Every year, Americans gather around the dinner table at Thanksgiving to carve turkey, dole out mashed potatoes, and avoid talking about politics with Uncle Jim. But before dinner is served, there is a yearly television tradition almost as ubiquitous as the pumpkin pie: the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The parade has been tromping through the streets of New York once a year since 1924, and was first broadcast on NBC in 1934. What was once a modest parade of marching bands and animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo is now a massive (and heavily corporately sponsored) ordeal that is watched by 44 million people every November.
With such a long history behind the parade, there is going to be some accidents, flops and outright bizarre occurrences. Here are ten of them, presented in slide format, because this is the internet!
Kermit has a bad day
It wouldn’t be a Thanksgiving Day parade without the huge novelty balloons. Nor would it be one without one of the balloons partially deflating due to catching on a snag, strong winds, or the weather being so cold that the air gives out.
The balloons aren’t all one piece, but are separately segmented. That way, if one part of the balloon deflates, the whole figure isn’t ruined. And there is no funnier part to deflate first than the head.
Here’s Kermit the Frog in 1985, with his head limply flopping around like an old bag, looking like a metaphor for seasonal depression.
This Pinocchio balloon from 1939’s parade is the stuff of nightmares. Yes, his nose gets longer when he tells a lie, but nowhere is it written that his nose becomes a blimp-like goiter twice his body mass.
The Pre-K Clowns
Clowns. There are a lot of clowns in the parade.
There are no more lovable clowns in pop culture. The last remain stalwart of “clowns for children” in mass media is Ronald McDonald, who has taken a backseat in prominence in recent years. All the popular clowns are horror movie icons now. Pennywise. Captain Spaulding. The Joker.
So how can you make a clown more unsettling? By adding the layer of making it a clown that is an adult dressing as a baby. Who at Macy’s is going to pay our therapy bills?
The Joker does a DeNiro impression
In 1989, there was no bigger movie than Batman. And long before Joaquin Phoenix played the Joker, Jack Nicholson’s take on the role was just as talked-about.
It makes sense that you’d put the Joker in the parade, but does it make sense that he’d perform a wacky song while doing…celebrity impressions?
Joker really gets in some already-dated references to DeNiro, John Wayne and Jim Nabors (Nobody was hotter in 1989 than Nabors!) This is all before breaking character and helpfully saying: “I’m actually Fred Travalena.” Imagine how nuts the kids watching at home must’ve gone!
The death throws of Barney the Dinosaur
Barney the Dinosaur, that syrup-voiced toddler favorite that was mass-hypnotizing children in 1997, met an untimely end on the streets of Manhattan.
Strong winds caused him to hit a building, and ripped the purple dino’s belly open. His grounded handlers tried to keep control of the beast, and eventually forced him to the ground. They were forced to completely deflate Barney where he fell, looking like his soul was leaving his body.
Victoria's Secret billboards
You could argue that the Macy’s Parade is a big commercial. (You wouldn’t have to argue very hard.) Not only are there tie-ins to current NBC shows and inflatable corporate mascots on display, but you are always seeing the giant billboards that line the streets of New York.
Throughout the 1990’s and into the 2000’s, there was one billboard that likely caused strained embarrassment between parents and children “of a certain age”: the massive Victoria’s Secret advertisement.
Parked right next to the Macy’s storefront, there it was. A big old photo of boobs that would hover in the frame next to whatever was passing by. No comment was ever made on it by the parade announcers (or your mom), but it was the bra-wearing elephant in the room.
In recent years, the ads have been toned down in the “eye candy” department, possibly by request of NBC.
Every child's favorite: Ask Jeeves
“Kids! Get in here! Hurry or you’ll miss the Ask Jeeves balloon! Yes, that’s right – he’s leaped from your favorite search engine onto our television! I’m going to call your grandmother, she’ll want to see this!”
Bored Superman balloon
This Superman balloon isn’t impressed with your little parade.
“I guess this does it for some people, I don’t quite get it.” says Superman!
The Cat in the Hat puts a woman in the hospital
Okay, no smarmy jokes with this one, as it’s pretty scary.
This balloon of Dr. Suess character “The Cat in the Hat” premiered in 1994, and was HUGE. At six stories tall, he was one of the biggest balloons the parade had ever built.
In 1997, the same windstorm that brought down Barney rocked the Cat back and forth, where his hat struck a lamppost, which came crashing down violently into the crowd at 72nd and Central Park West.
The lamp hit 33 year old Kathleen Caronna in the head, fracturing her skull. She remained in a coma for a month before waking up. After making strides in recovery, Caronna sued Macy’s and the lamp manufacturer for $385 million dollars. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount.
Then, in 2006, New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle crashed an airplane into Caronna’s apartment building. The engine of his plane landed in her bedroom, where it erupted into flames. Thankfully, Caronna was not yet home from work.
Let it go
So long, Felix. This is a photo of one of the first balloons used in the Macy’s Parade flying away before popping.
It wasn’t an accident. After taking Felix on his parade route, the people at Macy’s didn’t have a plan for what to do with the balloon next. So they just let it go into the air. Let some other chump deal with it!
Need a hot tip in the Thanksgiving dinner department? Check out our recipe: "Making a Green Bean Casserole That Doesn’t Look Like a Pile of Puke".