How About a Side of History With Your Thanksgiving Day Parade?

Daniel T. Allen |

It’s as American as apple pie and small-town football (here’s looking at you, Dillon Panthers) but it takes place in the big city and even the grittiest, most die-hard New Yorkers reserve at least a small amount of affection for the tradition. It’s the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and as it marches through its 85th year, we thought we’d put together a slideshow and reminisce about the evolution of our beloved parade tradition.

Click the images below to see and read a bit of parade history:

And, if you’re planning to join the 3 million spectators along the parade route, or perhaps the 50 million people tuning in to the parade from home, here are a few fun facts you can throw around:

A modestly sized Felix the Cat balloon became the first in the parade in 1927. Photo courtesy of the Bill Smith collection.

#1 Felix the Cat was the first balloon character.
Created during the silent film era, Felix the Cat was the first cartoon character to enjoy celebrity status. The first three parades included only floats but in 1927 the first balloon of Felix the Cat debuted. Because the parade organizers had no recourse for deflating them, for the first few years they let the helium-filled balloons fly away once the parade was finished. According to legend, Felix the Cat balloon’s deflated remains landed on the Bahamas’ Bimini Islands and spawned the Hello Kitty balloon of 2007.


A sketch of Tim Burton's Frankenstein-like "B." boy. It will debut in the 2011 parade. PRNewsFoto/Macy's

#2 Tim Burton’s “B.” is among the latest crop of new balloons.
Every year, new balloons are introduced to the parade. The 2011 parade will include several new balloons including “B.,” a creepy-cute creation of director Tim Burton. With stitches across his pale blue face, the back story of B. is that he’s stitched together from the remains of discarded birthday balloons, according to the Huffington Post. Could Burton be planning to release a new film, “The Nightmare Before Thanksgiving”?

#3 The parade is recession-proof.
Even the Great Depression couldn’t stop the army of inflated characters. The parade was first broadcast on the radio in 1932, making it to television by 1939. An estimated 250,000 attended the first parade in 1924 and by 1933 that number had reached 1 million. Maybe attendance is so high because it’s free?

#4 The parade was green(ish) before it was chic.
Balloons were led by horses until 1939. It was a great way to cut carbon emissions, although the release of methane into the atmosphere remained high.

During the 1997 parade, a Cat in the Hat balloon slammed into a lamppost, injuring 33-year-old Kathleen Caronna. Flickr/Ben Werdmuller von Elgg

#5 Parade-goer Kathleen Caronna might be the unluckiest New Yorker ever.
Bizarre tragedies seem to follow Kathleen Caronna wherever she goes. In 1997 Caronna, then a 33-year-old investment banker, was watching the parade with her husband and young son on the Upper West Side when an out-of-control Cat in the Hat balloon knocked a piece of a lamppost onto her head. Caronna was in a coma for nearly a month due to her injuries. She sued the city for $395 million but settled for an unknown amount in 2001, according to the Associated Press.

In 2006, a plane piloted by New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle crashed into Caronna’s apartment. Lidle and his flight instructor were killed but no one was in Caronna’s apartment at the time. The plane’s engine landed in her bedroom, moments before she arrived home.

For more information about the history of the parade, please see “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” by Robert M. Grippo and Christopher Hoskins.

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