Home LifestyleCareer Hoboken’s Historic Role in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Hoboken’s Historic Role in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

by Sarah Griesbach
0 FacebookTwitterPinterestEmail

With the start of fall officially happening this week, Thanksgiving is already on our radars — which means the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is also on the horizon. Just this weekend, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade staff held a Balloon Field Training at Stevens to practice filling the iconic floats. These floats — and one of their popular creators — actually have a cool connection to Hoboken. Just a little while ago, the Hoboken Historical Museum highlighted the tale of master float-builder John Cheney’s career. All of us who have annually watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade have unknowingly enjoyed this artist/welder/carpenter/engineer’s brilliantly-constructed moving dioramas, hand-animated characters, and huge sculpted cartoon figures as they rolled through New York City. From 1960 until 2011, the Studio where the magic was made was located in an old Tootsie Roll factory on 15th Street and Willow Avenue in Hoboken. Read on to learn more about John Cheney and Hoboken’s role in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

john cheney parade floats hoboken

(Photo credit: John Cheney + Gail McLaughlin)

The Golden Years

As John Cheney tells his tale, the golden years at The Parade Studio were his early years of artistry there, beginning in 1976. ‘Ragtag’ is his description of the small troop of artists, artisans, and craftspeople — the Crew — who put in long, long days without breaks from Labor Day until the parade had concluded and every fantastic part and piece was brought back to Hoboken and put into storage.

hoboken parade floats

^ John with a parade float (Photo credit: John Cheney + Gail McLaughlin)

Back then, before virtual modeling and computer-controlled cutting machines, Studio Chief Designer Manfred Bass might bring in vast quantities of rope, sketch his vision of a 30-foot high puppy onto a paper towel (‘shop stationery’), and set the Crew to it.

parade float studio hoboken

(Photo credit: John Cheney + Gail McLaughlin)

“The Studio was an important institution in Hoboken,” recalled the Hoboken Historical Museum’s Bob Foster. “The press would interview Manfred and give celebrity attention to the Studio during the week before the parade.” Hobokenites loved the Studio for good reason. It was pulsing with creative energy. Maybe unsurprisingly, a number of the artisan employed there found soulmates in one another and continue on in partnerships that they built alongside their parade floats.

Read More: Hudson County Artists to Know + Collect

A New Era

After the Studio was moved to the larger facility where it now exists in Moonachie, the Hoboken building remained empty for a period. In 2012, that fabled space served as a Superstorm Sandy relief center before it was eventually demolished. The Crew’s new Moonachie float fabrication digs are maybe more sterile than that of the golden years, but there’s parking for everyone and it’s an outfit that accommodates much larger build teams along with the high tech machinery that makes this decade’s parade production cleaner, more efficient, and less of a Herculean struggle.

hoboken parade float studio

(Photo credit: John Cheney + Gail McLaughlin)

Perhaps not quite as Herculean a feat today as then, the struggle is still real. Now using forklifts and more adroit cranes, and with the benefit of air conditioning and safer ventilation, today’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Crew has to break down their gigantic masterpieces just like they always did. The tops and sides of each float must be hinged to fold or totally removable in order to transport them through the Lincoln Tunnel where, once in New York City, each float requires reassembly.

hoboken parade floats

(Photo credit: John Cheney + Gail McLaughlin)

Traditionally, for the ‘balloonatics’—  the crew that works the gigantic helium balloons that glide through the sky — the hours between inflation and parade go-time have always been spent in attempts at slumber on the floor of the Museum of Natural History in Central Park. The crew tasked with reassembling, running, and then disassembling the floats catches no Zs whatsoever.

hoboken parade floats

(Photo credit: John Cheney + Gail McLaughlin)

While the rest of the country rests up for a massive Thanksgiving Day meal, the workers of the wizardry know that there will be no turkey with cranberry sauce for them… unless they are expecting to pilot an enormous drumstick through the streets.

See More: The History of Hoboken’s Hazel Bishop and the World’s First Stay-On Lipstick

More Than Macy’s

hoboken parade floats

(Photo credit: John Cheney + Gail McLaughlin)

As for John Cheney, his work for Macy’s inspired more of the similar — nothing he makes is ever exactly the same. Like most of the inventive men and women constructing movable dreamscapes for the Macy’s Parade’s corporate sponsors, the Hoboken resident visionary is also immersed in a number of other regional creative projects. Top amongst those are his labors of love for the annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade that generally falls near the summer solstice and is happening this year — the 40th! — on June 18th.

read more button

Become a local expert in no time.
Enter your email address to stay in-the-know. No spam, promise.
Thank you for subscribing!

also appears in

0 comment