With the often brutal winter winds and giant things filled with helium, it’s a wonder there aren’t more balloon mishaps at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Here are a few notable fiascos from parades past.
When the parade began in the 1920s, the used-up balloons were released into the sky, where they would eventually pop, and float down to the ground (or wind up in New York’s Hudson River). After a few years of that, designers started including air-release valves on the balloons, which would make the helium inside slowly dissipate. They still released the balloons into the air, it just took longer for them to deflate and descend. The balloons were also tagged with a card from Macy’s, inviting whoever found it to return it in exchange for $50 or a Macy’s gift certificate. That contest ended after the 1932 parade—a balloon wrapped around an airplane in flight. The pilot went into a tailspin, but still somehow landed safely.
In 1993, one of the new balloons in the parade was one of Rex the Dinosaur, a character from that year’s animated movie We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story. It was Rex’s debut…and also his finale. Winds were so high that the Rex balloon veered into a street light, and it immediately tore open the dinosaur’s head. It was too early in the parade for Rex to exit, so the headless balloon stayed in the parade for its duration.
Dudley the Dragon was the star of a Canadian puppet TV show for kids, and his debut on American TV in 1995 was promoted with a balloon in the 1995 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But Dudley ran into a lamppost, puncturing the balloon. The impact was so forceful that it shattered the streetlight, raining glass onto the crowd below. Those watching the parade at home had no idea what had happened: NBC cut away from the chaos to footage it had shot of Dudley flying without incident at a test run a week earlier.
The 1997 parade was held against a backdrop of extremely high winds. And it was a gust of 40 mph that send the Cat in the Hat balloon off course and into a lamppost. That caused a piece of the lamp to come loose. It fell and struck a spectator, who suffered a head injury and was in a coma for 24 days. The next year, new weather rules were in place for the parade: No balloons will be flown if sustained winds are more than 23 mph, or if gusts hit 34 mph.