34th Street,” when the movie included a real parade clip from the 1946 parade. This was our country’s version of “going viral” at the time.

Photo Courtesy Macy’s

As I was watching the parade this Thanksgiving morning, my husband asked me, “Has anyone ever gotten killed by one of those balloons?” I didn’t know, so I dug in. I didn’t find any deaths, but there were mishaps and injuries over the years.

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Instead of deflating the balloons after the parade, the handlers would just let them go and allow them to float away and deflate naturally. Macy’s launched a marketing campaign where people who ended up with one of the deflated balloons were awarded cash and prizes.

Unfortunately for Felix, in 1931, he got tangled up in phone wires, caught fire, and burned to the ground. Felix was reintroduced to the parade in 2016.

This marketing campaign and practice of allowing the balloons to be released had some near-disastrous consequences. In 1932, after releasing Tom the Cat, a 22-year-old woman flying a plane over Queens decided it would be a good idea to hit the cat and told her flight instructor, “I think I’ll have a piece of the neck.” Tom got snagged on the plane’s wing and nearly brought the plane down.

Macy’s suspended the parade during WWII because the materials used to produce the balloons and the Helium used to fly them were needed for the war effort.

In 1957, on a cold Thanksgiving Day with torrential rain, Popeye the Sailor Man’s hat became a giant bucket. Popeye’s hat collected 50 gallons of water, and as his handlers made a turn, Popeye dumped all of that water on parade spectators below along the parade route.

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In 1993, high winds caused Sonic the Hedgehog to fly into a streetlight on West 58th Street, tearing a hole in his eye. Falling debris from his crash caused injuries to a ten-year-old girl and broke the shoulder of an off-duty policeman.



Photo Courtesy Macy’s

I don’t know of any character more beloved by children and more hated by parents (including me) than Barney the Purple Dinosaur. In the 1997 parade, high winds made Barney go rogue. The handlers tried their best and struggled hard to get Barney back on track, to no avail. After swaying wildly back and forth, he hit a streetlight, causing a huge rip that brought him down. There were many tears from children and as many cheers from parents.

That wasn’t the worst that happened in 1997. The Cat in the Hat knocked into a streetlight, and part of it fell into the crowd below. It injured four people and sent two to the hospital. One of the two who went to the hospital, a woman, fell into a coma. Once she regained consciousness, she sued Macy’s and was awarded an undisclosed amount.

The parade of 1997 was dubbed “The Great Balloon Massacre”

Another mishap in 2005 involved the M & Ms balloon. A high wind knocked it off course, and it hit a streetlight, damaging it. The glass rained down on the people below, sending two kids to the hospital with minor injuries. Their dad said, “We plan to go back to the parade next year.”

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There have been many other mishaps over the years. I just found these instances to be interesting and part of our great history. We live and learn. Macy’s has implemented policies on the size of balloons and other safety measures.

I will always watch the parade, as it is part of the very fabric of my life. I look forward to it every year.

I hope all of our Jolt readers had a safe and joyous Thanksgiving with their friends and family. I know I did.

(Featured image courtesy of Macy’s.)

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