BY Eric Rezsnyak
Here at the Great Pop Culture Debate, we absolutely love the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In fact, we did a whole episode devoted to our favorite balloons from it! As we were working on the episode, we swapped memories and stories of legendary parade mishaps. Below find 10 of our favorites from nearly 100 years of parades, with a notable focus on more recent years, where there are more available photos/videos.
Note that we deliberately avoided incidents in which people were seriously hurt — and in some cases, we do mean seriously. We of course want a safe and happy parade for everyone!
10. Felix the Cat Goes Up in Flames (1927)
The very first Macy’s parade featuring fabricated balloons ended with one of the most recognizable balloons of the day — the comic strip star Felix the Cat — bursting into a ball of fire. Thankfully it didn’t occur DURING the parade. In the early years of the parade, it was actually commonplace for the handlers to release the balloons into the air after they arrived at the end of the parade route. The balloons would then take to the skies, wherever the wind would take them. And if some lucky person found them downed in the wild, they could then return them to Macy’s for a $100 gift certificate (which was a lot of money in that day — hell, it’s a decent amount of money now, nearly 100 years later!).
With that in mind, Felix was released at the end of the parade. But you know what they say about curiosity and cats, and poor Felix was apparently tempted by some telephone lines, and when he made contact, he exploded. Here’s a dramatic recreation via National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation:
9. The 2008 Parade Gets Rick Roll’d
This “mistake” was of course quite intentional, as the parade got into the of-the-moment Rick Roll trend when the Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends float was interrupted by the vocal sensation of 1987, Rick Astley, who emerged from the set to perform “Never Gonna Give You Up” as children born long after the song was released reacted in relative bewilderment. Bonus points for Matt Lauer’s totally over-it commentary leading into the clip. How did we all let that situation go on so long, America?
8. Cheerleader Pyramid Fail (2012)
We will admit that this is perhaps a little meanspirited, but consider us inspired by Broadway’s Avenue Q and indulge us in this nationally televised bit of schadenfreude. We genuinely love seeing all the marching bands and dance troupes and other high-school performing groups in the parade each year. In 2012, as the Spirit of America Cheerleaders went to do their routine in front of the Herald Square Macy’s, disaster struck. As Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” played in the background, the gal in the very center tried to be startin’ something — specifically the topping of a cheer pyramid — and she failed. But you know what? At least she tried. I was probably at home stuffing my face with cinnamon rolls.
7. Tom Cat Nearly Brings Down a Plane (1932)
Remember earlier when we talked about how Macy’s initially released the balloons at the end of the parade, for people to return for reward? That all stopped after this incident. After the Tom Cat balloon was released, it was encountered by an amateur pilot flying in the sky, who made the astonishingly bad decision to fly straight at it. She hit the balloon, which became tangled in her wing, and the plane entered a nosedive — the pilot even nearly fell out of the plane mid-descent when the cockpit door flew open. Thankfully, an instructor pilot was on board and was able to bring the plane in for a safe landing. Nobody was seriously injured. But this was the last year the balloons were released, and for good reason. And if you’re a pilot and you encounter a giant helium balloon in the air? Avoid it. Unless you are Batman:
6. Rita Ora Blows Her Lipysnch Entrance (2018)
There have been countless terrible lipsynch performances as part of the Macy’s Parade — it’s part of the charm of the event — and 2018 was a particularly bad year for them. We’re singling out Rita here for a few reasons. First, because her example is so egregious. She missed the cue, and spent the entire segment lipsynching an entirely different section of the song than what was being played on the broadcast; it’s a sustained full-body cringe. And second, because it is Rita Ora, the living embodiment of Fetch. Someone just keeps trying to make her happen. This is what you get.
5. Al Roker’s Ongoing War Against Butter
At this point, Al Roker is an essential part of the Macy’s Parade, having covered it for NBC since 1995. That is ASTONISHING. He took over the baton from my childhood NBC weatherperson, Willard Scott, and he’s still running with it. While Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie (ugh) chill out in their well-appointed booth, Al is roving the streets, interacting with the hoi polloi. And in what has become something of a recurring gag, Al has gotten into shoving fights with, well, a human-sized pat of butter. While this was almost certainly staged, never forget that Butter historically got the last laugh on Al, since the man has publicly admitted to sharting himself while at the White House. Who is laughing now, Al?
4. Diana Ross Is Unbothered (2018)
Remember those bad lipsynchs from the 2018 parade? Here’s another, although calling it a lipsynch isn’t really accurate. Diana Ross is a legend, she is an icon, she is every Moment. She is also completely out of fucks to give when it comes to gigs like this. The woman flew out of the Super Bowl Halftime Show in a helicopter, for crying out loud! Delight now in watching Diana not even bother to attempt to lipsynch while on the Hallmark float with her family:
3. Miss Piggy Saves Tony Bennett’s Life (2016)
Fans of the Muppets have always known Miss Piggy to be much like a Meredith Brooks song: she is a bitch, she is a lover, she is a child (Muppet Babies is canon), she is a Mother (in select dream sequences). And as she demonstrated while singing with Tony Bennett in the 2016 parade, she attacc, but she also protecc. After the float suddenly started moving again, nonagenarian Bennett lost his balance, and it was Piggy to the rescue with her quick reflexes honed by years of karate. Just a reminder: Miss Piggy is a puppet. A puppet saved beloved treasure Tony Bennett (RIP Tony). Lambchop could never.
2. The Nutcracker Goes Full Bouncer (2019)
Winds can wreak havoc on the parade’s massive balloons — more on that in a minute — but in 2019, one particular balloon fought back, as the classic Nutcraker let out its aggression at having to schlep halfway across New York City by bodyslamming one of his handlers. As RuPaul asks us, “Category Is: Butch Queen Nutcracker; who’s gonna crack these nuts?” The Nutcracker balloon gave us 10s across the board, honey, and he made them EAT IT. (NOTE: the volunteer who was knocked to the ground was fine, she got right back up.)
1. The Day the Dinosaur Died (1997)
There have been many, MANY incidents in which balloons were damaged or torn apart before or during the Macy’s Parade; the amazing Macy’s Parade Wiki has a comprehensive list, and reading it is harrowing. All those beloved characters being put through the wringer! It pains us to see. Perhaps the most notable, non-serious-injury-related, example came in 1997, when Barney the Dinosaur was GOING THROUGH IT due to the brutal winds. The handlers tried their best to wrangle the purple prehistoric protagonist, but one massive gust pushed him right into a light post and gutted him to the horror of a crowd of onlookers. Oh, the HUMANITY. The footage is dramatic, but worth a watch. Especially if you were a parent whose small children made them play Barney & Friends over and over again on repeat. You might actually find some satisfaction in it.
To cleanse your palate and get you ready for this year’s parade, enjoy unflavored ice-milk Savannah Guthrie wildin’ to decade-old music by Sean Paul:
Did we miss your favorite Macy’s Parade shocking moment? Tell us in the comments. Then check out our other Top 10 lists by clicking here!