On Thanksgiving morning, many of us will be watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. For more than eighty years, the giant balloons have wobbled and swayed down Broadway. Has it occurred to you to wonder how the tradition of the balloons began and who invented those balloons anyway? I have enjoyed a most delightful picture book about that very subject – Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet.
From the time he was a little boy, Tony Sarg loved to figure out how to make things move. As young as six years old, Tony was inventing gadgets which would help him do his chores. When Tony grew up, his only job aspiration was to become a puppeteer. He soon became famous for his marionettes, so he moved to
and began performing on Broadway. New York City
R. H. Macy’s Department Store was located on
Herald Square. Tony was hired to decorate Macy’s holiday windows with moving puppets. The mechanical puppets drew excited lookers and shoppers to the department store. Many of the Macy’s employees were immigrants who missed the street celebrations of their native countries. They influenced their employer to plan a parade and Tony was drafted to help with the planning. The first Macy’s parade wound its way from Harlem to Herald Square on Thanksgiving Day, 1924. It was such a success they decided to have a parade every Thanksgiving Day.
The story of how Tony Sarg adapted stick puppets to the huge balloons we see today is told beautifully in Balloons Over Broadway. Every child who reads this book will look at the parade with new eyes and with greater enjoyment. Caldecott Honor artist Melissa Sweet has created a picture book which will delight all ages. An interesting tidbit I learned is that Bil Baird, the creator of the “Lonely Goatherd” marionette show which was featured in the movie The Sound of Music was an apprentice of Tony Sarg. In turn, one of Baird’s apprentices was Jim Henson, who invented the Muppets--Wilma Snyder. (Houghton Mifflin, 2011)