15 Facts About Blackbeard

Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Extremely adept at capturing ships and plundering loot, the pirate Blackbeard struck fear into the hearts of New World seamen—and these days, he's unquestionably the most famous pirate of all time. You can find Blackbeard statues in North Carolina and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A brand of men’s hair dye was named after him. And the city of Hampton, Virginia throws an annual pirate festival in his honor. If you want to find out about Blackbeard, this list’s for you, matey.

1. BLACKBEARD WAS AN APPROPRIATE NICKNAME.

Captain Edward Teach or Thatch, who was known as Blackbeard the Pirate
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Like many pirates from his era, Blackbeard is a figure with mysterious origins. Some say he was born in the English port of Bristol around 1680; others argue that he was born in Jamaica. He used to call himself Edward, but it's unclear what last name he used. Most primary documents refer to him as Edward Thatch (although the spelling isn’t consistent, and it may have been an assumed name anyway), but the Boston News-Letter and other contemporary newspapers tended to call him Edward Teach. The origin of the moniker Blackbeard, however, is easier to figure out. It was derived from eyewitness testimonies: People who had seen the pirate firsthand often described him as a tall, thinly built man with a long black beard.

2. HE MAY HAVE DABBLED IN PRIVATEERING.

For centuries, governments in Europe and elsewhere would hire private warships to further their own interests (think of it as piracy by commission). First, they’d approach the owners of heavily-armed vessels and give them legal permission to attack or plunder enemy nations. After recruiting a private ship, the government would hand the crew a “Letter of Marque”—essentially instructions for the sailors, which included detailed information about who could be attacked and under what circumstances.

These mercenaries were known as privateers. In the 1724 book A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, Captain Charles Johnson (likely a pseudonym) asserted that, as a young sailor, Edward Thatch joined a privateering crew sailing out of Jamaica (then a British colony). No one’s been able to verify this claim, but it’s certainly plausible. Plenty of great pirates started out as privateers before they went rogue and turned on their homelands. Mr. Thatch wouldn’t have been an outlier.

3. THE PIRATE BENJAMIN HORNIGOLD IS OFTEN CITED AS HIS MENTOR.

In December 1716, merchant captain Henry Timberlake gave a deposition about a pirate attack he’d recently survived—one of the first written documents to mention Edward “Blackbeard” Thatch.

Timberlake reported that a few days earlier, his 40-ton brigantine had been attacked and plundered by two pirate sloops near the island of Hispaniola. One of those ships, he said, was commanded by somebody called Edward Thach [sic]; the other sloop’s leader was the pirate Benjamin Hornigold, a well-known outlaw with a sizable fleet. According to Timberlake’s disposition, Thatch and Hornigold divvied up his booty—which mostly consisted of food—between their crews.

It’s unknown if the two pirates actually worked together. Some historians think Blackbeard was a lieutenant of Hornigold’s at the time, but it’s also possible that the pirates were behaving independently, and that Thatch was never subordinate to Hornigold. Regardless, as a maritime legend, Blackbeard was about to come into his own.

4. HIS FLAGSHIP WAS AN EX-SLAVE VESSEL.

By the autumn of 1717, Blackbeard had established himself as the head of a small fleet. On November 28 of that year, two of his sloops came across La Concorde, a 200-ton slave ship with 16 cannons. The French vessel was on its third slave trading expedition across the Atlantic with hundreds of Africans on board, 100 miles from Martinique, when Thatch’s men caught sight of it. Despite its numerous cannons, La Concorde was an easy target: Blackbeard’s two sloops had a combined total of 150 crewmen, and La Concorde had fewer than 60 sailors in its crew, over half of whom were sick with dysentery and scurvy. Thatch seized the ship and renamed it the Queen Anne’s Revenge. It remained Blackbeard’s primary ship until June 1718, when it was wrecked on a sandbar near Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina.

5. IT’S SAID THAT HE USED TO PUT FLAMING MATCHES UNDER HIS HAT.

Blackbeard’s fame as an outlaw was solidified after he seized at least 15 ships near the harbors of New York, Philadelphia, and other east coast cities in the fall of 1717. Frightening stories were told and retold by those who’d survived an encounter with him. The tales grew tall. Blackbeard was said to adorn himself with flaming matches or candles, and according to 1724's A General History, “In time of action, he… stuck lighted matches under his hat, which appearing on each side of his face, his eyes naturally looking fierce and wild, made him altogether such a figure that imagination cannot form an idea of a fury, from hell, to look more frightful.”

Of course, these stories about Blackbeard's fiery antics might be pure folklore—but the image is compelling!

6. BLACKBEARD DOUBLE-CROSSED THE SO-CALLED “GENTLEMAN PIRATE.”

Stede Bonnet was the wealthy, 29-year-old owner of a Barbados sugar plantation who—for reasons unknown—abandoned his family and became a pirate in 1717. Bonnet’s first move was to (legally) purchase a sloop, which he soon fitted with 10 cannons. Next, he hired a crew and started raiding vessels along the eastern seaboard. But although his men were experienced, Bonnet himself knew almost nothing about seafaring. And then he met Blackbeard.

By that point, Thatch was already a criminal celebrity. Soon, the two forged a partnership and started taking ships in the West Indies. Blackbeard, a worldly fellow, quickly deduced that his new partner—who had been nicknamed the Gentleman Pirate—was just a rookie. Bonnet’s flagship was a vessel called The Revenge. After some persuasion, he allowed one of Blackbeard’s men to be put in charge of the ship.

When the Queen Anne’s Revenge was wrecked on the sandbar, Blackbeard returned The Revenge to Bonnet. Likely seeking a pardon for some crimes he'd previously committed, Bonnet left the ship and went ashore. While he was away, Blackbeard stripped The Revenge of its supplies and sailed off. Bonnet vowed that he’d get even, but the Gentleman Pirate never saw Thatch again.

7. CONTRARY TO POPULAR BELIEF, HIS FLAG DID NOT LOOK LIKE THIS.

blackbeard's flag

Fred the Oyster, Wikimedia Commons // CC0

Some picture books, magazine articles, and TV documentaries will tell you that Blackbeard’s ships used flags with a heart-stabbing horned skeleton on them. But historian E.T. Fox begs to differ. In his book Jolly Rogers: The True History of Pirate Flags, Fox points out that there’s no record of Blackbeard ever using this design. One newspaper report from 1718 said that Thatch’s ships flew “Black Flags” and “Bloody Flags,” but the writeup doesn’t go into detail. According to Fox, the horned skeleton design didn’t appear in any English-language document until 1912, when it was featured in the journal Mariner’s Mirror, incorrectly tied to a pirate named John Quelch. In all likelihood, the horned skull flag was invented during the early 20th century and only started being associated with Blackbeard as late as the 1970s.

8. IN 1718, HE BLOCKADED THE PORT OF CHARLESTON—AND DEMANDED MEDICAL TOOLS.

In May 1718, Charleston (then called Charles Town) found itself at the mercy of Edward Thatch. With four vessels and 400 men, Blackbeard effectively sealed off the city’s harbor; ships that tried to enter or leave it were plundered. On one of these ships, the Crowley, was Samuel Wragg—a member of the colony's governing council—and his young son. In exchange for the safe return of these hostages, Blackbeard demanded a chest of medical supplies. Within a few days, he got his wish. The city grudgingly handed over the equipment and Thatch sent his prisoners back unharmed.

9. HE TRIED TO SETTLE DOWN IN BATH, NORTH CAROLINA.

After the Queen Anne’s Revenge sank, Blackbeard found himself in a conciliatory mood. He and his (diminished) crew approached North Carolina’s governor Charles Eden and asked for an official pardon. Eden granted their request. Blackbeard settled in the coastal town of Bath; he reportedly married a local woman and fielded numerous dinner invitations from neighbors who saw him as an object of great curiosity.

But as the saying goes, old habits die hard, and despite his attempts to fit in, a normal life just wasn’t in the cards for Blackbeard. One day, Thatch set sail out of Bath and came back into port with a loot-filled French ship. Thatch swore that the vessel was abandoned at sea when he found it, a story that was understandably hard to believe.

10. HE THREW A WILD BEACH PARTY WITH ANOTHER INFAMOUS PIRATE.

In September or October 1718, the dreaded captain Charles Vane and his crew of 90 sailed into Bath with the goal of recruiting Blackbeard for an attack on Nassau. Vane and Thatch threw a huge party on Ocracoke Island, where Blackbeard’s men had set up a private campsite. The drunken festivities reportedly lasted for days on end. Afterwards, Vane and Thatch parted ways; they would never cross paths again.

11. IT WAS VIRGINIA’S LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR WHO ORCHESTRATED BLACKBEARD’S DEMISE.

Governor Eden and Blackbeard had a cordial relationship—so cozy that it raised eyebrows. The governor’s critics wondered if Thatch was secretly providing him with stolen goods, and other colonies weren’t too happy about the fact that a notorious outlaw was now living freely on American soil.

Shortly after Thatch and Vane’s epic bash, Virginia’s lieutenant governor, Alexander Spotswood, hatched a plan to rid the continent of Blackbeard once and for all. In the late fall of 1718, he sent two ships under the command of naval officer Robert Maynard down to North Carolina. The expedition’s legality was questionable at best; Spotswood had decided to invade a separate colony without consulting its government [PDF], after all. But he persisted anyway.

Maynard’s ships reached Ocracoke Island on November 21, 1718. Arriving at dusk, he saw that a sloop of Thatch’s called the Adventure was anchored nearby. The next morning, Maynard’s men quietly approached. They were seen and attacked by the pirates, and a battle broke out. When the fighting erupted, there were only 18 crewmen aboard the Adventure. Blackbeard was present also, but it should be noted that he’d been drinking heavily the night before. Though the pirates put up a good fight, Maynard prevailed—and Thatch was killed.

12. HIS SEVERED HEAD WAS PUT ON DISPLAY.

Once the dust had settled, Maynard counted five bullet holes and 20 sword-made cuts in Blackbeard’s dead body. On his orders, Thatch’s head was removed and the rest of his corpse was tossed into the ocean. (According to another account, Blackbeard was killed when one of Maynard’s men cut off his head.) Maynard then tied the severed remains to one of his bowsprits. The gruesome prize was taken back to Virginia, where Spotswood had it mounted on a tall pole near the intersection of the Hampton and James Rivers. It stayed up there for a few years as a morbid warning to other pirates.

13. ONE OF HIS SUBORDINATES WAS WRITTEN INTO TREASURE ISLAND.

painting of pirate duel

Newell Convers Wyeth, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Israel Hands is generally considered Blackbeard’s second in command. Unlike Thatch, he didn’t participate in the battle with Maynard. When the fighting started, he was over in Bath—possibly recovering from a leg injury (according to A General History, he was shot in the leg by a drunk Blackbeard). Later, Maynard’s men captured Hands, who testified against some of his own former crewmates in court. Thanks to his damning testimony, Hands was allowed to go free. Robert Louis Stevenson went on to give the man a role in his novel Treasure Island. The book casts Hands as the wily first mate of Long John Silver. Jim Hawkins winds up killing him in self-defense.

14. THERE’S NO PROOF THAT HE BURIED ANY TREASURE.

Tales of buried treasure are legendary, but there’s only one confirmed case of a pirate who actually did bury some treasure (that pirate was William Kidd, who in 1699 hid precious loot worth a million dollars in today's money under the sands of Gardiners Island, New York, which was soon dug up again to be used against him in trial). Did Edward Thatch try to bury a chest or two of his own? Probably not—none of the available evidence suggests that Blackbeard ever stored any loot underground.

15. THE WRECKAGE OF THE QUEEN ANNE’S REVENGE WAS REDISCOVERED IN 1996.

Credit for the find goes to the private research firm Intersal, Inc. Off the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina, their team found a sunken ship on November 21, 1996. It appeared to match the description of the long-lost Queen Anne’s Revenge. At the end of a protracted inspection process, in 2011, experts confirmed that the wreckage was indeed Blackbeard’s former flagship. More than a dozen cannons have been recovered from the site, along with a bounty of other artifacts. These treasures include a medical syringe and a scrap of paper that presumably came from a 1712 adventure book. The booty did not include a lot of gold: Only a few grams of gold dust were discovered.

47 Fun Facts About the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

A turkey float near the start of the 92th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC
A turkey float near the start of the 92th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC
webpay/iStock via Getty Images

On Thursday, November 28, Macy's will send its 93rd Thanksgiving Day Parade down the streets of Manhattan—a spectacle that millions of people tune in to watch from the comfort of their homes. Here are a few things you might not have known about the iconic holiday event.

1. The Macy's parade was initially Christmas-themed.

A black-and-white photo from an early Macy's Thanksgiving parade
Macy's

The “Macy’s Christmas Parade” debuted in 1924 as a way to celebrate the expansion of Macy’s flagship Manhattan store, which covered an entire city block and became the self-proclaimed “World’s Largest Store.” According to The New York Times, “the majority of participants were employees of the stores. There were, however, many professional entertainers who kept the spectators amused as they passed by. Beautiful floats showed the Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe, Little Miss Muffet, and Red Riding Hood. There were also bears, elephants, donkeys and bands, making the procession resemble a circus parade.” (The animals came from the Central Park Zoo.)

2. The parade originally ended with the unveiling of Macy's Christmas window displays.

The parade began at 145th Street and Convent Avenue and continued down to Macy’s huge store on 34th Street. All along the route, according to the Times, the parade “was welcomed by such crowds that a large force of policemen had its hands full maintaining the police lines.” Some 10,000 people watched Santa—who rode on a float designed to look like a sled being pulled by reindeer—be crowned “King of the Kiddies,” then enjoyed the unveiling of the store’s Christmas windows. The parade was such a success that Macy’s decided to make it an annual event; it would become the Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1927.

3. There were objections to the parade early on.

Advertising from an early Macy's parade
Macy's

Two years after the first parade, the Allied Patriotic Societies protested, telling Macy’s that it shouldn’t hold the event on Thanksgiving because “it would interfere with Thanksgiving Day worship,” according to The New York Times, and because it wasn’t appropriate for a commercial company to hold a parade on the holiday. If the company didn’t acknowledge its protest, the association declared that it would go to the police commissioner and ask him to revoke the parade permit.

Percy Straus, who worked for Macy’s, attended the association's meeting. He pointed out that there was no blatant advertising in the parade, and that the word "Macy's" was used just once. “He also said that Thanksgiving morning was the only time when children would be free to watch and traffic would be light enough to permit the parade’s passing,” the Times wrote. “It would be over, he thought, in ample time to permit churchgoing.” Straus’s justifications didn’t make a difference; the association voted to protest the parade, but its efforts to get the event canceled were unsuccessful—the parade went on as usual.

4. It wasn't new york city's first thanksgiving parade.

Before the Macy’s Parade, there was the "Thanksgiving Ragamuffin Parade," an event where local children dressed up as beggars and asked adults on the street for pennies, candy, and apples. The Macy’s Parade was such a success that it quickly drove the now-obscure Ragamuffin Parade out of business.

5. The parade's character balloons were inspired by a float.

A sepia-toned photo of an early Macy's float
Macy's

The Balloonatics float—which, as the name would suggest, was festooned with balloons—inspired the creation of the character balloons. These days, the people who design the balloons are called “Balloonatics.”

6. The character balloons in the parade debuted in 1927.

Three years after the first annual parade, balloons made their debut. According to The New York Times, the parade included “a ‘human behemoth’ 21 feet tall … [that] had to crawl under the elevated structure at 66th and Broadway,” “a ‘dinosaur’ 60 feet long attended by a bodyguard of prehistoric cavemen,” and “a 25-foot dachshund [that] swayed along in the company of gigantic turkeys and chickens and ducks of heroic size.” Also in the parade that year, but not mentioned in the Times, was the first character balloon, Felix the Cat.

7. For a few years, there were “balloon races.”

A black-and-white photo of a dog balloon at an early Macy's parade
Macy's

The first year, Macy’s had no plans for deflating its balloons, so they were released into the air, where they quickly popped. But that all changed with the 1928 parade.

That year, Macy’s released five huge figures—an elephant, a 60-foot tiger, a plumed bird, an “early bird” trailing worms, and a 25-foot-high ghost—into the sky. While the majority of the balloons in the parade used regular air to stay afloat, these figures were built around helium balloon bodies, which were designed to slowly leak the gas. As The New York Times explained, “The figures are expected to rise to 2000 to 3000 feet and are timed by a slow leak to stay aloft for a week to 10 days. By then it is expected they will have alighted in various parts of the country.” Whoever returned the balloons would receive a $100 reward.

The first balloon to land was the Tiger, which the Times reported landed on the roof of a Long Island home: “A tug of war ensued for its possession … neighbors and motorists rushed up from all directions. The rubberized silk skin burst into dozens of fragments.”

By December 1, four of the balloons had landed (one in the East River, where it broke in two and was pursued by tugboats). The ghost, however, was “reported as having been sighted moving out to sea over the Rockaways with a flock of gulls in pursuit,” according to the Times.

8. The parade's last balloon race was held in 1932.

The parade held its last balloon race in 1932 after two incidents involving airplanes. In 1931, aviator Colonel Clarence Duncan Chamberlin snagged a balloon in mid-air and towed it back to his home and received $25 as a reward. In 1932, according to some sources, a 22-year-old woman taking flying lessons purposefully flew the plane she was piloting into one of the released balloons. It was only the quick action of her instructor that kept the plane from crashing.

9. The parade was broadcast for the first time in 1932.

These broadcasts were radio-only, so listeners had to use their imaginations. The first televised parade took place in 1946 and was limited to the New York area only.

10. Mickey Mouse made his parade debut in 1934.

A black-and-white photo of Micky Mouse at an early Macy's Thanksgiving parade
Macy's

Macy’s designers collaborated with Walt Disney to create the 40-foot-high, 23-foot-wide balloon, which was “held down to Earth by 25 husky attendants,” according to The New York Times. The parade that year also featured the first balloon based on a real person: comedian and vaudeville star Eddie Cantor.

11. The parade floats used to be pulled by horses.

The Thanksgiving Day parade floats were pulled by horses until 1939. You can see footage of the first horse-free event above.

12. The parade was halted during World War II.

There were rubber and helium shortages, so Macy’s canceled the parade from 1942 to 1944. The company deflated its rubber balloons—which weighed 650 pounds total—and donated them to the government. (These days, the balloons are made of polyurethane fabric.) The parade returned in 1945, and in 1946 got a new route, which started at 77th Street and Central Park West and ended at 34th Street—half the length of the previous route.

13. A 1958 helium shortage almost grounded the parade’s balloons.

A row of helium tanks
scanrail/iStock via Getty Images

Initially, it looked like a helium shortage would keep Macy’s parade balloons from flying in 1958. But the company collaborated with Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company and the rigging specialists Traynor & Hansen Corporation to come up with a creative solution: According to The New York Times, the balloons were filled with air and dangled from “large, mobile construction derricks.” The paper also described a test of the method:

“A motorized derrick with a 70-foot boom had a specially built wood-and-steel hanger attached to the end of the wire hoisting cable. The Toy Soldier, weighing more than 200 pounds deflated, was stretched full-length on a canvas carpet. Limp and sickly looking, it was not the robust figure children and adults are used to seeing. Lines from the body of the balloon were attached to the hanger while two vacuum cleaners, working in reverse, blew in air. An hour of blowing filled the figure out nicely and the boom hoisted it into the air.”

14. Strong winds caused the balloons to be grounded in 1971.

The balloons have only been grounded once since 1927, when winds during the 1971 parade were too strong for them to fly.

15. One especially long-lasting dinosaur balloon got a sendoff at the American Museum of Natural History.

The exterior of New York City's American Museum of Natural History
diegograndi/iStock via Getty Images

A 1976, a green balloon modeled on an Apatosaurus dinosaur that had appeared in 13 parades was displayed inside the AMNH’s Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda for five days before being retired. Instead of helium, it was filled with air, and visitors got a chance to see it up close. The historic balloon also appeared in the parades in 2015 and 2017.

16. Macy's is a major world consumer of helium, thanks to the parade.

Thanks to the parade, Macy's is reportedly the second-largest consumer of helium in the world. Only the U.S. government consumes more, with NASA and the Department of Defense leading the charge.

17. The parade floats fold down small.

The Macy's Thanksgiving Balloon Inflation on the night before Thanksgiving. Next to the Museum of Natural History in New York City
SergeYatunin/iStock via Getty Images

Since 1968, the floats have been designed by artists at Macy’s Parade Studio in New Jersey. The floats can be up to 40 feet tall and 28 feet wide—but they fold down into a 12-foot-by-8-foot box to make the journey through the Lincoln Tunnel.

18. The parade features float-based balloons.

the parade features float-based balloons called falloons—a combination of float and balloon—which were introduced sometime around 1990. There are also balloon vehicles called balloonicles (a portmanteau of balloon and vehicle), which made their debut in 2004. Trycaloons—balloons on tricycles—hit the parade in 2011.

19. All of the balloons are designed in-house by Macy’s artists—and it's a long process.

Macy’s balloon designers—dubbed “balloonatics”—begin their work up to a year before the parade with pencil sketches of each character, analyzing not just aesthetics but also aerodynamics and engineering. The sketches are followed by scaled-down clay models that are used to create casts of the balloons. Two miniature replicas are created: One that’s marked with technical details, and one that’s painted in the balloon’s colors. The models are immersed in water to figure out how much helium they’ll need to float. Finally, the schematics are scanned by computer, and the fabric pieces are cut and heat-sealed to create the various air chambers of the balloon.

20. The parade's balloons are painted only after they're inflated.

Once the balloon is created, it's painted while inflated (otherwise, the paint will crack), then undergoes leak testing and indoor and outdoor flight tests. No wonder it costs at least $190,000 for a first-time balloon (after a first appearance, it costs $90,000 a year after that). The balloons are completed by Halloween and stored along a wall in the design studio's balloon warehouse.

21. The balloons are directed by “balloon pilots.”

The 87th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade attracted hundreds of thousands of spectators. Turkey with Pilgrim riders
ALEXIUZ/iStock via Getty Images

They’re the people walking backwards in front of the balloon, directing a crew of volunteers holding guide ropes (called “bones”) and two Toro utility vehicles. Macy’s offers training three times a year for pilots. “We offer the pilots and captains the chance to go around the field a couple times with the balloon a couple of times and practice the instruction and guidance,” Kelly Kramer, a longtime Macy’s employee and balloon pilot, told Vanity Fair in 2014. “We also have classroom training.”

22. Being a balloon pilot takes some physical training, too.

It’s also important for balloon pilots to train physically; if not, “The next morning you wake up and you almost cannot get out of bed because your calves seize up,” according to Kramer. “I walked backwards in my neighborhood at night.”

23. People who want to volunteer to walk with the balloons have to meet certain requirements.

Balloon handlers float Olaf down Central Park South during the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
TD Dolci/iStock via Getty Images

It takes 90 minutes to inflate the big balloons, which, on average, contain 12,000 cubic feet of helium, which is capable of lifting nearly 750 pounds (or filling 2500 bathtubs). Each balloon requires up to 90 handlers, who have to weigh at least 120 pounds and be in good health.

24. The balloons are inflated the day before the parade—which is an event in its own right.

The balloons are inflated the day before the parade outside the American Museum of Natural History, then topped off the day of. Because helium expands in the sun, the balloons are typically left slightly under-inflated.

25. One character has appeared in the parade more than any other.

A vintage photo of a Snoopy balloon at a Macy's Thanksgiving parade
Macy's

That honor goes to Snoopy, who debuted in the 1968 parade and has had a grand total of seven balloons. The beloved character has made 39 appearances on and off through 2015, but in 2016, he was replaced by Charlie Brown. Fortunately, Snoopy will be returning for the 2019 parade.

26. There was one year when Santa Claus wasn't the parade's finale.

In 1933, Santa led the parade instead of closing it. It was the only year where the jolly red guy wasn't the grand finale.

27. Some of the parade's balloons get their start in South Dakota.

Many of the parade balloons are made by Raven Industries, a rubber firm in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Since 1984, Raven has made nearly 100 balloons. Beginning in April, it takes 25 employees to work on the year’s balloons.

28. Some weird balloons have been featured in the Thanksgiving Day parade.

Among them were the Nantucket Sea Monster (1937), the wrestler The Terrible Turk (which memorably hit a traffic pole and split in half in 1931), a Pinocchio with a 44-foot-long nose (1937), a couple of two-headed balloons (1936), an ice cream cone and a jack ‘o lantern (1945), a space man (1952), Smokey Bear (1969), cereal spokes-animal Linus the Lion (1973), and more.

29. Those giant balloons face a lot of threats.

There are many things that pose threats to the parade balloons: electric wires (which caused the Felix the Cat balloon to burst into flames when it hit them in 1931), rain (which filled the Popeye balloon’s hat with water, which got dumped on spectators along the parade route in 1957), tree branches (which once tore off Superman’s hand). But a balloon’s greatest enemy is wind: In 1993, wind caused the Sonic the Hedgehog balloon to hit a lamppost; the light fell and injured one. In 1997, police stabbed a Pink Panther balloon when wind sent it careening; that same year, the wind made an oversized Cat in the Hat balloon hit a streetlight, sending two people to the hospital with head injuries (after the incident, the parade instituted new size rules). In 2005, an M&M balloon got tangled on a streetlamp, causing the lamp to fall and injuring two, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Each balloon flies at a height determined by its size and weather conditions, and the wind poses such a threat that if sustained wind speeds or gusts are too strong, the balloons won’t fly.

30. Deflating the Thanksgiving Day parade balloons takes just 15 minutes.

Spongebob Squarepants float, with view of skyscrapers on Sixth Ave and cell phones and marchers, at the Macy's Parade Nov 2016
Christine Wolf Gagne/iStock via Getty Images

After the parade is over, the balloons are deflated behind Macy’s on Seventh Avenue. First, the volunteers open up zippers on the sides of the balloons; when most of the helium has escaped, they lie on the balloon to get all the helium out, then roll the character up from front to back. The balloon is then put in storage until the next parade.

31. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade was led by the same woman for 24 years.

Jean McFaddin served as the senior vice president for Macy’s special productions from 1977 to 2001, which meant she was responsible not only for the Thanksgiving Day Parade, but also Macy’s famous Santaland, among other things.

32. Some parades have been held in especially frigid temperatures.

The first snowstorm on parade day was in 1989, and dumped 4.7 inches on the city. But at just 19°F, the coldest parade was in 2018.

33. The former Macy's parade studio had a sweet beginning.

A Tootsie Roll candy bar
memoriesarecaptured/iStock via Getty Images

For four decades, the parade's studio was located in a former Tootsie Roll Factory in Hoboken, New Jersey. In 2011, the studio moved to a 71,000-square-foot warehouse in Moonachie.

34. Some big celebrities have served as commentators.

In addition to the Today show hosts that host the parade now, past parade commentators have included Betty White, Ed McMahon, Shari Lewis, Helen Reddy, Della Reese, and Phylicia Rashād.

35. Beavis and Butt-head were parade commentators during one memorable year.

In 1997, Beavis and Butthead commentated on the parade along with host Kurt Loder. They called the special Beavis and Butt-head Do Thanksgiving, and they even got their own balloon featuring their likenesses sitting on a couch. The balloon wasn’t on the parade route, but rather tethered to a building on the route.

36. Musicals have been part of the Macy's parade for decades.

Broadway musicals have been featured in the parade since at least 1980, when The Pirates of Penzance performed atop a pirate ship.

37. The bleacher seats are reserved for special guests.

The bleacher seats that line key sections of the parade may seem like the perfect seats, but unless you know someone, you probably won’t find yourself sitting there: They’re reserved for Macy’s guests only, and no tickets are sold for those seats.

38. You can’t get married or engaged at the Thanksgiving Day parade, so don’t even try.

General atmosphere at the 86th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 22, 2012 in New York City.
scarletsails/iStock via Getty Images

The question is raised enough that it’s addressed in the FAQ section of the Macy’s Parade website: “Though it would be an honor to share in this special moment, this is not something that we can take part in or approve. At this time, we’re devoted to producing the nation’s most beloved holiday event and coordinating more than 8000 participants, dozens of floats, balloons and vehicles, security and other major logistics.”

39. It’s not the oldest Thanksgiving Parade in the U.S.

That distinction belongs to Philadelphia, where Gimbel’s, a department store, held a modest affair in 1920. It got less modest as time went on.

40. When 9/11 happened, parade organizers added patriotic and New York-centric floats and balloons.

Additions included a Statue of Liberty float with the flags of all 50 states, floats for the fire and police departments, and a Big Apple float that featured the city’s emergency services workers and other officials.

41. Contemporary artists have created balloons for the parade too.

The “Blue Sky Gallery” is a special part of the parade that invites contemporary artists to transform their work into balloons. Beginning in 2005, artists have included Jeff Koons, Keith Haring, Tim Burton, Takashi Murakami, KAWS, and, for 2019, Yayoi Kusama.

42. Yes, the singers on the parade floats all lip-sync.

That's true even if they’re amazing live performers. Why? Because the floats aren’t equipped to deliver the proper sound quality, as John Legend pointed out in 2018.

43. Some of the parade balloons get a second life in Florida.

For several years, select balloons from the parade were sent down to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, to make special appearances in the park during the holiday season. The event has since been rebranded “Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s,” with Macy’s designing 13 balloons exclusively for Universal.

44. The Rockettes have been involved for decades.

The dance troupe and their signature high kicks have been a parade staple since their first appearance in 1957.

45. Marching bands have to apply months ahead of time for the parade.

Bands across the U.S. have to apply well in advance to be considered for a spot in the parade. After submitting an application and a video of the band’s field marching performance, approved bands are notified roughly 18 months in advance.

46. In 2012, shredded documents from the Nassau County Police Department ended up as confetti in the parade.

A pile of shredded papers
Aschen/iStock via Getty Images

Sensitive information that was clearly visible included Social Security numbers, license plate numbers, and banking data. Macy’s only uses multi-colored confetti, a spokesperson said, and authorities were investigating how the private documents ended up in the parade.

47. We might get a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade movie one day.

A Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade movie was once in the works, with a premise that included the oversized balloons coming to life. Presumably it’s still floating around in development.

10 Facts About the Aberfan Disaster of 1966

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In season 3 of The Crown, viewers witness a harrowing re-creation of the 1966 Aberfan disaster—a catastrophic landslide that killed 144 residents (most of whom were children) in a small village in South Wales. Though it seemed at first to have been an unforeseeable geological accident, the world soon discovered that there was much more to the story.

From the illuminating inquiry that took place in the aftermath to Queen Elizabeth II’s somber visit to the disaster scene, here is some additional history about the tragic event.

1. Aberfan residents had complained about the danger of coal tips.

The village of Aberfan, South Wales, was established around the Merthyr Vale coal mine, which had been depositing its waste materials into giant heaps known as coal tips since 1869.

Coal Tip 7, which was started in 1958, was especially worrying to the people of Aberfan for two reasons: It was built on top of porous sandstone and underwater springs, and it was located right behind a school.

“I regard it as extremely serious as the slurry is so fluid and the gradient so steep that it could not possibly stay in position in the winter time or during periods of heavy rain,” a waterworks engineer wrote to the district’s public works superintendent in 1963 before escalating the matter to the National Coal Board, which failed to halt operations.

2. On October 21, 1966, coal tip 7 finally collapsed.

On a Friday morning around 9:15 a.m., after days of heavy rain, the 111-foot-tall coal tip 7—which was comprised of about 300,000 cubic yards of waste—became a landslide that crashed into Pantglas Junior School and its surrounding buildings at speeds of up to 50 mph.

3. The landslide wasn’t silent.

Though they didn’t know the source of the deafening rumble at the time, survivors of the disaster compared the sound of the avalanche to the roar of a low-flying jet or loose trams hurtling downhill.

4. Of the 144 casualties, 116 were children.

Pantglas Junior School was the main building affected by the catastrophic collapse. Of the school's 240 students, most of whom were between 7 and 11 years old, 116 died in the landslide, along with five teachers and 28 residents of nearby farm cottages and terrace houses. The youngest victim was 3 months old and the oldest was 82 years old. The official causes of death were primarily classified as "suffocation," "multiple injuries," or "skull fractures," but one man—who lost both his wife and two sons in the accident—very publicly urged authorities to change the death certificates to read "buried alive by the National Coal Board."

5. Disaster responders flooded the town to help organize rescue efforts.

As firefighters, police, medical personnel, and other disaster responders worked tirelessly around the clock to clear debris and rescue survivors from the decimated buildings, the rest of the town helped manage the chaos. Bodies were taken to Bethania Chapel (which was destroyed by an arsonist in 2015), where volunteers cleaned the coal from them and escorted parents around to identify them. A local chip shop became the distribution center for death certificates.

"There were no council offices nearby and someone must have said ‘the chip shop—everyone knows that,'" Detective Inspector Charles Nunn, who helped organize the chapel mortuary, told the BBC. "It was the most efficient way. It seems so incongruous now."

6. Princess Margaret encouraged people to send toys to the surviving children.

After the landslide, Princess Margaret asked people to "think of the loneliness of the brothers, sisters, and young relatives who survived" and send toys to them. The response was so overwhelming that the post office in Cardiff—Wales's capital city, which is located about 20 miles south of Aberfan—had to store them in four empty buildings.

7. Queen Elizabeth II visited Aberfan eight days after the landslide.

Prince Philip and then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson both visited Aberfan within 24 hours of the disaster, but the Queen herself didn’t make an appearance until eight days later—a delay that she reportedly told her private secretary, Lord Martin Charteris, was her “biggest regret.” During her visit, she toured the town with her husband, spoke with bereaved families, and had tea with town Councillor Jim Williams, who had lost seven family members in the landslide. Before she left, 3-year-old Karen Jones gave the Queen a small bouquet with a card that read: "From the remaining children of Aberfan."

8. Queen Elizabeth has made several more trips to Aberfan since the disaster.

queen elizabeth II's tree at aberfan memorial garden
The tree planted by Queen Elizabeth II in the memorial garden.

While the Queen may have felt that she made a mistake in waiting so long to visit Aberfan the first time, the townspeople have expressed gratitude over the years for her continued efforts to commemorate the disaster and support the community. She returned in 1973 to open a community center, visited again in 1997 to plant a tree in the Garden of Remembrance, and most recently returned in 2012 to open a new school.

9. Villagers petitioned to have the remaining coal tips removed.

Even after the disaster, officials assured the public that the mountains of coal waste weren’t dangerous—but Aberfan residents were (understandably) adamant about their removal, and even went so far as to dump heaps of slurry in the Welsh Office’s reception area in protest. After that, Wales’s secretary of state George Thomas agreed to get rid of them.

However, Thomas was hardly the hero of this story: Removing the coal tips was a costly process, and Thomas ultimately decided that the bill could and should be footed by the residents of Aberfan. His decision to present the grieving townspeople with a bill for £250,000 (which would be just under $6 million in today's dollars) was met with a universally negative backlash. Especially since the money, which Thomas dubbed a "local contribution," was to be paid out of a charitable fund that had been established to help rebuild the town.

10. A tribunal found the National Coal Board guilty of “bungling ineptitude.”

On October 26, 1966, the Welsh government launched an inquiry, headed by barrister Sir Herbert Edmund Davies, to determine the cause of the landslide and decide if anyone should be held responsible. Though, for most of the 76-day tribunal, the National Coal Board (NCB) maintained that only the weather was to blame, NCB chairman Lord Robens finally conceded that his organization was at fault.

The tribunal’s report, published on August 3, 1967, called the disaster “a terrifying tale of bungling ineptitude by many men charged with tasks for which they were totally unfitted, of failure to heed clear warnings, and of total lack of direction from above.” The National Coal Board paid £500—a little over $640 then, or $10,000 now—to each victim’s family, but no individual employee from the Coal Board was ever fired, demoted, or even fined.

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