The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is a grand Turkey Day tradition: it serves as both the de facto kick-off to the holiday season and as great background noise while making small talk with loved ones before dinner is ready.
But not every float in the parade has been a crowd-pleaser. In the 89 years of the Macy's Parade, there have been a several that were questionable, offensive, or just outright destructive.
We've gathered here the worst floats, balloons, balloonicles, and float-loons that have made their way down Manhattan's Central Park West and Sixth Avenue at one time or another. Whether it was the quality of the passing item itself, or the subject it represented, these groaners were either soon retired or should have been.
"HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW"
1999: "Buddy," the Pets.com sock puppet
There's nothing objectionable about "Buddy" the Pets.com sock puppet on its surface, but it's a prime example of the balloons that, with the gift of hindsight, look funny when running through lists of old Macy's parade sights. The parade was, along with a Super Bowl ad a couple months later, a huge moment for fledgling Silicon Valley sweetheart Pets.com.
The company was out of business within a year.
The embodiment of the tech bubble bursting, Buddy, at the very least, did not deflate mid-parade.
THE RETIRED BRITISH MASCOT
2000: Ask Jeeves
For a while, the search engine Ask.com was AskJeeves.com. The helpful British mascot made for an interesting balloon for a few years until the company dropped Jeeves as a mascot. Not as bad as the Pets.com balloon, but another reminder of the internet's ephemeral nature.
THE STRAIGHT-TO-DVD DIVISION
This is so goofy and silly. Beethoven was a family film from the mid-90s that spawned a few (horrible) sequels; it served as the basis of a balloon for three years. The balloon gets the dog's spirit right, but a Charles Grodin float would've been better.
MOST DEFLATING FLOAT
The first of our shoddily made balloons is this Barney balloon that comes from a hilarious, slow-moving video. The balloon was damaged, so the NYPD stepped in to deflate it to prevent anyone from getting hurt. To do so, they stabbed and stomped on Barney until he was
dead airless. Hope the kids weren't watching!
A silver lining: If you reverse the GIF, it becomes a story of courage and redemption.
The purple dinosaur was at the peak of his popularity at the time so this was either traumatizing to the many children in attendance and watching on TV, or vindication to anyone else who found the character off-putting. That streetlamp should've gotten a medal.
THE BAD TASTE AWARD FOR BAD TASTE
The first Macy's parade had live animals from the Central Park Zoo, who, used to being in a zoo, would "become cranky or irritable" while clomping around.
Absent that, we have this: A float celebrating the 50th anniversary of SeaWorld. Fun! Unfortunately the float debuted the Thanksgiving after the documentary Blackfish shocked audiences across the country, leading to severe backlash against the theme park. PETA protested the float's inclusion, saying:
It shows orcas swimming in a majestic sea alongside their families, and this couldn't be further from the truth. SeaWorld deprives them of all these things.
Despite a petition gathering close to 100,000 signatures and Alec Baldwin calling for the float's elimination from the parade, Macy's didn't budge, saying the store/parade was not at all interested in getting involved in any "social commentary, political debate or other forms of advocacy."
There has not been a SeaWorld float since.
FLOAT AND CATCH FIRE
1927: Felix the Cat
In its fourth year, the parade introduced giant balloons to the mix and with it, balloon accidents. Felix was the first balloon to catch fire (even though it was raining that day) after getting tangled in some telephone wires. The fire was put out, but Felix was removed from the parade. No one was hurt, unlike…
1997: The Cat in the Hat
That is Dr. Seuss' famously out-of-control character getting famously out-of-control because of high winds. The balloon rammed into a lamppost, sending debris onto the crowd, injuring four, including a woman, Kathy Caronna, whose skull was hurt enough that she was in a coma for close to a month. Witnesses described the scene the next day in the New York Times:
Pat Klem, who videotaped the incident and gave the tape to the police, said the lamppost was wobbling in the wind even before the balloon struck it. Eric Newland, from Katonah, N.Y., said the balloon struck the lamppost's arm twice.
''You thought it was going to bounce off,'' he said. ''But the second time it snapped — it was suspended for an instant, then it spiraled way down.''
''The parade just stopped,'' he continued. ''There was a prolonged silence. Your thoughts go from happy, joyous Thanksgiving to prayers.''
Mayor Giulianni brushed it off, saying, "anytime there's an injury like this, it makes you feel very, very bad. At the same time, the parade has a long, long history. It's a beautiful parade. It accomplishes a great deal for young people and for the city.''
Four years later, Caronna—who, again, nearly died—settled her lawsuits against the city of New York and Macy's for an undisclosed amount. She was seeking $395 million between the two cases.
The accident lead to the parade adopting weight limits and new procedures for handling high-winds, so there's that.
THE IGGY AZALEA AWARD
2008: Gwen Stefani's Harajuku Lovers
Gwen Stefani loves Asian culture, to varying degrees of iffiness. This one just feels problematic.
THE 'SHOULD HAVE BROUGHT TAILS'
1993: Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic hurt a child and a police officer when he knocked into a lamppost. Oddly enough, it was also on a really windy day. Coincidentally, here's a video of Willard Scott talking about the Sonic balloon and how the wind might be a problem during the parade. We could all stand to listen more to Willard Scott.
ART IMITATES LIFE
1995: Sky Dancer
Sky Dancers were a mid-90s toy that "flew." Users could pull a chord and a spring would send the fairy skyward, I think, to dance. In 1995, the balloon based on a Sky Dancer smashed into a tree and its face was deflated. Unfortunately, there's more to the Sky Dancer saga that merits its inclusion on this list. The toys were seriously injurious! Let's let the Consumer Product Safety Commission explain:
The hard plastic Sky Dancers® dolls can fly rapidly in unpredictable directions, and can hit and injure both children and adults.
They were recalled in 2000 after the manufacturer received over 170 complaints of injuries. Is there a Sky Dancer near you? You're going to want to read the full doom-and-gloom recall announcement.
Watch the full 1995 parade here. Go ahead. It features a performance by R&B sensation All-4-One and heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe. Go ahead, I dare you! You're not doing anything!
As for the greatest balloons in Macy's Parade history, that's an easy one: Alligator Drinking a Beer.
Reptiles, booze, and perfect timing are what Thanksgiving is really all about.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Don't let any balloons careen wildly.
David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: email@example.com