Shhhh…I know a little Thanksgiving secret. It’s not a family recipe for stuffing or green bean casserole, it’s about New York City’s iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Now that I have your attention, would you believe that the spectacular holiday procession viewed in person by more than three million spectators and on television by more than 50 million more people, actually begins and ends in New Jersey?
That’s right. The eye-catching floats and signature giant character balloons that have razzle-dazzled their way through the streets of Manhattan every Turkey Day since 1924 reside in the Garden State the other 364 days of the year. The show-stealers are designed, built and cared for by a talented and dedicated crew of artists, engineers, animators and crafts-people. The workers toil away all year at the Macy’s Parade Studio, located in the shadow of The Big Apple at an industrial park in Moonachie.
Macy’s Parade Studio’s vice president, John Piper, is so enthusiastic about the parade floats and balloons he’s responsible for, that a wellspring of information bubbles and fizzes from him like a bottle of champagne finally free of its cork. The 2014 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade features 16 giant character balloons, 33 smaller novelty balloons and 27 floats. Each is designed, built, refurbished and prepped for the big day at his facility. “We reassemble it all, check it all, make sure all the animation is working, touch up the paint that’s needed. We call it parade prep,” he said.
The process for the next year’s parade starts immediately after the current parade ends. “Every balloon is being prepped (for the next parade) and the new ones are being designed,” Piper explained. “We’re doing both at the same time. We’re prepping old ones and we’re building new ones, so it’s non-stop, it’s just all year long,” he added. “For each balloon we check all of the chambers and check all of the lines. Then we deflate it and actually put vacuums on it and suck out all of the air. Then we fold it up in a very specific way and put it in the container that will be its transport to the parade. Then it is what we call ‘parade ready.’”
“With the floats its the same thing. After each one is checked, it is disassembled in a very specific manner. It’s all tied down and locked and parade ready,” Piper said. This week at the Parade Studio, things like generators, sound systems and battery units are added. “Anything that can’t be prepped too far in advance happens in this last week before the parade. Our countdown is happening now,” he said.
It is mind boggling to consider how the enormous floats on display at the Parade Studio will transform into a compact bundle. The structures can be three stories tall and several lanes of traffic wide when expanded, but collapse to no more than 12 ½-feet tall and eight-feet wide in order to safely travel the tunnel from the New Jersey studio to the Manhattan starting line.
With another nod to New Jersey, the Pirate’s Booty Treasure Hunt float is ready to make its parade debut, one of five to do so this year. (Pirate Brands Snacks is a subsidiary of B&G Foods of Parsippany.) “As the grand schooner ship sets sail down the Parade route, millions of fans will join the Pirate’s Booty Pirate and his first mate, Crunchy the Parrot on an incredible holiday treasure hunt,” said Amy Kule, executive producer of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “This wonderful pirate-themed creation is sure to entertain the scores of fans lining the streets of Manhattan and those gathered around television screens nationwide.”
In celebration of its partnership with Macy’s and the introduction of the new float, Pirate’s Booty is offering fans a chance to win a trip for four to New York City to watch the 2015 parade (next year!) live from VIP seating through the “Share Yarrr Thanksgiving Traditions” contest. For more information about the contest, check out the rules here. Entries are accepted through THIS Thanksgiving: November 27, 2014. Good luck!
Kerry Brown Jersey Bites Regional Editor for Burlington County, is a freelance writer who reports on local happenings in education, food, business, features and the arts for several media outlets including South Jersey Local News and Newsworks. At home she enjoys sharing simple but flavor-packed meals, especially from the grill, with her family and friends. Dessert has never been her calling but she recently discovered what could be a signature dish: Meyer lemon icebox pie. When out and about, she’s happy to find herself seated at the bar in some rustic and cozy tavern featuring craft food, craft beer, an amazing selection of wine by the glass and live music.