There’s something so special about ticker tape parades in NYC, the crowds, the noise, the bands and of course the ticker tape itself raining down on whoever the person or group being honored. You can’t be a spectator and not feel you are part of something good and wonderful because ticker tape parades are a celebration, an honoring, a tribute to the best in human endeavor, …mostly.
Like all institutions this one began simply as a celebration, the first parade taking place on Oct 28 1886 in honor of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty and 3 were held subsequently all of which honored important individuals and their feats: the commemoration of George Washington’s inauguration in NYC, Admiral Dewey’s return from Manila and Theodore Roosevelt returning from safari in Africa. Along the way the tradition of throwing ticker tape, used by Wall Street traders, started, as did the custom of having them in the “Canyon of Heroes”, along Broadway as it runs through the financial district.
Gradually the City got the message that these triumphal marches should come under their control and be used as an expression of who and what was officially important and the first City sponsored oarade was the one for General Pershing on Sept 8, 1919. Pershing was the commander of the American Expeditionary Forcce during World War 1 and it was spectacular parade. From then on parades ticked along at the rate of one or two a year until 1926 when suddenly the numbers ticked upwards. In 1926 7 were held and from then on numbers per year fluctuated between 4 and 9 per year until 1964 when the numbers abruptly fell to 3 and from then on the number never went above that and was most usually just 1 a year as it is today.
Looking at the list of people honored from 1926 a pattern is quite clear. There is a mixture of outstanding sportsmen, then people who achieve great feats, Lindberg’s flight across the Atlantic, Amelia Earhart Putman’s flight across the Atlantic also and Jesse Owen’s triumphs at the Olympics in 1936. Then a whole heap of war related ones, welcoming back troops after World War 11 and honoring famous generals and admirals. But the parades started to be mainly about honoring heads of state and European royalty.
This period from 1926 through to the early 50′s coincided with the reign of New York’s official greeter Grover Whelan, officially Chairman of the Committee on Receptions for Distinguished Guests in NYC. The extraordinary number of parades for visiting heads of state suggest that the Federal State Department had outsourced this small element of international diplomacy to the dapper hands of Mr Whalen. Thus Galo Plaza Lass president of Ecuador and Sir Denys Lowson, Lord Mayor of the City Of London were both honored with a parade in 1951. It is inconceivable that 2 such people, no matter how distinguished, would be honored with a ticker tape parade today.
A whole range of things changed the focus of ticker tape parades until they took up their current incarnation as almost exclusively an event to celebrate the feats of NYC sporting teams or quite extraordinary personal triumphs. For instance if a group of people managed to live on Mars for a year they could conceivably have a parade in their honor on their return. But the kinds of feats that were celebrated from the 20′s onwards became commonplace. Transatlantic flights have become as common as bus trips and the drip, drip of celebrity arrivals also turned into an avalanche as soon as plane travel increased. So the biggest of modern pop stars of all time arrive today and they will get on television with Jimmy Fallon but never a ticker tape parade.
The broad spread of TV and even more the spread of social media turned once remote celebrities or heads of state into people who could cop the revelation of salacious details about to their private lives which somewhat reduces the glitter of yesteryear. And the idea of the present day Mayor of London getting a ticker rape parade wouldn’t even be considered. But the parades that are still held. Theya re heart stopping events, huge, clamorous and heartfelt.