Siamese Kitty

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is the first photo post in quite awhile and it is with a nod to Kim who noticed it surfacing on my desk as the last of the kitchen detritus has finally been reinstalled or taken to a new life via Housing Works thrift store. The apartment has not instantly returned to normal (where did these stray boxes of books come from?) but the tide of possessions has gently shifted and the original strata of things is coming back into view, this photo I purchased earlier this fall among them. It was clearly made from a small negative on a roll of film of early vintage and likely contact printed. Visual information is missing and the crowd gathered to watch is largely unreadable. Still, it is a record of a time and a place – and a pretty great cat balloon.


Felix stereocard.


Like the Felix balloon in my earlier post, Felix Floats (which can be found here, photo above) this two-headed cat balloon might have been made by Tony Sarg, famed early balloon maestro of the Thanksgiving Day parade. The balloon in today’s photo appears to be on a dolly of sorts to be moved into place. Sarg was a German American puppeteer by training but is best known for birthing his Seussian-like balloon creations for the early Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Since his assistants ultimately opened their own studios and other competing studios appeared (this eventually forced him into bankruptcy in 1939), and without a date, it is hard to say if this was a Sarg balloon or not. Nor can I say for sure that this was for the Macy’s parade as the photo seems to be taken in a staging location. I have never seen this particular balloon in other photos before. It is certainly in keeping with his style though, and if I was a betting woman (alas, I am not) I would say it is by him.

These gents in clown suits are dragging kitty along by ropes on what appears to be a snow dappled day, attached to the rolling platform he (it?) is perched on. Like this year, I bet it was a cold one. I love the way the sort of cynical head is eyeing the smiling head with a smirk. It must have looked great floating down the streets of New York. The original route of the parade starting at 145th Street and Convent Avenue, down to Macy’s on 34th Street. In those days the parade lead to the unveiling of the holiday windows at the store – it must have all been quite delightful.

This is a particularly good description from the site:

By noontime, the parade finally arrived at its end in front of Macy’s Herald Square store where 10,000 people cheered Santa as he descended from his sleigh. After being crowned “King of the Kiddies,” Kris Kringle scaled a ladder and sat on a gold throne mounted on top of the marquee above the store’s new 34th Street entrance near Seventh Avenue. With a bellow from his trumpet, Santa sounded the signal to unveil “The Fair Frolics of Wondertown,” the Christmastime window display designed by artist and puppeteer Tony Sarg. As soon as the police lowered their crowd-control lines, children rushed to the 75-foot-long window to see the miniature Mother Goose marionette characters on moving belts frolicking in their own parade in front of a castle-like façade.

A gold throne for Santa atop of the 34th Street entrance! Wowza! This kitty, probably in a subsequent year, would have added significantly to the visual fiesta I think.

I have never attended the parade despite living in the greater New York area and always having a yen for it as a child, (my father who was a cameraman for ABC news for his entire career and had covered it, freezing on the streets endlessly early, on had absolutely no stomach for it as an observer), but after moving to Manhattan as an adult I used to like to see the balloons getting blown up the night before over on the westside. I haven’t done it in years now and this year it poured rain which made me sad for those who were looking forward to it. Regardless, I would have been there if they were blowing up this two-headed cat balloon though, I assure you.


Felix Floats

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Felix parade floats form a sort of a subgenre of Felix photographs for those of us who collect photos of Felix in his various incarnations. There are a number of especially popular ones from the New York, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade that are widely available for sale in various, mostly reproduced form. My collection is largely made up of those from parades that capitalized on Felix’s likeness without all the fuss and bother of his copyright. I have devoted a few posts to these including Felix on Parade which can be found here. (I think Felix for a Cause, here  should be taken into consideration as well, a giant Felix doll in an open air car should count, yes?)

Scan(1) collection – from the Felix for a Cause post


Today’s balloon photos appear to be a version of the Felix the Cat parade balloon designed by mastermind of parade balloons, puppeteer Tony Sarg. I read that these early balloons were filled with oxygen, not helium, the first year and were carried on poles by Macy’s workers, drafted into working the holiday. The move to helium the following year resulted in the idea of setting the balloons free at the end of the parade and in subsequent years offering a reward for their return. With some trial and error this publicity stunt continued until 1931 when the balloons almost brought down a barnstorming plane whose pilot thought bringing them in might be fun. This means that although this design may have been in use for several years, the actual balloon would have been different.

In case we needed further proof that the internet isn’t always consistent or correct, there are numerous conflicting thoughts about what year this design balloon is from. It is identified in numerous places as the 1927 premiere Sarg Felix – the first year balloons were in the parade. Yet there are also newspaper accounts of that first year Felix blowing into wires and catching fire – which is then identified in photos as a horizontal cat balloon below which looks much less Felix-like. Who am I to argue with the New York Times though?


Whatever the story, suffice it to say, it is one of the early versions of Felix, depicted in early hand-tinted colored, captured here in 3-D for a hand-held viewing device. I love to look down the block, the car, the building with another uncolored balloon in front of it, and the guy caught in time, walking by. There is an early morning light that is very evocative for me. The tinting isn’t identical – it is heavier on the right side and I prefer the left one. I wonder if that difference in tinting contributes to the 3-D effect being less than ideal. (I’m not great at seeing depth in 3-D without a viewing anyway, but Kim is very practiced and good at it. He has commented that it isn’t very good.) For me, this is the right photo to own, before this brand new Felix balloon starts out on its Thanksgiving adventure, whatever it turned out to be that year.