Puppets and parades, what’s not to like? Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet, tells the story of Tony Sarg, the man who created the first balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.
In our house, we can certainly relate to kids who are always designing and making things and trying to get out of chores is certainly universal, but I don’t think my son’s inventions have been as practical as Tony’s design for feeding the chickens. Inspired by the desire to stay in bed longer, Tony rigged pulleys and rope so that he could feed the chickens without getting up. Our attempts to design things with pulleys and ropes have been entertaining, but not particularly useful!
As a grownup, Tony designed amazing marionettes and had a show, “Tony Sarg’s Marionettes,” which traveled throughout the U.S. Learning of his puppets, Macy’s asked Tony to design puppets for Macy’s holiday windows. Based on storybook characters, he attached the puppets to gears and pulley’s that made them dance across the windows. He was then asked to help with the first Macy’s parade which was intended for the employees who missed their own holiday traditions. Tony created costumes and horse-drawn floats and Macy’s even arranged to bring in animals from the zoo. The parade was such a success that Macy’s agreed to have one every year. Each year the parade grew bigger and bigger and eventually some of the live animals were deemed too scary so Macy’s looked around for something to replace the animals, something that would be spectacular.
Tony wanted to create puppets for the parade, but his marionettes were little, less than three feet tall, far too small to be used in a parade. Inspired by Indonesian rod puppets, he deigned air-filled rubber bags that were propped up by wooden sticks. Big hot air puppets are so standard in large parades now; it’s hard to remember that they’re a relatively recent invention. The wooden stick puppets Tony initially designed were a success, but they still weren’t big enough or high enough for the huge crowds to see. The next year, he designed balloons out of rubberized silk filled with helium, upside down marionettes! With more than a little trepidation, he released the balloons and they sailed past Central Park, down Broadway, ending in front of Macy’s and big gas filled balloons have been part of the Thanksgiving parade tradition ever since.
The Macy’s day parade first started in 1924 and now more than 3 million people line the parade route and 44 million people watch the televised event every year. You can watch the balloon inflation the night before near the Museum of Natural History starting at 79th street and Columbus Ave. The Parade route runs 2 and 1/2 miles starting at 77th and Central Park West and ending at Macy’s Herald Square. If you’re in New York around Thanksgiving, it certainly is an event not to be missed! Even if you’re not there over Thanksgiving, you can walk the route and see the sights mentioned in the book.