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Friday, April 28, 2017

When did Macy's start having balloons in their Thanksgiving Day parade?

Though it can be hard to think about November with the spring weather we’ve been having, the question came up in one of our library book discussions. Brad Ricca, in his book Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster – the Creators of Superman, mentioned the Superman balloon in the 1939 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. One of our patrons wondered how long the big balloons had been part of the parade.

According to Kathleen Curtin and Sandra L. Oliver’s book Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History, from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie, Eliza Berman’s article on, and Kate Hogan’s article on, the first giant balloons appeared in 1927 – most famously, the cartoon character Felix the Cat.

The Macy’s parade began in 1924, but the custom of Thanksgiving parades in New York dates back to the 1780s, according to Curtin and Oliver. “Fantastical companies,” as they were called, were groups of working-class young men dressing in costume and carousing in the streets on Thanksgiving morning. The Macy’s parade itself may have originated with the company’s employees, immigrants who wanted to celebrate with a European-style parade including clowns, floats, and zoo animals.

In the parade’s early years, officials had no plans for deflating the balloons. They set them free and offered a reward if people could bring them back. This practice ended after a balloon nearly brought down a plane.

For more information, America’s Favorite Holidays by Bruce David Forbes and All around the Year: Holidays and Celebrations in American Life by Jack Santino are available for checkout at the Newton Falls Public Library, along with Melissa Sweet’s picture book biography of Tony Sarg, Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade.

Friday, April 7, 2017

How many people survived the Titanic sinking?

After a presentation by Carol Starre-Kmiecik, who told the story of the “unsinkable” Margaret “Molly” Brown, a famous Titanic survivor, one of our patrons was curious about how many other people had survived. Ms. Starr-Kmiecik remembered that around 1,500 had died, but no one could remember the number of survivors.

The answer was in Andrew Wilson’s book Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived. 705 people survived the sinking. Wilson tells some of their stories, from Jack Thayer, a seventeen year-old who jumped from the rail of the ship in its final moments and managed to swim to an overturned lifeboat, to Dorothy Gibson, an actress who went on to star in Saved from the Titanic, a silent film about the tragedy. 

The website provides lists of survivors that can be sorted by lifeboat. According to the site, there were twenty-three other people on Margaret Brown’s lifeboat – less than half its full capacity. These other passengers included several other people from first class and their maids, two crew members, an a third-class passenger. One of the women, Mrs. Elizabeth Rothschild, is said to have snuck her Pomeranian aboard and refused to board the rescuing Carpathian without it.