Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon accidents

Each Thanksgiving Day in New York City since 1924, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the biggest event on the calendar.

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.

The Macy's marching band Thanksgiving New York
The Macy’s marching band! Pic Flickr

Thanksgiving Day falls on the fourth Thursday in November 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 crop of corn.

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 random balloon accidents over the years!

Power Ranger Balloon at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
A sense of scale with this Power Ranger Balloon at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Pic Flickr/

And Thanksgiving is also known for the three-hour live TV coverage of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC with hundreds of floats, helium balloons, marching bands and the occasional superstar looking for a bit of nationwide coverage.

Since the parade first started in 1924 the enormous helium balloons have been its hallmark involving 8000 people in front of a crowd of over 3 million – and millions more watching 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.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade balloon inflating NYC
Inflating the balloons in Central Park in the wee small hours. Pic

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.

Olaf balloon getting close to the traffic lights Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Olaf getting perilously close to the traffic lights! Pic Flickr

Here is a list of some of the more spectacular 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.

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade
Kermit the Frog on a good day!

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.

Smurf balloon inflation, Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade NYC
Smurf balloon inflation, held down by netting until the next day’s parade. Pic Flickr/SarahLou

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”.

Felix cat wrangled down Broadway
Felix the cat being wrangled down Broadway. Pic

If you’re heading to NYC to watch the parade, 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 this year.

You might like to read my post on how to have a fantastic New Year’s Eve in NYC!