Over three million cheering spectators lining the streets of Manhattan were treated to the awkward sight of Elmo the puppet singing together with Big Bird at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The potentially inappropriate decision by the makers of Sesame Street follows directly in the wake of allegations that Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind the much-loved red Muppet sexually abused up to four young men.
Taking their place among stalwarts such as Buzz Lightyear, Sailor Mickey Mouse, the Pillsbury Doughboy, Spider-Man and Kermit the Frog, Elmo and his buddies have long been a fixture in the parade enjoyed by up to 50 million people watching from the warmth of their homes.
Despite the controversy, organizers said they hoped the parade will lift the spirits of New Yorkers still recovering from the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, and thousands of those affected were given front-row seats by Macy’s.
Unrepentant, the makers of Sesame Street had given prior warning that they would not pull the loveable red monster from the float.
Yesterday a representative for Macy’s told TMZ: “Elmo will be joining his Muppet friends on the Sesame Street float with an alternate puppeteer bringing him to life.
“Current events have no bearing on Sesame’s participation in the Parade and we are confident their world-renowned, family-friendly entertainment and educational programming will continue to bring kids and families joy for decades.”
However, Twitter lit up with those who found the appearance of a character now unfortunately linked to sexual abuse claims odd.
Meanwhile, beneath blue skies and 50-degree temperatures, the huge balloons were carried along a new route down 6th Avenue by 8,000 trained wranglers.
It kicked off at 9:00 a.m. at 77th Street and Central Park West, continued on to Columbus Circle and turned onto Central Park South. The parade then snaked down Sixth Avenue and headed from 59th Street down to 34th Street, making its final stop at Macy’s Herald Square.
The helium balloons joined 28 floats, 1,600 cheerleaders and dancers, 900 clowns, 11 marching bands and, of course, Santa Claus. There was also an appearance by Miss USA winner, Olivia Culpo, who grinned as she waved at the screaming spectators.
The nation’s biggest singing stars and celebrities also entertained the crowds, including Call Me Maybe songstress Carly Rae Jepsen, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots, Flo Rida and Whoopi Goldberg, The Muppets and the U.S. Olympic gold medalists in gymnastics known as The Fab Five.
Some parade-goers had camped out overnight to get a good spot, while others came well-prepared with folding chairs.
Alan Batt and his 11-year-old twins, Kyto and Elina, watched the parade at the end of the route, seemingly too far away for a good view. But they had an advantage: Two tall stepladders they hauled over from their apartment eight blocks away – one for each twin.
“We’re New Yorkers,” the 65-year-old Alan Batt said.
“We know what we’re doing.”
With the height advantage, “I get to see everything!” Kyto Batt said.
But it’s not all joy as the parade snakes through the city, with Today host Matt Lauer coming under fire from viewers for his on-air blunders, while others criticized the decades-long tradition going ahead amid world helium shortages.
Yet others stayed in the festive mood while watching the parade, with organizers saying they hope that the display will help lift the spirits of New Yorkers who are still recovering from the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
In a special tribute to those suffering from the effects of the hurricane and those helping the victims, the parade featured a float dedicated to first responders and each person marching in the lineup wore a Red Cross pin.
Macy’s also gave 5,000 tickets to families affected by the storm and organized transportation to whisk them to the route.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the city, along with local groups and businesses, is organizing 26,500 Thanksgiving meals for those hit by the storm.
“Those people who don’t have heat, electricity, water, we have a responsibility to get them back and get their lives back and maybe next year they’ll be back here smiling as well,” Michael Bloomberg said.
Speaking to CBS before the parade, Michael Bloomberg revealed he would be spending his Thanksgiving Day visiting police and firefighters in the Rockaways before thanking volunteers.
Between 3 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Wednesday, the dozens of flattened balloons depicting comic book characters were all laid out on the ground around the Museum of Natural History and blown up with helium to their full size.
“Each one of the elements in the parade start as a simple sketch, and we sit with the artist and talk about what we want to see come to life,” Amy Kule, executive producer of the parade, told 9News.
Spectators who decided to brave the chill and come out Wednesday to witness the last-minute preparations for the main event got a chance for get a close look at their favorite balloons without jostling for space with three million other people.
The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was held in 1924 when it was known as the Macy’s Christmas Parade and starred animals from the Central Park Zoo. In 1927, it debuted its first helium character balloon, Felix the Cat.