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The Secret History of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Fails

© AP Photo / RON FREHMBetty Boop collapses on Broadway near 49th Street as handlers work to raise the deflated helium balloon during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, Thursday, Nov. 27, 1986. Betty Boop, the last balloon in the parade, could not finish the parade. (AP Photo/Ron Frehm)
Betty Boop collapses on Broadway near 49th Street as handlers work to raise the deflated helium balloon during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, Thursday, Nov. 27, 1986.  Betty Boop, the last balloon in the parade, could not finish the parade.  (AP Photo/Ron Frehm) - Sputnik International, 1920, 25.11.2021
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The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade has been an annual New York City tradition since 1924. The event evolved from a Christmas parade to become the official start to Thanksgiving festivities.
Over nearly a century of parades, organizers have learned from past mistakes to make the event safe and enjoyable. These are the biggest fails in the history of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade:

The First Fail: Real Animals

The iconic balloons of the Macy’s parade didn’t arrive until 1927. So how did Macy’s distinguish their parade from others? They borrowed animals from Manhattan’s Central Park Zoo.
The first parade, then known as Macy’s Christmas Day Parade, had camels, goats, elephants and donkeys instead of helium balloons. With the success of the first parade, the organizers upped the stakes by adding bears, lions and tigers for the next two parades.
Unfortunately, the addition of animals capable of eating an adult human rightly terrified many children and adults in attendance. In 1927, Macy’s ditched the Christmas tag and the live animals in favor of Thanksgiving and helium balloons.

The Cat’s Out of the Bag

It’s often forgotten, but Macy’s doesn’t throw its Thanksgiving parade out of the goodness of its corporate heart, as it’s primarily meant to promote sales. With the introduction of helium balloons to the parade in 1927, someone got the bright promotional idea to release some balloons after the parade and offer store credit for their return. What could go wrong?
In 1932, a freed Tom the Cat balloon had the misfortune of colliding with an airplane. The cat balloon reportedly got caught on the left wing of the aircraft and caused it to tumble down. Adding to the panic was that the plane was being piloted by a flight student. Fortunately, the instructor was able to take control and land safely.
Macy’s decided that cutting balloons loose into a world with planes probably wasn’t the brightest idea and discontinued the practice. It’s unknown if the amatuer pilot ever flew again, or if they developed a paralyzing fear of helium balloon cats.

Popeye Goes Overboard

Popeye the Sailor Man is one of the most beloved US cartoon characters of the 20th century. The man with forearms the size of bowling balls and biceps the size of twigs made for a perfect Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloon.
In 1957, Thanksgiving in Manhattan was cold and rainy. Popeye the Sailor Man as a helium balloon was able to withstand the weather but rain began to collect on the top of his hat. As the balloon rounded a corner, the laws of physics took over and sent a great wave of water down onto unsuspecting spectators.

Kermit’s Curse

According to lore, Kermit the frog is from either Leeland, Mississippi, or the swamps of Louisiana. Regardless of his origins, his time in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade proved that he was no croak in the night tree frog.
In 1985, Kermit as a helium balloon had a run in with a tree along the parade route that left him hobbled, although he was able to finish the parade. However, in 1991, he finally met his match after again colliding with a tree, leaving him damaged and not only morally deflated.
The Kermit balloon was retired shortly after and wouldn’t make an appearance again until 2002. The big city is no place for someone from the bayous of Louisiana or Mississippi, and swamp frogs have no place climbing trees in the big city.

The Cat in the Hat

On Thanksgiving Day 1997, high winds rampaged through the streets of Manhattan. A strikingly low atmospheric pressure forecast gave the organizers of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade a warning they would not heed but would later never forget.
Gusts of wind conspired against brave balloons sent in harm’s way. A balloon of Barney the purple dinosaur was thankfully - according to some - ripped to shreds after colliding with a street light, in a repeat of what happened four years earlier to another dinosaur balloon and Sonic the Hedgehog.
While balloons were being blown out due to the high winds, it would soon turn dangerous for those below. A Cat in the Hat balloon also collided with a lamppost and, in an act of revenge for his fallen brethren, took some of the lamppost with him.
The falling lamppost hit a woman in the head and left her in a coma for three weeks. Macy’s had learned their lesson, and, starting in 1998, if winds exceeded 35 mph, all balloons were grounded.

When M&M’s Attack

The final fail happened in 2005 when an M&M balloon met the balloon’s natural Manhattan enemy, the city streetlight. Instead of simply rupturing and dispersing helium into the atmosphere, the M&M decided to take some of the streetlight with him.
As in 1997, a falling metallic object found a human target. This time it was an 11-year-old girl and her sister. The 11-year-old needed stitches, while her sister escaped with only bruises. Macy’s was quick to respond, not by grounding all balloons for future parades, but by providing the two sisters a shopping spree at, you guessed it, none other than Macy’s.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade has become a part of the American Thanksgiving tradition. And much like the festive holiday that sees families come together, sometimes things can get nasty.
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