Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Ghost of Thanksgivings Past

First off I want to thank my brother Thomas and my nephew Robbie for scanning old family photos. It's an arduous process at best and they are doing an awesome job bringing back lots of great memories. The photos of Thanksgiving past in today's post are of my family's trips to the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1974 and 1975.

Let's get something straight right away now. While, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade gets all the press - and I'm sure is a fine parade in it's own time and place - the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade was FIRST. It kicked off in 1920 with 50 employees from Gimbels. Ellis Gimble, one of the four brothers who founded Gimbels thought it would be a great marketing tool for his store. It wasn't until four years later that New York and Detroit copied Philadelphia's idea. Today there are parades in many large cites including Chicago and St. Louis to name two.

A lot of Macy's fame likely stems from its marquee role in "Miracle on 34th Street". The movie (released in 1947) about the defense of Santa Claus as a real person (which he absolutely is by the way) contains a subplot about the competition between Macy's and Gimbels.

For the first 66 years of it's existence the Philadelphia parade started at the Art Museum and travelled to Gimbel's at 8th and Market where a fire truck ladder allowed Santa to climb to the 8th floor to take his place in Toyland for the holiday season. Here he is in 1975 doing just that as the parade goers follow.

It's unlikely you'd find Captain Kangaroo
in the New York parade (1974)

And if there are soft pretzels at the New York parade they
are likely not Philadelphia Soft Pretzels
and therefore by definition - inferior (1975)

These guys could be in either parade but this is definitely Philadelphia
Notice Lit Brothers Store in the background.(1975)
So in 1985, Gimbels was acquired by Allied Stores Corporation and renamed Stern's. The new owners declined to continue sponsorship of the parade. So does anyone even remember Stern's? I think not and I'm sure Allied wonders why. Hmph! Now that Gimbels was no longer Santa's destination, in 1986 the parade switched directions to what we know today from 20th and Market to the Art Museum. Instead of climbing a fire truck ladder, Santa climbs the Art Museum steps. One of these days they should have Sylvester Stallone join him. I'm just saying. :)

A lot has changed over the years.

The balloons have come a long way. I'm really not sure
what this is from 1974
Sponsorship has changed. After Sterns passed on the parade WPVI/6ABC - who had been broadcasting the parade since 1966 with our beloved Jim O'Brien as the original host - took over and co-sponsored with Boscov's until Boscov's declared bankruptcy in 2008 and couldn't afford it anymore. Ikea stepped in for a year or two and now it is co-sponsored Dunkin Donuts.

From 50 Gimbels employees for the whole parade in 1924 to
25 random fun loving strangers on just one balloon in 2012

Some things never change though -----

Smiling faces of my family 1974

Smiling faces of a random family 2009
In 1975 the kids in my family (includes cousins here) were thrilled
to have their very own helium balloons from a street vendor

Kids still love to hold Helium Balloons! (2009)
Letting random kids hold the balloon while the parade is on a commercial break is one of my two favorite things about being a balloon handler. The other is spinning the balloon to the delight of the  crowd. But it's hard to take photos while spinning. (Trust me, I've tried).

Traditions are awesome. I'm really glad Dave and I answered the call for balloon volunteers on Action News one September evening back in 2007. Look for us this year on the Olivia Balloon.

Credit for some of the Thanksgiving Day History goes to this article.


  1. Have fun in the parade! And don't get too cold! :)

  2. A nice retrospective! Hope you get to spin your balloon tomorrow!

  3. Great post!! Dress warmly for tomorrow, I will be looking for you as I watch from home all warm and toasty! <3