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.
Camels may not get on that pilot's nerves, but the crying baby probably isn't terribly relaxing. (This is from 1932.)
There was a time (1930) when Americans gave thanks by watching wide-eyed disembodied heads float past their windows.
There is also an alarmed-looking woman holding something — a stick? She looks a bit like the mother from the Katzenjammer Kids.
This is Captain Nemo as seen in the 1929 parade, gloomily marching through Midtown on his hoof feet, lamenting the loss of his submarine.
From 1933, a clearly drunk butler falls on his face in the middle of Broadway.
Merry Christmas from Uncle Sam.
Except for the weird star on his side, this is basically a regular dachshund at 100/1 scale. (1932)
The key to making alligators cute is the big round eyes. (1933)
Or, maybe, the smile? The murder raccoon — which is otherwise pretty similar to this — has more of a sneer. This alligator looks happy.
Same as the dachshund, although this cat looks as though it has been taxidermied.
Obviously a terrific photo, but also a very cute turkey that looks as though he's a bit bashful.
Things floating in the sky
One of these is, hands down, the creepiest image in the lot. You be the judge.
All via the New York Public Library.
Even in the 1930s, there were still branded balloons.
Felix, in 1932, and, of course:
In case you ever wondered how to make Superman look creepy, there you go. He looks like he just lost a fight with Bizarro Superman, and then had a few whiskeys.