Posts Tagged ‘New York City parades’

Colonial New York’s first St. Patrick’s Day parade

March 17, 2014

In the Fifth century, the British-born missionary known as St. Patrick began converting the Irish to Christianity.

In the 18th century, St. Patrick got his first parade—held not in Ireland but on the streets of lower Manhattan.


[St. Patrick’s Day in Union Square, 1874]

Depending on the source, it was either 1762 or 1766. The small celebratory march took place near City Hall on March 17, the feast day of St. Patrick. The parade was composed of Irish soldiers serving in the British Army in a pre-Revolutionary War city.


[Marchers in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue in 1909, then below in 1913]

The marchers wore green (banned in Ireland at the time) and played bagpipes, just like today. “The tradition of a militia-sponsored event was continued until 1812, when Irish-American fraternal and benevolent societies assumed organizational responsibility, although soldiers continued to lead the march,” wrote The New York Times.


As Irish immigrants poured into the city in the 1840s and 1850s following the potato famine, the parade swelled to massive proportions.

Through the 19th century, it followed a circuitous route from Second Avenue and 23rd Street down to City Hall, up Seventh Avenue, and back again to the East Side before ending a Cooper Union.


[the parade in 1949 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral]

“Mayor Abraham Oakey Hall (1868-1872) attended the festivities dressed in emerald-green coat and shirt, and facetiously insisted that his initials were short for “Ancient Order of Hibernians,” the Times wrote.

The Irish may have been unloved as an ethnic group, but vote-hungry politicians realized they couldn’t ignore the popular parade and began making appearances.


[In 1956, these Irish wolfhounds were the mascots of New York’s celebrated 69th Army Regiment, aka the “Fighting Irish”]

“In 1887, newly-elected mayor Abram Hewitt broke tradition by refusing to review the parade or fly the shamrock flag at City Hall, lecturing the city that ‘America should be governed by Americans.’ He was not reelected,” reported the Times.

By the middle of the 20th century, the parade featured close to 200,000 marchers and millions of spectators. Despite its reputation for rowdiness and controversy over who can march and who cannot, politicians continue to show up, Mayor de Blasio not withstanding.

When Fifth Avenue hosted a yearly horse parade

September 13, 2012

I’m not so sure that the thousands of horses tasked to pull wagons day after day in New York’s pre-auto era were treated very well.

But for several years in the early 1900s, they were treated to their own parade.

The Work Horse Parade, sponsored by the ASPCA, was meant to “induce the owners and drivers of work horses, and the public generally, to take more interest in their welfare,” states a New York Times article on the first-ever parade, dated May 19, 1907.

About 1,200 horses were expected to participate, and “all of the express companies, many coal companies, confectionery houses, and co. will send entries,” reported the Times.

Equines that worked for the FDNY, police force, and other city workers marched too.

So did hundreds of truck horses, who spent their days making deliveries for “wholesale grocers, breweries, butchers, milk companies, laundries, and, in fact, almost every branch of business.”

The parade started at Washington Square, with horses and drivers going up Fifth Avenue to Worth Square at 23rd Street.

There, judges awarded various prizes. This Borden’s milk truck team in the above photo won the “obstacle test” in 1908.

Looks like the parade ran for eight years; I can’t find a reference to it after 1914, when it expanded to include dogs, ponies, and even two mules.

After 1914, automobiles began eclipsing horsepower—which had served New York well for close to three centuries.

[Photos: Bain Archive, Library of Congress]

The strangest Macy’s Parade balloons ever

November 21, 2011

Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Day parade has been a city tradition since 1924, and the iconic balloons began appearing three years later.

Since then, beloved characters from Felix the Cat (the first balloon) to Kermit the Frog to Sonic the Hedgehog have made an appearance (or two).

And while most of the balloons are met with great applause, looking back, some seem like, well, weird choices.

Like this Eddie Cantor balloon from the 1940 parade (above).

Cantor was a top singer in vaudeville and on Broadway at the time, but was the bug-eyed star really that popular with the kids of the day?

These days, the reputation of New York City police officers has taken a beating.

But in 1937, a cop appeared in balloon form at the parade, seen here (at left) on Broadway and 56th Street. I wonder how that would go over today.

Santa Claus of course isn’t a strange choice for a parade balloon.Since the launch of the parade, he’s been at the tail end of the procession, the last float to be welcomed into Herald Square.

What I want to know is, why does this Santa balloon, from the 1939 parade, look like he has a penis attached to his chin?

The Village Halloween Parade’s humble start

October 28, 2009

For years, it’s been a colossal spectacle, with deep crowds lining Sixth Avenue, thousands of marchers donning fantastically creative props and costumes, and live TV coverage capturing each moment.

Plus tons of cops, police barricades, drunken kids, and litter—lots of litter.

But in the early 1970s, the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade was more of a small-scale bit of street theater, a mile-long walk planned by a local mask-maker and pupeteer for his West Village neighbors.


The giant caterpillars of the 1998 parade, standing tall on Sixth Avenue

It started in the courtyard of Westbeth, the factory-turned-artist lofts on Bethune Street. From there, a few dozen revelers in masks and costumes—including a man in a lobster outfit and a two-headed pig—wandered along the Village’s side streets to Washington Square.

The parade’s popularity took off fast—as did the number of marchers and viewers. By 1984, the parade grew so massive, the route had to be relocated to Sixth Avenue from Spring Street to 22nd Street to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of people who came to the Village to see it.

A victory parade at Madison Square Park

November 10, 2008

In March 1919, the city threw a spectacular parade on Fifth Avenue to honor the soldiers from New York’s 27th Division, who broke the Hindenburg Line in World War I and forced the Germans to retreat. 

A ceremony took place at the victory arch at Madison Square Park, built in 1918 and modeled after the Arch of Constantine in Rome. Nope, it’s not there anymore. Despite an attempt to make it a permanent part of the park, the arch was eventually torn down.


Of 27,114 men, the 27th division sustained more than 8,000 casualties. The New York Times had this to say about the parade: 

“Early Tuesday morning the Avenue from 23rd Street to 26th Street will be carpeted with sand and roped off. As the head of the parade comes down the ropes will be severed by a bayonet wielded by a Sergeant wearing British and American valor medals.

“A caisson with memorial casket and wreath, drawn by eight black horses, with a military guard, will pass slowly under the arch, while the guns of the harbor’s forts boom out a 21-gun salute.”