Throwback Thursday photo of the Wonder Wheel on May 28, 1952: NYC elevator/ride inspector Alexander “Mac” McIntyre and Freddy Garms of the Wonder Wheel “ride on top of one of the cars to check the working of the ride,” says the original caption. AP photo/Robert Kradin
If one had to choose a single photographer whose work would serve as a visual biography of New York City in its postwar Golden Age — when Gotham became, in a sense, the capital of the world — the name Andreas Feininger would have to be in the mix. Paris-born, raised in Germany and, for a time, a cabinet-maker and architect trained in the Bauhaus, Feininger’s pictures of New York in the 1940s and ’50s helped define, for all time, not merely how a great 20th century city looked, but how it imagined itself and its place in the world. With its traffic-jammed streets, gritty waterfronts, iconic bridges and inimitable skyline, the city assumed the character of a vast, vibrant landscape
- Spectacular Skylines Around the World (thestratfordresidences.wordpress.com)
- Photo of the Day: Rosie the Router: 1942 (thoughtsandrantings.com)
- Sirens of The Lambs (lifestyledezine.com)
- Banksy’s Sirens of the Lambs (matadornetwork.com)
- Sirens of the Lambs (whowearswhatk.wordpress.com)
If it was known at all outside of New York City, it was because of a chapter in Betty Smith‘s A Tree Grows In Brooklyn where Francie dons a mask and becomes an urchin on the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn at Thanksgiving. Indeed, long before Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade appeared in New York City, there was the Ragamuffin Parade; a much smaller but equally cherished tradition. However, unlike Macy’s annual event, the Ragamuffin Parade was an occasion solely for children; and, similar to Halloween’s custom of trick-or-treating (also preceding it by many years), it was a time for kids to masquerade and visit door-to-door.
Actually, the Ragamuffin Parade wasn’t a single parade but a series of improvised parades (or gatherings, to be more specific) held throughout the city. Beginning in the early part of the 20th century, the parades usually occurred in immigrant neighborhoods and historians suspect that the custom may have originated in Europe. While their mothers were cooking Thanksgiving dinner, hordes of kids would transform themselves into paupers. Smearing burnt cork or charcoal on their faces (sometimes they merely wore masks), they’d dress in their parents’ old and, naturally, over-sized clothing and went off “begging.” Making their way down adjacent streets, they held out their hands for apples, pennies or candy with the chant, “Anything for Thanksgiving.”
In the early days of the tradition, “Ragamuffin” parades were held and children dressed in more elaborate costumes as well as the more tattered ones. The parades became a chance for the poorer immigrants to march through the street in extravagant costumes. More organized parades were established in 1923 by a director of the Madison Square Boys Club for the sole purpose of discouraging begging on the holiday among the youth of the city. An item in the New York Times of November 25, 1938 notes that eight year old Frank Manino came dressed as the mayor (“Fiorello”) and others impersonated John L. Lewis and Thomas E. Dewey, with the piece de resistance was “Ferdinand the Bull.” The first prize of a 15 lb. turkey went to an 11 year old boy dressed as a scarecrow. UE
The custom continued into the early 1960s, despite being replaced by Halloween as an excuse for such frivolity in the late 1940s, but is still observed in certain parts of Brooklyn; the Bay Ridge section, in particular. Having been born and raised in Bensonhurst (which is adjacent to Bay Ridge) in 1954, I myself haven’t seen nor do I recall any ragamuffins on Thanksgiving or any other day (beyond the usual unfortunates who play the part all year round) but I’ll take urban lore’s word for it.
Even though my pre-Thanksgiving dinner time was spent absorbed in watching Laurel and Hardy’s March of the Wooden Soldiers and other televised holiday treats, dressing up as a ragamuffin and annoying my neighbors could have been just as delightful.
Sources: Long Live the Ragamuffin Parade
Related External Links
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The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade began floating down 7th Avenue in 1924 and, probably to put parade spectators (to wit: holiday shoppers) into a buying frame of mind, was originally called the Macy’s Christmas Parade. There were, however, no huge balloons in the parade’s first three seasons; instead, live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo drew in the crowds. While a menagerie of lions, tigers and bears, along with a herd of goats and donkeys, may have been a success among the adults, many children were terrified by the animals, forcing Macy’s to replace them with giant character balloons in 1927.
Between 1928 and 1933, the balloons were allowed to float away when they reached the end of the parade route. Rewards were offered by Macy’s to anyone finding either a whole or partial piece of a landed balloon. In 1947, Miracle on 34th Street made the parade famous throughout the world; the film was broadcast on the fledgling medium television the very next year.
The balloon photos on this post are circa 1960-5 when my parents brought me to the parade. Personally, I would’ve enjoyed the live animals much better because the balloons actually scared me!!! Maybe it was because I saw every larger-than-life balloon as a potential Hindenburg just waiting to explode. Then again, I was really a dumb kid…what did I know?
Happy Thanksgiving to All,
Michael & Steffie
- Balloons to fly at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade- PHOTOS: 87th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (foxnews.com)
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- Vintage Photo Wednesday, Vol. 41: Superman Balloon at the 1940 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (grayflannelsuit.net)
For the past twenty years Jake Berthot has painted his vision of the Catskill Mountains, where he has lived since 1994, after living in Manhattan, much of it on the Bowery, for thirty years. A painter of what he calls “small sensations,” Berthot has included fourteen paintings and six drawings completed in the last three years, in his current solo exhibition at Betty Cuningham Gallery (October 17–November 30, 2013)…..[read more]: Hyperallergic
- When Painters Overstep the Canvas Borders (catinwater.com)
- The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and The Hudson River School of Painting (jackikellum.wordpress.com)
- Unique Stone Homes Available as Primary or Secondary Homes in Catskill Mountains of Upstate New York, Says Real Estate Broker Coldwell Banker Timberland Properties (prweb.com)
- Edward Hopper (easilycrestfallen.wordpress.com)
- Edward Hopper painting of NY island sells for $19M (seattletimes.com)
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- Take A Peek Into the Met’s PUNK: Chaos to Couture Exhibit (eyeoncelebs.com)
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