Friday, August 15, 2014

Giving Vent . . .

Location:   Midtown Manhattan
Year:   1929

Thrilled by the success of the giant helium balloons that were the centerpiece of the 1928 Thanksgiving Day Parade (aka The Christmas Day Parade until the 1930s) Macy*s decided to add more balloons to the parade in 1929. 

All the 1929 balloons were new, since none of the 1928 balloons had survived last year's parade. At parade's end, the balloons had been dramatically released into the sky. Unfortunately, balloon designer Tony Sarg had forgotten that helium expands as atmospheric pressure lowers at higher altitudes, and the original balloons had exploded, startlingly, over Midtown. 

A charmless Captain Nemo on hooved feet floats down the Avenue in 1929. In the early years of the Parade the balloons all had a strange, surrealistic appearance.

For 1929, Sarg designed the balloons with a high altitude pressure valve. This allowed the helium to vent, and the balloons were anticipated to return safely to earth. Each balloon was printed with instructions asking the finder to return the balloon to Macy*s postage paid by the store, and offered a small honorarium for doing so. As the Great Depression had just begun, the honorarium, however small, was thought to be an incentive to return the balloons.

Unfortunately, this plan did not work out so well. A number of the balloons came down as planned, but were snagged in trees, on rooftops, or on chimneytops, and were torn, or were shredded by the wind, or were damaged during recovery by their well-meaning finders. Other balloons simply vanished: A few probably floated out over the Atlantic and fell into the sea; and undoubtedly, one or two became the found property of souvenir hunters. Not one usable balloon was returned to Macy*s. 

Having lost the giant balloons two years in a row, Macy*s decided in the future to forego the dramatic and popular balloon release ceremony, and focused its attention on making the arrival of Santa Claus the ultimate point of the Parade.


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