There was a time when the balloons in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade weren't inflated billboards for terrible movies and cartoons. Eighty years ago, the balloons were instead weird animals and dead-eyed people — suggesting that, for once, the dominance of marketing might have been a good thing.
The creepiness appears to have peaked in the mid-1930s, about a decade after the parade first began. Most of the balloons, according to the pictures we found, floated fairly close to the ground. The ones that appeared high in the sky look smaller — but that could be a function of the photography. Most were photographed either near Columbus Circle (59th Street and Broadway, for those unfamiliar with New York) or down by the Macy's itself on 34th. But nearly all are bizarre. We segmented them into five categories.
Images below were adapted from the New York Public Library's collection; others, as identified, are from the Associated Press archives.
This "big cat" is from the 1931 parade, being dragged around by horrifying clowns, one of whom peers into the camera as if to warn you, the future observer, that you can never truly be safe.
We think this is an alligator from the 1932 parade, but it could also be an animal we call the "murder raccoon."
Christopher Columbus looks on as a pig — face furrowed deeply with lines of worry — floats past, its oddly-shaped nose constantly sniffing. (1932)
Honorable mention: This chicken isn't scary, as such, but a 15-foot tall, unsmiling chicken isn't exactly cute.