Wednesday, November 3, 2010


   Most people watch the Macy's Day parade on Thanksgiving Day.  The famous Thanksgiving Day parade is almost as traditional as turkey and dressing.  More than 40 million viewers watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on television each year.  Many tune in just to see the huge parade balloons. 
   The history of the Macy's parade balloons is an interesting one.  The very first Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in 1924 didn't have balloons.  Instead, real live animals were borrowed from the Central Park Zoo.
   Large balloons weren't used in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.  Macy's Day parade balloons were inflated with air the first year that they were used.  Each year after that, helium was used to fill the huge parade balloons.

   The first year that Macy's used helium balloons they released them at the end of the parade for a big finish.  The balloons accidentally burst.  The next year the Macy's parade balloons were redesigned so that they would lose helium slowly and float for several days.
   Originally, the huge Thanksgiving Day balloon's were released at the end of the parade.  The grandiose balloons had attached address labels.  The lucky people who found and returned the balloons received Macy's gift certificates for 100 dollars or some other prize.

   The 1941 Macy's Day parade occurred just weeks before the start of World War II.  It featured a prominent Uncle Same helium parade balloon.  When rubber became in short supply because of the war, the famous Uncle Sam balloon was donated by Macy's to support the war.
   The Thanksgiving Day parade balloons require massive amounts of helium.  For example, the Jimmy Neutron balloon needs 12,300 cubic feet of helium to be properly inflated.  By comparison, a 10 foot diameter hot air balloon needs 475 cubic feet of helium.

   The balloons are inflated by volunteers the night before the parade.  The balloons are unfolded.  Then they are covered with nets and weighted down.  Next, the parade balloons are inflated.  The whole process takes six hours.  Many people attend to watch the balloons as they inflate.  Some say that watching the parade balloons inflate is more fun than watching the actual Thanksgiving Day parade.
   The Macy's Day parade balloons are guided along the parade route by volunteers.  Some of the balloons require 50 handlers.

Popular Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloons

   Bullwinkle is one of the oldest Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade balloons.  He is also one of the most popular of all the Macy's balloons.
   Mickey Mouse first appeared in a Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in 1934.  He has been a favorite balloon at the Macy's Day parade ever since.  Mickey's friend, Goofy has also been transformed into a Macy's balloon.
   Snoopy is another favorite parade balloon. He has appeared in Macy's Day parades since the late 60's.  he has worn six different costumes including an astronaut, a king, an ice skater, and of course, a World War I flying ace.  Charlie Brown has also made an appearance at the Thanksgiving Day parade, trying to kick that elusive football.  Snoopy's pal Woodstock,  is another Charles Schulz creation that has floated in the Macy's parade.

   Cartoon characters have always been popular balloons at the Macy's Day Thanksgiving parade.  Woody Woodpecker, Sponge Bob Square Pants, Garfield, Bart Simpson, Pink Panther, Bugs Bunny, and Rugrats have all been honored at Macy's parade.  Many other cartoon characters have been made into balloons for the Macy's Day parade.
   Several Sesame Street characters have appeared as balloons at the Macy's Day parade.  Kermit the Frog has been navigated through the parade route.  Big Bird has appeared in two different versions.  Grover has been transformed at the Thanksgiving Day parade into Super Grover.

   Superman has appeared in several Macy's Day parades since 1940.  Superman has been the biggest Macy's Day parade balloon ever.
   Corporations haven't missed their chance to advertise at the famous Thanksgiving Day parade.  Some of the company balloons have been popular.  They have included the Energizer Bunny, Ronald McDonald, Honey Nut Cheerios Bee, Nestle Quick Bunny, and M&M's candies.

   How Are the Macy's Day Balloons Made?

   The first step in making a Macy's parade balloon is drawing the sketch.  Details are evaluated and approved by aerodynamics engineers to be sure the balloon can fly.
   If the balloon passes the first test, a clay model of the parade balloon is  made.  The clay balloon model is an exact replica of the balloon built to scale.  Close attention to detail is used to be certain that the balloon will be an exact likeness of the original character and that the balloon will be ale to float successfully.

   Next, a second model is used that is painted with the exact details of the future parade balloon.  Exact polyurethane pattern pieces are then cut.  Each balloon has several chambers with an inflation tool and a large zipper.
   The Macy's parade balloon is assembled and given a test flight.  Each chamber is inspected for leaks. If all goes well, the balloon will be guided down the route for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

Macy's Day Parade Balloon Incidents

   Popeye's sailor hat filled with water in 1957.  He got so heavy that the balloon handlers lost control.  The balloon got off course and dumped water on spectators.  There was a helium shortage during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in 1958.  but the parade and balloons did go on.  The Macy's Day parade balloons were inflated with plain air and suspended with huge cranes.
  The 1971, the Mickey Mouse parade balloon was canceled because of high winds.  He appeared the next year in the holiday parade.

   Wind was also a major problem during the 1997 Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.  Wind gusts up to 30 miles per hour kept balloon handlers on their toes, sometimes literally.  The wind caused a Cat in the Hat parade balloon to hit a street lamp.  One parade spectator got injured severely and was in a coma for a month.  This prompted the local government to implement stricter safety parade rules.
   In 2005, the M&M's Macy's Day parade balloon also hit a street lamp.  Two people suffered minor injuries.  As a result, new rules required the balloons to fly at lower altitudes.
   The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade continues to be a big hit with Americans more than 80 years later.  Hopefully, 80 years into the future, kids will still wake up on Thanksgiving morning and rush to watch the Macy's Day parade.  After all, Christmas doesn't start until Santa arrives at the end of the Macy's parade, does it????



Was the first Thanksgiving Day really a day of giving thanks?

   What we refer to as the first Thanksgiving would not have been considered a day of giving thanks to the colonists.  A day of thanksgiving to the colonists would have been a day of prayer and fasting.
   This event was no such thing.  It wasn't a meal or even a day.  It was a three-day feast that included dancing, singing and games that certainly would not have been part of a religious holiday for the pilgrims.
   In the culture of the Wampanoag Indians in attendance, acknowledgment or prayer would have been offered daily for each individual provision, whether meat or plant.  The idea of setting aside a day, or even three, for being thankful wouldn't have fit with their culture either.

Who invited all these people?

   There were only four married women and five teenage girls at this meal.  Along with the women's four husbands, there were also 8 teenage boys, thirteen young children and seventeen unmarried men.
   The Wampanoag Indians arrived with a contribution of  five deer and 90 guests.  Were the women expecting 90 guests?

Wampanoag Indian

The pilgrims were all dressed in black and white, right?

   Weren't the pilgrims all dressed in black and white with gold buckles?  Despite the illustrations in children's books and the construction paper crafts our children proudly create, buckles were not part of the fashion for day, either on shoes or belts.  The pilgrims were more likely wearing read and other colors.  Black and white clothing was reserved for Sundays.

So were the pilgrims and the Native Americans all sitting around talking and enjoying each other's company?

   Well, while there may have been a festive mood, talking between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag would have been limited by the language barrier.  Communication would have gone through Squanto, a member of the Patuxet tribe, who had learned English from earlier settlers.

At least they ate turkey, didn't they?

   Maybe, maybe not.  Primary sources refer to "wild fowl", which may have been turkey but could also have been goose, duck, crane, swan, partridge or eagle.  Pass the Swan please!  Regardless of the fowl, we do know that the Wampanoag Indians provided five deer, so venison was part of the feast.  This is quite a hostess gift.

So was the first Thanksgiving near the end of November?

   Abraham Lincoln mad the Thanksgiving holiday we celebrate today official in 1863, some 242 years later.  Surely he chose the fourth Thursday in November to coincide with the feast in 1863, right?  Wrong.  Although not pinpointed, we do know that the feast in 1863 occurred after September 21st but before November 4th.

Boiled pumpkin anyone?

   With no oven for baking and no sugar, pumpkin was most likely boiled and not in a pie.
   Whether the pilgrims wore black or red, ate swan or turkey, is less important than recognizing that the first Thanksgiving was a festive celebration.  The first Thanksgiving may not have happened the way it is often described and illustrated in children's book but it was quite an event.



   Alaska has its share of ghosts.  Between the native peoples who inhabit the land and the history of the Gold Rush with its boom towns, notorious lawlessness and violence, it is no wonder that there are more than a few haunted places in the Great White North.
   "The Last Frontier" is home to 626,932 people the wandering spirits of the Eklutna, the spirit of many who died during the Yukon Gold Rush and some of the most sacred sites in North America.  So, the next time you're in Alaska, here are some haunted places to visit while you're there.

Eklutna Cemetery
Anchorage: Eklutna Village Nation Park

   When Russian settlers first arrived in Alaska in 1741, they brought with them the Russian Orthodox religion.  These teachings soon began to blend with the native Eskimo beliefs until the Eklutna religion was born.  The Eklutna believe that when a person passes on, their spirit wanders the earth for forty days and nights in a search for their possessions.  It is in the Native American Cemetery in Anchorage that many of these ghostly searchers have been seen looking for their belongings.  In an effort to keep the wandering spirits confined within the walls of the cemetery, colorful, house-like structures were built above the graves and topped with the cross of the Russian Orthodox Church.  These "houses" contain the deceased personal  effects.  Cups, plates, spoons, combs, pipes and even a rifle or camera have been place in these structures.

Denali National Park

Denali Park: Denali National Park

   Denali National Park is home to the tallest point in North America: 20,320 foot tall, Mount McKinley.  The mountain is also known as Denali, which means "High One" and is one of the most sacred sites in North America.  Tales of the supernatural on the mountain go back centuries and the Athabacans believe that the sun shaman and master of life, Sa, lives on the mountain.

Gakon Lodge and Trading Post

Gakona: Gakona Lodge and Trading Post

   Originally built in 1900, with additions made in the 1920's and 1940's, the Gakona Lodge and Trail Post's older buildings are home to a poltergeist with a sense of humor.  The mischievous spirit likes to open and close doors, lock doors from the inside, jump on the bed, play with the stereos and any number of other such pranks.  Sometimes, tobacco smoke from an invisible pipe, disembodied voices and footsteps fill the hallways.  Most of these phenomena happen during the evening hours in the lobby and in the nine upstairs rooms of the lodge.

Skagway City Municipal Building

Skagway: City Municipal Building

   Built in 1899, at one time, this building was the first territorial court in Alaska but those floors are now a museum and the building now functions as Skagway's city hall and department of tourism.  However, that has not stopped reports of strange noises coming from this floor....noises who's source has never been discovered.

Skagway Eagles Hall

Skagway: Eagles Hall

   The Fraternal Order of Eagles in Skagway has several extra members in their Hall.  These friendly ghosts inhabit the second floor of Eagles Hall and are responsible for many strange events, which have run the Eagles officers out of the building and are blamed for a coldness that people have felt in the halls.

Skagway Golden North Hotel

Skagway: Golden North Hotel

    A young woman, who died of pneumonia while awaiting her fiance's return from a gold prospecting expedition, still haunts Room 23 in this hotel.  Guests have reported the spectral image of a woman and some have complained of choking sensations while staying in the room.  An eerie "light form" which manifests and moves around the room at night is reported in Room 14, though no one knows who it is or what it means.

Skagway Mulvihill House

Skagway: Mulvihill House

   White  Pass and Yukon Railroad dispatcher Mul Mulvihill still haunts his old home, tapping out messages on a phantom telegraph and walking through the home in his heavy work boots.  Today, the Mulvihill House is a private residence, and permission from the current owners must be obtained before entering the premises.

Skagway Red Onion Saloon

Skagway: Red Onion Saloon

   This whorehouse-cum-saloon is now home to a female spirit who waters the plants in the Madam's Room that no longer exist.  Many have reported smelling very strong perfume in the second floor, phantom footsteps can be heard in the same area and many locals believe that the Saloon, built in 1897, and moved to its current site in 1914, is haunted by its former owner.

Skagway White House

Skagway: White House

      This abandoned building, which used to be a hospital, hotel and day-care center, is now haunted by the woman who once ran the day-care.  She is described as a "woman in white" and has been seen in the deserted halls of the White House several times.  In 1988 a fire caused extensive damage to the building and it now lies deserted on the edge of Skagway.

Tonsina Mangy Moose Saloon

Tonsina: Mangy Moose Saloon

   Beginning in 1980, employees and guests have reported seeing the spirit of a tall, thin, mustachioed man who is described as being "polite".  Many believe that it is the ghost of Bill Ogden who ran the Saloon, painted it pink and opened a bordello and casino in the Mangy Moose, though others suspect that it is the ghost of a man who committed suicide there.