Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: The most infamous balloon mishaps in its history

While most balloon accidents are at least humorous (human arrogance, for creating such monsters!), a small handful of accidents have ended up leaving 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.

Imagine you’re a visitor at the 1927 parade. There was no television, no Disney World, and the Empire State Building wouldn’t be built for another few years. Seeing the first balloon on the show, 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 handlers are just kind of…let it go. Like a pie-eyed cat Icarus, my dear Felix flew too close to the sun, and it crackled.

Even the usual balloon deflation always carries a little dramatic flair. 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, and 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: Bob 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 he couldn’t stand it any longer. As cold rain blanketed the city, it gathered at the top of Popeye’s iconic sailor hat. All it took was one narrow turn to flip and throw gallons of water at the unsuspecting onlookers. Ah- Gahhahhah!

1991: Kermit the Frog suffers lifelong scars

Life was tough on Kermit’s first airship. In 1985, a frog was disemboweled after crashing into 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, retired two years later and then came 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’s 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 of balloons being grounded due to high winds, you shouldn’t be groaning with disappointment. It could be much worse if they were allowed to fly.


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