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« Happy Thanksgiving from Detroit Moxie | Main | Detroit's Best Coney: American vs. Layfayette »
Monday
Nov232009

America's Thanksgiving Parade: A Sneak Peek

The America’s Thanksgiving Parade began in 1924 in Detroit and was the idea of Charles F. Wendel, the display manager at J.L. Hudson’s. He was inspired by a stunt in Toronto that had Santa arriving at Eaton’s department store.

On a trip to Italy, Wendel experienced the carnivals of Venice and Viareggio that featured giant papier mâché heads. These papier mâché heads figured prominently in the first parade and are still a proud tradition in the Detroit parade.

Rows and rows of papier mâchê heads at The Parade Company.

The parade, now entering its 83rd year, started the same year as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. This years theme is "Together We Shine."

From The Parade Company’s website:

The theme celebrates The Parade Company bringing a spark of magic and people together to enjoy one of Detroit’s largest and free events where for one special moment, families can be entertained, share a tradition and create a memory. As we celebrate the theme of this year’s Parade, we are asking the metro Detroit community to join together to celebrate this civic event that is so important to our community.

Now, I’ve known for a while that The Parade Company gives behind the scenes tours of their studios all year long. However, when I called them I was told that the tours were for a minimum of 10 people. I didn’t have 10 people.

So, I did what any self-respecting blogger would do, I just showed up. The Brownie troop that was checking in before us was confusing and frustrating the guy at the desk. Maybe that’s why he wouldn’t let my husband and me join one of the other groups.

Hitsville U.S.A float.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed another official looking person. She was dressed brightly, smiling and wearing a nametag. I don’t want to get her in trouble so I’ll just call her D.

D was searching through the crowd trying to fill a few spots to walk in the parade in costume. (As of last Saturday they were still seeking 3 people of medium size and one size small.)

I started chatting to D and asked her if we could join a pre-booked tour. She asked the frustrated guy at the desk and he said they were fully booked for the day. She seemed surprised at this answer, “how can another 2 people matter.”

By this time I was getting a bit ballsy and asked her if we could just take a peek into the studios. She said no.

Then, to my surprise, she said very loudly, “Oh, you want to use the restrooms? They’re over here.” With a wink and a nudge she led us into the warehouse/studio and told us not to go into a specific area and what doors to exit by. And she was gone. 

Artists working on a papier mâché head. It kinda looks like Bill Clinton to me.

We didn’t get to see much or have the benefit of the full tour but we did get a sneak peek. We were also quite lucky that a few of the floats were out front, waiting to be repaired.

Besides the behind-the-scenes tours that are available year round (except this week) D also clued me in on “A Day in Paradeland,” which is this Saturday, November 28th. There will be games, entertainment, arts and crafts, and a chance to see the floats that will travel down Woodward Avenue on Thanksgiving Day.

There is an online coupon for "A Day in Paradeland" that brings the cost down to $5 for adults.

The parade kicks off at 9:20 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning. Whether you're watching from home or from the parade route, enjoy one of the great Detroit traditions.

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Reader Comments (5)

I love it! I've always wanted to tour the Parade Company - Detroit's Thanksgiving Day parade is one of my favorite traditions (from the comfort of my couch - not in person). I bet a simple call for people would result in way more than 10 for a tour. Count me in!

November 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCheri

I think you might get a couple more here...am I smelling a parade tweetup for next year? :)

November 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDominique

Awesome! I actually marched in the parade one year as a boy scout. Worst weather ever but the walk down Woodward seemed to zoom by and before we all knew it we were done. Good times (in Detroit).

November 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDave Peckens

Your photos are fantastic! I especially love the "It's a Michigan thing." I, too, will be watching from the comforts of home sadly, as I will be on the east side of the state.

November 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErica

Thanks guys! I think we'll have to do a Parade Company tour next year!

Dave,
What a great experience to march in the parade! We might have actually volunteered when asked but my husband wouldn't have fit in the costumes they still had available!

November 25, 2009 | Registered CommenterBecks Davis

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