12 Famous Non-Brits Who Have Been Named Honorary Knights and Dames

Queen Elizabeth II attends The Order of the Garter Service in 2010 at St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle in Windsor, England. The Order of the Garter is the most senior and the oldest British Order of Chivalry and was founded by Edward III in 1348.
Queen Elizabeth II attends The Order of the Garter Service in 2010 at St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle in Windsor, England. The Order of the Garter is the most senior and the oldest British Order of Chivalry and was founded by Edward III in 1348.
Alastair Grant/WPA-Pool/Getty Images

Although chivalric orders for military members date back to the medieval period, King George V ushered in a new era for knights and dames when he established The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1917. Appointees to the OBE don't have to see battle to be on the receiving end of the ceremonial sword tap (or its rather dull modern equivalent, the firm handshake), so long as they make a significant contribution to the arts, sciences, or any charitable organization outside the civil service.

In fact, you don't even have to be a British citizen to receive the honor. A large number of Americans have been awarded knighthood or damehood, and the privilege is potentially open to any non-Brit around the world. Though non-Commonwealth subjects are not extended the privilege of styling themselves Sir or Dame, as far as anything else is concerned, these famous figures are knights and dames just like any other.

1. Steven Spielberg

In 2001, director and producer Steven Spielberg received an honorary knighthood via British ambassador to the U.S., Sir Christopher Meyer. The ambassador noted that while Spielberg's commitment to movie magic had made a global impact, its effects on British cinema in particular were significant enough to double movie ticket sales since the early '80s (likely beginning with 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark and 1982's E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial). Behind the scenes, Spielberg was also known to be a supporter of the local film industry, choosing to shoot massive productions like 2001's multi-part series Band of Brothers on location in England. Then-Prime Minister Tony Blair's son even got in on the action, spending a week on set for work experience.

"This is the stuff that all of our childhood fantasies come from," Spielberg said after his investiture. "You know, courtliness, civility, and honor."

2. Franco Zeffirelli

Spielberg was later joined in the ranks of honorary knights by fellow filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli, the first Italian to be so recognized. Zeffirelli earned his KBE in 2004 for "valuable services to British performing arts," including multiple acclaimed Shakespeare adaptations to film and stage, and 1999's Tea With Mussolini, a film that starred no fewer than three British dames: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Joan Plowright. An Oscar nominee, Zeffirelli joyously proclaimed the knighthood to be "the greatest conquest, recognition, I have received in my life, practically."

3. Bono

Bono poses after receiving a knighthood in recognition of his services to the music industry and his humanitarian work in 2007.
Bono poses after receiving a knighthood in recognition of his services to the music industry and his humanitarian work in 2007.
ShowBizIreland/Getty Images

Paul Hewson—a.k.a. U2 lead singer Bono—falls into the category of honorary knights because he is an Irish citizen (like fellow honorary knight, Irishman Pierce Brosnan). Though Ireland is part of the British Isles, its citizens are not British and therefore not eligible for "substantive" knighthood (i.e., he can't style his name as Sir Bono, such as Sirs Elton John and Patrick Stewart, both British citizens, can). In the same year he shared the title of TIME Magazine's Person(s) of the Year with fellow philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, Bono was presented with honorary knighthood by the British ambassador to Ireland for his humanitarian work. The 2005 ceremony was made all the sweeter for taking place in Dublin, Bono's hometown.

4. and 5. Bill and Melinda Gates

Queen Elizabeth II presents Bill Gates with an honorary knighthood in 2005. His wife, Melinda Gates, would be named an honorary dame in 2014.
Queen Elizabeth II presents Bill Gates with an honorary knighthood in 2005. His wife, Melinda Gates, would be named an honorary dame in 2014.
Chris Young/ROTA/Getty Images

In addition to managing sums of wealth inconceivable to the average person, Bill Gates is also an honorary knight of the British Empire. In keeping with his multi-hyphenate role as billionaire-businessman-tech mogul-philanthropist, Gates was honored in 2005 for a string of contributions, from the 2000 British jobs created by Microsoft to the $210 million in scholarship grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Cambridge University to subsidize international graduate students. That number is just a fraction of the further $750 million the Foundation gave to help establish Gavi (once called the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation), a cornerstone of the couple's commitment to leveraging their wealth to improve public health in developing countries.

Melinda Gates attended her husband's ceremony with the Queen, but she had to wait nearly another decade to be honored for her role in the Foundation's charitable work—it wasn't until 2014 that she was named an honorary Dame Commander. In a simple message sent out on Twitter to accompany a photo from her ceremony, Gates said, "Honored to be named a Dame of the British Empire. The UK is a leader in fighting global poverty."

6. Ralph Lauren

In 2018, it was announced that Ralph Lauren would become the first American fashion designer to be honorarily knighted. In accordance with Lauren's penchant for putting his name on things, the Ralph Lauren Corporation established The Ralph Lauren Centre for Breast Cancer Research at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, along with two other cancer centers in the United States. British Consul General Antony Phillipson recognized his commitment to public health research and treatment, along with his "key role in forging transatlantic cultural and economic connections" as "a vanguard for the global fashion industry." Lauren certainly has fans in high places: Duchesses Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle have both been known to wear his clothing, and one of the late Princess Diana's most iconic looks—a beaded, white, halter column gown—was a Lauren design she wore while honoring him at a fundraiser for his first cancer hospital.

7. Angelina Jolie

Queen Elizabeth II presents Angelina Jolie with the Insignia of an Honorary Dame Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George in 2014.
Queen Elizabeth II presents Angelina Jolie with the Insignia of an Honorary Dame Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George in 2014.
Anthony Devlin—WPA Pool/Getty Images

Despite first achieving fame for her Oscar-winning acting career, Angelina Jolie's royal accolade isn't an acknowledgment of her work in Hollywood. The Order of St. Michael and St. George, originally conceived as a means of honoring high-ranking officers of the Napoleonic Wars, has since been expanded to recognize "extraordinary or important non-military service in a foreign country." Jolie was appointed to the order in 2014 after years of humanitarian work, particularly with the United Nations and the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative in the UK.

The announcement of Jolie's honor coincided with her co-chairing of the End Sexual Violence in Conflict global summit in London, when she gratefully received the news and reaffirmed that foreign policy is "what I wish to dedicate my working life to." She later received the title officially during a private audience with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

8. Pelé

Considering soccer's venerated status as the national pastime (though technically, cricket is the country's national sport), it comes as no surprise that Britain's highest chivalric orders include more than a dozen professional footballers (as well as a large number of OBEs, like David Beckham). Onetime Brazilian Minister of Sport and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Edson Arantes do Nascimento—better known as Pelé—was once voted FIFA's "greatest footballer in the history of the game" and has certainly earned his right to be there. Although the honorary KBE was ostensibly granted in recognition of his humanitarian and environmental activism, in part as a United Nations ambassador for ecology and the environment, his holding the Guinness World Record for most career goals (at 1283) probably didn't hurt.

In 2017, 20 years later after his knighting ceremony, Pelé tweeted a throwback photo of himself proudly lifting his medal, and said the moment would "stay always in [his] memory."

9. and 10. Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani shows of his Knighthood of the British Empire (KBE) medal in 2002.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani shows of his Knighthood of the British Empire (KBE) medal in 2002.
Sion Touhig/Getty Images

In a true show of international diplomacy, Queen Elizabeth II bestowed an honorary knighthood on former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2002. Prince Andrew, Duke of York, made the formal announcement on Giuliani's home turf, declaring his nation's thanks for Giuliani's "outstanding help and support to the bereaved British families" in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Giuliani later traveled to Buckingham Palace to join his fellow honorees before the Queen. She personally reiterated her gratitude for his leadership and wished him "less stress in [his] life now."

Michael Bloomberg, another notable NYC mayor, was also welcomed as an honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire for his "prodigious entrepreneurial and philanthropic endeavors." Bloomberg called the honor "especially meaningful" because he had long considered Britain a "second home." His official investiture was in 2015, though The New York Times reported that, in jest, someone once helped Bloomberg celebrate the opening of his company's London office decades before by donning full military regalia and dubbing him with a sword.

11. Plácido Domingo

For famed tenor Plácido Domingo, 2002 was a banner year. Shortly after the Spanish singer (one-third of the acclaimed opera supergroup The Three Tenors, with José Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti) was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in July, he was invited to the British embassy in Washington, D.C. to be knighted by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in October. At age 61, Domingo had done performances at the Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden for three decades, occasions that he considered "among [his] greatest experiences." At the time of his investiture, he'd sung 119 distinct operatic roles throughout his career, a higher number than anyone else in history. It only seems right that Domingo should also have a pile of commendations to match.

12. Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in 1958 wearing the mantle and insignia of a Knight of Justice of the Order of St. John.
Actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in 1958 wearing the mantle and insignia of a Knight of Justice of the Order of St. John.
Associated Press Wire Photo, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When longtime leading man Douglas Fairbanks Jr. died in 2000, British newspaper The Independent lauded him as "Hollywood royalty and knight of the realm." For an American who never relinquished his citizenship, Fairbanks devoted a significant portion of his personal and professional life to England. As a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy during WWII, he served directly under Lord Mountbatten and played a key role in a number of combined British-American operations. His distinguished service earned him a knighthood from King George VI in 1949 for "furthering Anglo-American amity," and after taking a hiatus from acting, he and his family moved to London. Fairbanks kept a home in London for two decades and entertained acquaintances no less eminent than the royal family itself before retiring to the most American of locales: Palm Beach, Florida.

Never one for subtlety, Fairbanks took full advantage of his honorary knighthood. Though he was unable to style himself "Sir," he nonetheless designed a custom coat of arms with the Latin motto Fides, Conatus et Fidelitas, meaning "Faith, Striving, and Loyalty," in written along a scroll. It also features both a bald eagle and the circlet of the Order of the British Empire, perfectly befitting a man who loved countries.

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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