The Balloons on the Night Before the Macy’s Day Parade



40 W 77th St, New York, NY

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

Illustrations by Elisha Cooper

In the sixties and seventies watching the balloons being blown up wasn’t such a big NY “happening” and the only people their were residents of the neighborhood, building and neighborhood employees and business owners, the volunteers who inflated and walked the balloons, and the police. The street was closed at around dusk the night before the parade, but the balloons didn’t arrive until midnight. This offered a rare opportunity to play in the street ( 77th is a 2 way street from CPW to Columbus).

The kids would grab the chalk and roller skates and either draw or play in the roller hockey game that started soon as the street closed and usually lasted until the teams that blew up the balloons began to arrive and lay the large tarps down on the street. By the time the teams arrives the entire street would be covered with folk art created by the kids. There was always an exciting, but low key party atmosphere there. Residents brought coffee and snacks for the police and balloon teams who where on all night duty. Anyone, at that time, could wnader onto the block and participate in the party. You could come by at midnight and see folks out with their dogs, kids hanging around, groups standing and gabbing in front of buildings and across the street on the sidewalks and entrances in front of the Museum.

There were cocktail parties for the adults and wine served in the crisp fall evening and nightime air, which was just slightly tainted with the smell of diesel as the big air trucks began to roll in.

After the games were over and the ballooning started we’d watch the balloons fill with air. It took about 5-7 hours to fill a big balloon like Bullwinkle, who rose each year, for as long as I lived there, by morning to float below the windows in our apartment on the sixth floor of 40 west 77th. Waking up on thanksgiving day was almost as good a Christmas. Were the balloons up? Had any popped, which sometimes happened ( the balloons were made in compartments so sometimes, there might be a balloon with a floppy hand or foot).

About 30-45 minutes before the parade began the balloon walkers started to pick up the line and get used to the conditions, like wind and air density and try to get a feel of how the balloons would float that year. It was like lumbering giants waking up as the balloons started to rise ( they were held down by nets and sandbags until the teams began to take the lines).

Then the parade would start and so would the march of the balloons. The teams would start moving the balloons up the block towards CPW to take their place in the parade among the floats and bands. How exciting it was to watch the balloons make their first turn from 77th to CPW, like they were just loosening up.

It was a more innocent and less frantic time.

from 1955 to 1973

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