A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from August 17, 2008
Inflation Eve (balloon-inflating for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade)

"Inflation Eve” is the night before Thanksgiving day when all of the balloons that will be featured in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are inflated. The inflation takes place between 77th and 81 Streets and Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. “Inflation Eve” is free for the public to watch and thousands of people view this pre-parade show.

Wikipedia: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is an annual parade presented by Macy’s Department store. The three-hour event is held in New York City starting at 9:00 a.m. EST on Thanksgiving.

In the 1920s many of Macy’s department store employees were first-generation immigrants. Proud of their new American heritage, they wanted to celebrate the United States holiday of Thanksgiving with the type of festival their parents had loved in Europe.

In 1924, the annual Thanksgiving parade started by Louis Bamberger in Newark, New Jersey at the Bamberger’s store was transferred to New York by Macy’s. In New York, the employees marched to Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street dressed in vibrant costumes. There were floats, professional bands and live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. At the end of that first parade, as has been the case with every parade since, Santa Claus was welcomed into Herald Square. At this first parade, however, the Jolly Old Elf was enthroned on the Macy’s balcony at the 34th Street store entrance, where he was then “crowned” “King of the Kiddies.” With an audience of over a quarter of a million people, the parade was such a success that Macy’s declared it would become an annual event.

Large animal-shaped balloons produced by The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio replaced the live animals in 1927 when the Felix the Cat balloon made its debut. Felix was filled with air, but by the next year, helium was used to fill the expanding cast of balloons.

As the finale of the 1928 parade, the balloons were released into the sky where they unexpectedly burst. The following year they were redesigned with safety valves to allow them to float for a few days. Address labels were sewn into them, so that whomever found and mailed back the discarded balloon received a gift from Macy’s.

Through the 1930s, the Parade continued to grow, with crowds of over 1 million lining the parade route in 1933. The first Mickey Mouse balloon entered the parade in 1934. The annual festivities were broadcast on local New York radio through 1941.

The parade was suspended for the duration of World War II, owing to the need for rubber and helium in the war effort. The parade resumed in 1945 using the route that it currently follows (see below). The parade became a permanent part of American culture after being prominently featured in the 1947 film, Miracle on 34th Street, which shows actual footage of the 1946 festivities. The event was first telecast nationally in 1952 (see below). On the NBC telecast from in front of the flagship Macy’s store on Broadway and 34th Sreet,the marching bands perform live music but most of the other live acts such as songs from Broadway musicals use pre-recorded music with the performers lip-syncing their singing.

Macy’s also sponsors the smaller Celebrate the Season Parade in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, held two days after the main event. Other cities in the US also have parades on Thanksgiving, but they are not run by Macy’s. The nation’s oldest Thanksgiving parade (the Gimbels parade, now known as 6abc/Boscov’s) was first held in Philadelphia in 1920. Other cities include the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade of Chicago, Illinois and parades in: Plymouth, Massachusetts; Seattle, Washington; Houston, Texas; Detroit, Michigan; and Fountain Hills, Arizona. Since 1994, a “rival” of sorts, called the Parade Spectacular, has been run in Stamford, Connecticut. It is run on the Sunday before Thanksgiving to not directly compete with the Macy’s parade and the balloon characters are not duplicated between the 2 parades. (Macy’s in fact has sponsored this parade in a lesser fashion in the past.)

New safety measures were incorporated in 2006 to prevent accidents and balloon related injuries. One measure taken was installation of wind measurement devices to alert parade organizers to any unsafe conditions that could cause the balloons to behave erratically. Also, parade officials implemented a measure to keep the balloons closer to the ground during windy conditions.

Balloon inflation
The balloons for the parade are inflated the day before (Wednesday) on both sides of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The balloons are split between 77th and 81st Streets between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. The inflation team consists of various volunteers from Macy’s as well as students from Stevens Institute of Technology, a local university in Hoboken, NJ where the balloons and floats are designed and built. The inflation is open to the public the afternoon and night before the parade.

HighBeam Research
From: The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
Date: November 27, 1991
To parade aficionados, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the Thanksgiving celebration is “Inflation Eve.” That’s when those giant helium balloons come to life.

In order to accommodate the largest balloon lineup in parade history—17 giant balloons and three “falloons” (these are part float, part balloon)—there will be two inflation sites this year: between
Central Park West and Columbus Avenue (next to the American Museum of Natural History), at both 77th and 81st streets. 

21 November 1994, Marysville (OH) Journal-Tribune, “Swan Princess, Giant Octopus ready to roll in Macy’s parade,” pg.  5, col. 4:
One tube of the tunnel is closed for the journey to a staging area along Central Park. The balloons have already made the trip, and will swell to heights of up to 80 feet in a tradition called “Inflation Eve.”

10 October 1999, New York (NY) Times, “Thanksgiving Parade,” pg. TR19: 
Mr. Ray (Tim Ray, director of publicity for Macy’s—ed.) adds that the public is invited to Inflation Eve. On the night before the parade, the famous large floating balloons are inflated on West 77th and West 81st Streets between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue, from 6 to 11 P.M. There’s no charge to watch, and it usually turns into a big impromptu street party.

22 November 2005, Racine (WI) Journal Times, “Glad You Asked: Thanksgiving leftovers” by Chris Bennett:
Inflation Eve, as it’s known in New York City, is as much a Big Apple tradition as the Chrysler Building and the Staten Island Ferry.

All the balloons will be inflated tomorrow night at Central Park West and Columbus Avenue between 77th and 81 streets. Inflation Eve runs from the late afternoon until it’s over.

The balloons are unfolded, spread and covered with nets weighted with sandbags. They’re filled in compartments. Each balloon comes with a chart, detailing how and in what order the compartments are filled.

Macy’s is the world’s second largest consumer of helium. The United States government is the first. The SpongeBob SquarePants balloon will consume about 16,200 cubic feet of helium, and stands 62 feet high, is 38 feet wide and 28 feet long.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityHolidays/Events/Parades • (2) Comments • Sunday, August 17, 2008 • Permalink