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Macy's Parade 1997 Newspaper

A newspaper showing the infamous Cat in the Hat balloon incident from 1997. Of note, this is said to be the worst accident in Parade history.

The 71st Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of the most infamous Macy's Parades to date. Not because of the quality of the Parade, or rather the list of celebrities, but rather the massive amount of balloons that either got damaged and/or destroyed completely. Below, you will find a list of the incidents that happened in the 1997 Parade.

Balloons

Ice Cream Cone

The Ice Cream Cone faced turbulence along the route, and the balloon's cone was partially damaged after scraping on the pavement due to the strong winds, but the rest of the balloon remained intact.

Arthur Read

Arthur's right arm was damaged by a tree right at the start of the Parade, but he made it through despite the winds. His right ear also deflated upon the route.

Big Bird

Big Bird wasn't damaged at all during the route. He was lowered to the ground due to the winds, but he made it through the whole route. However, one of the Alphabet balls preceding the balloon ended up being punctured and deflated due to the high winds, but the other two survived. Also, Big Bird's left leg was slightly bent, though this had been an issue in previous Parades, and would be until it was retired after the 2000 Parade. Ironically, Big Bird was older than most of the other balloons in the Parade (with Garfield being older), with most of the damaged balloons (aside from The Pink Panther, which was introduced the same year as Big Bird, and Spider-Man, which was introduced the year before) being newer.

Garfield

Garfield's tail was damaged overnight, and his left back paw was deflated during the route, but the rest of the balloon remained undamaged. He was also lopsided by the time he got to Herald Square.

Peter Rabbit

At Columbus Circle, Peter Rabbit hit a lamppost that almost popped the balloon's ear open. The same thing occurred later when his head was almost popped open by another lamppost. It had also been reported that the balloon also hit the same lamppost that The Cat in the Hat eventually destroyed. Even with that, the balloon remained undamaged. Alongside Big Bird, he was the only other balloon who wasn't damaged at all during the route. 

Flying Fish

Flying Fish couldn't start the Parade at all, after it was punctured by an unknown obstacle the night before due to the heavy winds.

The Pink Panther

The Pink Panther was reportedly the toughest balloon to handle due to its maximum size. He was lowered to the ground to the point where he couldn't even stand up high. He repeatedly kept knocking over handlers face-first on the ground and almost suffocated a woman and her daughter. At 42nd Street, he eventually collapsed and later was ripped open by a lamppost. It was reported that one of the handler's colleagues was knocked unconscious during the collapse but this was never confirmed. The NYPD had to stab the balloon until it was completely destroyed. Due to the severe damage done to the balloon, as well its height exceeding the new size regulations that were enacted the following year, the balloon was permanently retired.

Quik Bunny

The Quik Bunny's start was delayed due to the winds, and he was moved to the Barney balloon's planned position. While struggling to turn from 77th Street onto Central Park West, his right ear was punctured by a tree and quickly deflated. The balloon faced more trouble once it arrived at Times Square, where his ear and hat were torn completely open, revealing the inside of the balloon. The balloon limped away and was removed at 36th Street, mere minutes before his NBC appearance.

Barney the Dinosaur

Barney was moved to behind the Westwood Ho float. He knocked over a tree at Central Park West due to strong winds and later went out of control at 51st Street. The Wind was violently dangling the balloon in which it then had its side cut open by a lamppost, prompting the NYPD to stab and stomp the balloon until it was completely deflated.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Mere minutes after the balloon started to march, Sonic's head was ripped apart by an obstacle at Central Park West (most likely a lamppost). He was deflated shortly after and immediately retired due to his damages.

Cloe the Holiday Clown

On 51st Street, a high wind gust was tossing and turning Cloe at the spectators, in an attempt to control the balloon from the high winds the balloon handlers and even some clowns nearby were holding on tight to the balloon right on the same spot where Barney deflated. It's unknown what happened to the balloon afterwards, as Cloe never made it to Times Square. It is likely that the balloon was stabbed by the NYPD before it went out of control even further.

Rugrats

Even though the Rugrats balloon was quite large, the entire balloon remained just about intact throughout the parade, with other balloon handlers from other deflated balloons also holding on to this one. Despite Chuckie's shorts receiving minor damage from the winds, it made it to the end.

The Cat in the Hat

In what has been described as the worst accident in the parade's history, The Cat in the Hat hit a lamppost twice at Central Park West and 72nd Street, which ended up knocking parts of the light onto the crowd, injuring 4 people, most notably injuring a woman named Kathleen Caronna. The impact of the debris almost killed her, putting her into a month-long coma; she eventually sued Macy's for nearly killing her in 2001. The balloon's hat was also punctured and deflated by that lamppost, and so he had to travel the rest of the Parade without it. Eventually, the balloon limped away and was removed at 36th Street.[1] This led to new safety guidelines the following year (see below), including restrictions on balloon sizes. While the Cat in the Hat did not violate the new size limits, he was still permanently banned after the 1997 Parade due to the severity of the incident.

Spider-Man

Spider-Man's left hand was damaged and he was half deflated. He was lowered to the ground but made it through the Parade route.

Bumpé

Bumpé's back legs were punctured and deflated after a strong gust pushed him into the sidelines at Time Square. Additionally, the high winds also caused him to lose his front toenails upon route. Despite the incident, the balloon remained largely intact throughout the rest of the Parade route.

Eben Bear

Eben Bear was removed from the parade at 76th street after the Cat in the Hat incident.

Snow Family

The head of the SnowDad tore off the float and deflated. The other Snowpeople survived.

Pennsylvania Dutch Ornament and Flower Ornament

Last seen on 51st Street right behind the Grinch Falloon before they were removed for unknown reasons.

Petula Pig

Petula Pig was also removed from the Parade after the Cat in the Hat incident.

Paddington Bear

Paddington Bear was knocked right down and almost completely deflated, but eventually went back up before being shown on TV.

Aftermath

After the "Great Balloon Massacre" of the 1997 Parade, new safety measures were introduced in order to prevent balloon incidents from occurring often, if not to eliminate the possibility of them altogether. Starting in 1998, the giant character balloons would now be attached to two utility tractors, as well as a handler/pilot expansion. However, the most important rule of which, was a strict size limit on balloons, which means they can no longer be larger than 70 feet in height, 78 feet in length, or 40 feet in width. This meant that the larger balloons -- including Bugs Bunny, Rex the Dinosaur, The Pink Panther, Woody Woodpecker, and Bart Simpson -- had to be permanently banned from making any further appearances. Any balloons that weren't built for the utility tractors were retired as well. In 2005, after another serious incident occurred, more safety measures were enacted, such as installing wind measurement devices that alert Parade organizers to unsafe weather, keeping balloons closer to the ground during windy conditions, and prohibiting the giant balloons from flying during very heavy rainfall, or in sustained winds higher than 23 MPH, in addition to gusts higher than 34 MPH. After that no more incidents like that and 2005 have ever happened again.

References

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/1997/11/28/nyregion/macy-s-parade-of-balloons-gets-one-thing-it-doesn-t-need-wind.html
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