You know what they say, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is fun and games until one of the balloons goes down. Since the show began a balloon march around Manhattan in 1927, huge floating characters have occasionally come untied, blown away, been punctured, stabbed, or deflated and subjected to all kinds of shame.
While most balloon accidents are at least humorous (human arrogance, for creating such monsters!), a small handful of accidents have ended up with people seriously injured. Some of these cases have prompted the show’s organizers to change the rules regarding the popular – and problematic – participants of the show. After all, there’s a deflated Kermit car here and there exactly the way the show floats, but there’s nothing festive about people getting hurt.
1927: Felix is released to the giant cat motel in the sky
Imagine being a showrunner in 1927. There was no television, no Disney World, and the Empire State Building wasn’t built for a few more years. Seeing the first balloon in the show, a giant and not at all scary, Felix the Cat, was probably a big thing. Everything went quietly until it was time to unload something dang. Everyone obviously got caught up in putting the cat up in the air, and didn’t think much, you know, of getting it down and flattening it again. So, the balloon treatments are kind of…let’s go. Like pie-eyed cats Icarus, dear Felix flew too close to the sun, and it crackled.
1956: Oh, how the great mouse fell
Even the usual balloon deflation always carries a bit of dramatic excitement. Take the fall of the Mighty Mouse balloon in 1956. It was a story as old as time: a balloon meets a street sign, a street sign wins, a balloon falls helplessly on the ground. That’s well funny, because it’s a Mighty Mouse! It’s supposed to fly! And be strong! However, on that day, neither of them accomplished.
1957: Popeye hates you
Popeye the Sailor Man has always been known for his rough style. True, Balloon Popeye in 1957 had everything he could afford, and could not stand it any longer. When the city was covered in cold rain, it gathered at the top of Popeye’s famous sailor hat. All it took was one narrow turn to flip and toss gallons of water on unsuspecting onlookers. Ah-gahahhjah!
1991: Kermit the Frog suffers lifelong scars
Life was tough on Kermit’s first airship. In 1985, a frog was disemboweled after hitting some trees, but he survived the rest of the show. The most complicated blow came in 1991, when she lost in another confrontation with a tree, which left her head shrunken in a decidedly unceremonial way. The balloon was never the same, and he retired shortly thereafter. A new, improved, tree-resistant version debuted in 2002. She did some pretty good work on the show, retiring after two years and then back for a few years starting in 2007, but things weren’t the same. The poor frog’s balloon soul had seen a lot.
1997: The Bad
If every worst-case scenario could happen simultaneously, the 1997 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade is already approaching. During the show, high winds caused the cat in the hat balloon to hit a lamppost, and part of the prism crashed on the head of a passerby. The woman was seriously injured and in a coma for a month. On high alert, the police at the show restrained, stabbed and trampled Barney and Pink Panther’s balloons to make sure they couldn’t do more damage. The incident caused show officials to change balloon requirements, banning balloons that were too large and impractical. It also gave everyone a wake-up call about the wind.
That’s why, if you’ve ever heard gossip about balloons being affected by high winds, you shouldn’t groan in disappointment. It could be much worse if they were allowed to fly.