With the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade about to begin, why not warm up with the craziest balloon moments that have popped off over the years? Thankfully nobody has died, though after reading this you might reconsider ever watching the parade in person.
Felix the Cat bursts into flames (1927)
The very first giant-sized balloon ever fabricated for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade met a fiery end after the conclusion of the 1927 annual event. So how did this incident involving the silent-film cartoon icon Felix the Cat occur after the parade was all said and done?
It turns out, it was commonplace back then to just release the helium-filled balloons into the air after the parade and let them fly off into the sky. Those who discovered the deflated balloons could ship them back to Macy’s, using the address sewn into them, for a $100 gift certificate. So it was like a giant Easter Egg hunt for New York residents six months before the spring holiday.
Unfortunately, Felix’s bounty never got claimed since he floated into some telephone lines and immediately burst into flames. Thankfully, the flames were rapidly put out before they could spread to nearby buildings.
You would think the tradition of releasing balloons was retired right then and there after such a brush with disaster… but read on!
A mischievous Tom Cat dog fights an airplane (1932)
After the end of the 1932 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a helium-filled Tom Cat balloon was released into the sky where it met a student pilot’s line of sight. Rather than trying to avoid the floating hazard, Annette Gipson of Brooklyn decided to “fly right into it” 5,000 feet above Jamaica, Queens, as Untapped New York reported.
The result of the attempted stunt was that – duh – the plane nearly crashed. The balloon wrapped around the left wing, causing the aircraft to spiral toward terrestrial territory. Though Gipson quickly turned the engine off so it would not catch fire, she almost fell out of the aircraft entirely at one point when the cabin door abruptly opened. Her foot remaining caught in the aircraft was the only thing that kept her tumbling down to earth and she was able to maneuver herself back onto the plane.
Luckily, there happened to be an instructor pilot on board who switched seats with Gipson, took the reigns of the plane, and negotiated an emergency landing on a nearby field.
Though Gipson and the instructor were found by an investigation to have violated federal aviation rules at the time by attempting a stunt above a heavily populated area, the young student would later become an accomplished pilot.
Sonic the Hedgehog spin-dashes into a lamppost and injures two people (1993)
1993’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade saw the then-relatively new video game mascot Sonic the Hedgehog commit a kamikaze attack on a lamppost thanks to some strong gusts on his debut outing at the Parade.
In eye-popping footage captured by an amateur and later broadcasted by ABC7NY, which was re-uploaded to the news station’s YouTube channel a couple of years back, Sonic can be seen slamming into a lamppost and getting his eye punctured. When the balloon pulled away from the lamp as it was deflating, it dislodged the light itself and metal pieces, which fell and injured a man and a little girl.
Gotta go… flat?
Rex the Dinosaur is beheaded (1993)
Anyone remember We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story? No? Well, let’s face it, the only dinosaur movie in 1993 the public cared about didn’t feature a T-Rex voiced by John Goodman. Anyhows, the movie contains a scene set during the Macy’s Day Parade and so Rex the Dinosaur joined the line-up.
Rex was intended to be a particularly large balloon and ended up in similar trouble to Sonic the Hedgehog. He smashed into a light pole in Columbus Circle slicing his massive head wide open. Baloonatic Dany Jones, who was piloting Rex yelled “I can fix him! I can fix him! I’ve fixed worse!”
But, sadly, 1993 was to be Rex’s first and only flight, as he was deemed to be too large to be safe.
Barney the dinosaur thrashes his way to the afterlife (1997)
Every couple of years, a clip goes viral of Barney the dinosaur thrashing around from high winds and eventually being disemboweled (if balloons had bowels) when it is torn in half during the 1997 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
One woman who was among the crowd was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “Barney attacked us.”
The Barney balloon, which landed on top of some of the crowd and workers, was then attacked by cops to get him under control. But Barney was not the only balloon to go AWOL on that unforgettable holiday.
The Pink Panther is stabbed to death by a cop (1997)
You may be realizing 1997 wasn’t a great year for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Barney may have met a dramatic end, but he was quickly joined by the Pink Panther. Its handlers tried desperately to get it under control, but it began collapsing while blowing about chaotically.
A police inspector stepped in and yelled “Somebody give me a knife, quick!“.
Another officer handed him a 5-inch-long knife and the cop entered into a stabbing frenzy, tearing chunks out of the wayward panther’s tail. The balloon was downed but collapsed on top of its handlers. One, Joyce Reis said: “The balloon was caught on top of me and my daughter. We thought it was going to smother us.”
But, sadly, this wasn’t the last inflatable cat-based disaster to occur on that fateful November day.
The Cat in the Hat nearly kills a woman (1997)
As you’ve probably gathered 43 miles-per-hour winds and giant balloons do not mix well. But in 1997 The Cat in the Hat almost killed two people.
The iconic Dr. Seuss character careened into a lamppost, causing the metal arm to snap off, hurting four people, according to ABC7NY. Two of those people had to be quickly transported to a hospital for grave head injuries. One woman who was wounded “suffered serious injuries and was in a coma for a month,” according to KTVZ.
Ever since that fateful day, the prospect of high winds has now necessitated a protocol in which some balloons get “grounded” in order to prevent such mishaps. The incident was so bad, that then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani vowed an investigation would take place regarding the parade’s safety protocols.
The M&Ms send two sisters to the emergency room (2005)
Even after all these safety precautions it seems watching the parade in person is far from safe. The M&Ms had been a fixture of the event for years by 2005 though – you guessed it – high winds resulted in a minor calamity while they were passing through Times Square.
The M&Ms snagged on a lamp post, sending debris raining down on two sisters from Albany aged 26 and 11. The 26-year-old just suffered “bumps and bruises“, while the 11-year-old required nine stitches to a gash on her head. Fortunately, they were released from hospital just hours later.
It seems they didn’t bear a grudge, as the M&Ms returned for the 2006 Parade at the express request of those two sisters. Let’s hope they got a substantial M&Ms hamper as an apology!
Will disaster strike this year? Judging by these stories we’d better pray we don’t get high winds or Grogu, Spongebob and Bluey could start racking up kill counts.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will be broadcast live on NBC and Peacock from 8.30 a.m. ET. to noon.