A familiar Thanksgiving Day weekend

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The Waning Gibbous Moon peeking out from behind clouds. 10:00 PM. Photo: JH

Monday, November 26, 2018. The temp hit the mid-50s yesterday in New York; sometimes sunny, often overcast, at the end of the holiday weekend — which included temps in the 20s and heavy rains from Saturday night into early Sunday morning.

It was a familiar Thanksgiving Day weekend in New York City. Memory probably omits, but I don’t remember a Thanksgiving Day here in the Northeast that wasn’t grey and cold. Although this year the weatherman said it was the coldest Thanksgiving in more than a century.

In New York the big news — a relief — was the tradition: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade still marching along in its 94th year! Its history is intriguing. The first of this annual parade was begun in 1924 by Louis Bamberger in Newark where he had a department store. Macy’s which was the world’s most prominent New York department store, took the idea and enhanced it. The birth of modern marketing.


A clown float makes its way to downtown Newark during the early years of the Bamberger’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Courtesy of the Newark Public Library

Before that, beginning in 1863 when President Lincoln declared an official Thanksgiving Day, another tradition, a parade for children was created. It was called Ragamuffin Day. Children would dress up in “rags” and go from door to door begging for candy or cash. It was the beginning of our traditional Halloween.

Mr. Bamberger, well aware of Ragamuffin Day and its appeal to children, had a better idea, a precursor to Walt Disney — a costumed parade. And so it was. Macy’s managers saw a good thing and grabbed it.


Thanksgiving maskers, circa 1910-1915. Bain News Service/Library of Congress

In the beginning Macy’s employees, dressed in costumes, with floats, professional bands and animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo would march from Columbus Circle down to Macy’s flagship store. When they got to Herald Square, with the crowds lining the streets, they were greeted by Santa Claus crowned at “King of the Kiddies” on a throne on a balcony over the 34th Street entrance. The first time this happened 250,000 people watched and that was that for Macy’s management: it was deemed to be an annual event.

Today we’re running Paige Peterson’s photos of the beginning of the Macy’s Day Parade, which was assembled — as it has been for many years now — on Central Park West in the 80s above 81st Street.


Paige with Joe, Heidi, Brianna, Devon and Kylee Geist watching the parade from the apartment of Peter Brown, which is on the CPW.
Joe Geist, Paige, and Kylee Geist watch the passing parade …

It’s a different world and a different atmosphere from its inception 94 years ago. There were police helicopters overhead. The sidestreets leading up to the boulevard where it was being assembled, were closed for the entire block. Security. This was a first.

On Thanksgiving Day it was windy, creating a windchill of 5 degrees. For a lot of families it was too much to handle and they started leaving the bleachers soon after the start of the parade. The strong winds also required that the balloons had to be held lower. Where their ropes often ran a story and a half above the pavement, this year most were only four feet above the heads of the volunteers holding them. Several times the winds were so strong that the balloons bounced off the traffic lights.


The view looking south along CPW.
The side streets are usually 1/3 deep down the side streets. Due to the bitter cold, it was 10 people deep … if that.


Paige and her party were watching from the apartment of Peter Brown which is on the boulevard. In past years, most of the window’s in Brown’s apartment overlooking the roadway were left open, and people took turns on the balcony. This year windows were closed (brrrr!) and people went out on the balconies only to take pictures, and then get back in.

Nevertheless, it was a beautiful day to see the work of tens of thousands of people who create, work on, participate in its execution, and begin again working on it almost immediately for Thanksgiving Day 2019! And the kiddies still find it fascinating including this way-too-old kiddie!


Down on CPW post-parade.

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