Anybody Remember Boston’s Thanksgiving Parade?

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Boston had a Thanksgiving Day parade from 1929 to 1941 that drew hundreds of thousands of people.

The Boston Globe published 14 old photos from the parade yesterday (Thursday, November 22, 2018), but didn’t offer much information about it. You can see a couple of old photos without a paywall from Getty Images here and here.

Boston’s version began five years after the famous (and continuing) Macy’s Thanksgiving parade in New York City.

The Boston parade had various routes, but all ended at the main building of its sponsor, Jordan Marsh, which was the largest department store in the region and had a legendary toy department.

The main building of Jordan Marsh was a 19th century brownstone at 450 Washington Street opposite Temple Place. (The building was demolished in May 1975, over sharp protests that led to the forming of the Boston Landmarks Commission. The site of the old building is now a Macy’s, which acquired the Jordan Marsh name in 1995.)

The parade typically began with an adolescent boy dressed up as the son of Santa Claus (known as “Santason”) arriving in the Charles River Basin near Embankment Road by hydroplane.

One of the parade’s routes started at Embankment Road and made its way to Beacon Street. From there it proceeded up Beacon Hill by the State House. At least one year it continued down the other side of Beacon Hill onto School Street and then took a right at Washington Street. But at least one other year, it took a right from Beacon Street onto Park Street, and then a right on Tremont Street and a left on Boylston Street before eventually making its way to Washington Street.

It took as many as a dozen men to hold each of the helium-filled balloon figures in the parade, according to Anthony M. Sammarco’s book Jordan Marsh:  New England’s Largest Department Store (2017) (which is available for purchase as an e-book online). Many were Jordan Marsh employees, but the company also hired others for the day to help out.

Picture this, from Sammarco’s book:

“As huge rubber balloons that were filled with helium to keep them aloft, such characters as the Blue Man and the Straw Man were led along the city streets lined with thousands of cheering Bostonians as they watched marching employees of Jordan Marsh, dressed in vibrant and fanciful costumes that ranged from clowns to Celtic warriors complete with shields and spears, Chinese men in traditional clothing and conical straw hats and Arabians in jackets with waist sashes and turbans, all of whom held tight the ropes that secured the floating balloons as they processed up Beacon Hill and then on to the department store.”

The last parade took place Thursday, November 20, 1941.

(If you’re wondering about the date, which is earlier than Thanksgiving could possibly take place nowadays, it stems from a decision by President Franklin Roosevelt in October 1939 to move up Thanksgiving a week to the second-to-last Thursday in November, to lengthen the Christmas shopping season to try to help businesses during the Great Depression. Massachusetts was one of 23 states that accepted Roosevelt’s designation, which became known as “Franksgiving.” In 1939, 1940, and 1941, the federal designation of Thanksgiving was the second-to-last Thursday. After a few years of confusion, Congress and the president established Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday in November starting in 1942, the way it is now.)

In November 1942, Jordan Marsh sadly announced that it would not sponsor the Thanksgiving Day parade that year, because key ingredients (like helium and rubber) were needed for the war effort. The store promised a bigger-than-ever celebration once the war ended in victory – but while the war ended, the parade never came back.

(New York’s parade was also cancelled in 1942, 1943, and 1944, for the same reasons, but it returned in 1945 and continues today.)

Below are images from an ad Jordan Marsh published in November 1942 announcing there would be no Thanksgiving parade in Boston that year.

But before we get there … We’d like to hear from people who remember the Boston Thanksgiving parade.

To remember Boston’s Thanksgiving Day parade, we’re guessing you have to have lived in the Boston area during or before 1941 and you have to be about 82 years old or older.

If you have any memories of it, or any other information about it, please send an email message to [email protected]