'Balloons Over Broadway': history of Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade

Published: Friday, Nov. 18 2011 5:56 p.m. MST

"Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade" by Melissa Sweet delves in the history of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and some of the innovations and changes during the years.

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"BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY: the True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade," by Melissa Sweet, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99 (ages 4 and up)

This year more than 50 million viewers will watch the 85th Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade on television. And that number doesn't include 3.5 million along the New York City parade route. “Balloons Over Broadway” recounts the story of the parade, from its inception using Macy’s employees — many of which were early immigrants honoring their new holiday — to today’s display of gigantic helium balloons.

The genius behind this tradition is Tony Sarg (rhymes with aargh), whose career began as a marionette maker. His job at Macy’s was to create the holiday “Wondertown” window displays. He later assisted with preparations for the annual event, beginning with the first parade that included live animals and horse-drawn floats.

“Each year the parade grew. But when Macy’s brought in lions and tigers — in addition to the bears, elephants and camels — the animals roared and growled and frightened the children,” according to the author. The live animals were replaced with rubber creatures, part puppet and part balloon, held up by wooden sticks.

Next, Sarg used rubberized silk to make his balloon animals and filled them with helium. This new venture debuted in the 1928 parade and came with many worries, such as balloons fitting under elevated train tracks, the possibility of a puncture to the rubberized silk and the use of helium around crowds.

Melissa Sweet, who considers herself a creative kindred spirit to Sarg, honors the evolution of the parade tradition with a fun-packed picture book created of watercolors and collages on handmade paper using mixed media illustrations Also included are diagrams, archival photographs and newspaper clippings. She confirms the legacy of this event with historic notes and a detailed bibliography.

From a facsimile of Sarg’s drawings on the book's front endpaper to an original advertisement from the New York Times 1933 on the last endpaper — with the eye-popping illustrations in between — this is a book for all ages to enjoy.

Email: marilousorensen@ymail.com

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