Holidays in Philly

Balloons grounded: 5 times Philly’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ran into trouble

In its 100 years, the holiday pageant has seen its share of wind.

A dance routine in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art during the 100th Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade

A dance routine in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art during the 100th Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade

Jonathan Wilson / For WHYY
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The centennial edition of Philadelphia’s Thanksgiving Day Parade that strutted down the Ben Franklin Parkway was missing one key part: the balloons.

Filled with helium and notoriously difficult to wrangle, the 15 giant blow-up characters slated to join the dozens of marching bands and motorized floats were grounded this year due to high winds.

Just before 4 a.m. Thursday morning, the National Weather Service issued a wind advisory through evening, with gusts in Philly expected to reach a startling 48 mph. That led Mike Monell, VP of marketing for 6ABC, to make the call to pull the balloons over safety reasons, according to the Inquirer.

Though it put a slight damper on the 100th edition of what is considered the nation’s oldest Turkey Day pageant — started in 1920 by the mogul behind Gimbels department store — the parade went on as planned, with plenty of festivity along the route.

It’s not the first time the inflatables have been grounded or caused havoc. Here’s a look back at some other balloon mishaps and tough conditions over the years in Philadelphia.

Wherever the holiday winds may take you, stay safe and warm, and have a happy Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving 2018: Fighting a freeze

Philly’s parade ran into weather issues as recently as last year. It wasn’t wind so much as cold — the mercury was hovering around 24 degrees when celebrations kicked off at 8:30 a.m., according to the Inquirer.

Balloons did fly in 2018, but not all of them, according to KYW — and the ones that did took a shorter path. They still made a major splash, thanks to special handler Gritty, marking the mascot’s first appearance in the annual celebration.

Thanksgiving 2013: Severely truncated route

Here’s a reference that shows how strong this year’s breeze really is: In 2013, gusty winds of just 28 mph caused serious concern.

Inflatables did go up that year, but their participation was severely limited. According to CBS News, instead of joining the rest of the parade for the entire time, handlers carefully led their blimp-like characters around a truncated, made-for-TV route that circled Eakins Oval and crossed in front of the Art Museum steps.

Thanksgiving 2004: Kermit gets punctured

A decision made in the wee hours to pull the balloons entirely in 2004 was rescinded, freeing them to fly a shorter route despite predicted rain and wind.

But then parade organizers were forced to do a last-minute partial cancellation.

It started with Kermit the Frog, according to Philadelphia Inquirer archives, when the Muppet’s likeness blew into a light pole that tore a hole its “bladder” area. Next to fall was the T-Rex balloon, which ended up nose-down on the pavement thanks to a leak in its foot. Also grounded were a giant bear and the Cow (not) Jumping Over the Moon.

Things died down by 11 a.m., however, so the smaller inflated wreath, Frosty the Snowman, and Mother Goose did fly.

Thanksgiving 1997: Dangerous construction debris

There were only nine helium balloons slated to fly in 1997, but all of them were forced to cancel after high winds blew construction debris onto the route.

Gusts up to 50 mph were blamed for ripping loose some corrugated iron flooring in parking garage being built near 17th and Market streets, per Philly Daily News archives. Police reportedly cleared the block of spectators and detoured the parade — right before a 3-foot-by-10-foot section of material crashed onto the sidewalk.

Thanksgiving 1989: Humpty-Dumpty takes a fall

Thursday, Nov. 23, was another cold one in Philly, with an extra twist. Snow fell across the region, breaking records.

While Philadelphia’s 2.8 inches didn’t come close to what was seen in Atlantic City (6 in.) or New York City (4.7 in.), it was enough to cause some issues. Interestingly, parade organizers here decided to let the balloons fly — NYC grounded theirs — but the decision would have consequences.

Like it was following a fable script, the 55-foot Humpty Dumpty inflatable caught on a light pole and was punctured, according to the L.A. Times, causing it to fall down to earth.

Want some more? Explore other Holidays in Philly stories.

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