With the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade set to step off again this
month, we look at Ohio’s tie to the giant balloons for which it’s known.
November 2013 Issue
November 2013 Digest
We look at Goodyear's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade legacy, Lego bricks get their due at the Columbus Museum of Art, and former Buckeyes Coach Earle Bruce talks OSU–Michigan.
In the fall of 1966, Akron residents got a glimpse of Superman, well at least a 40-foot-tall, helium-filled version of him. One of the stars of that year’s
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Man of Steel and Smokey the Bear were inflated near the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.’s headquarters to provide locals a preview of the Big Apple festivities.
The enormous balloons that float through the streets of New York City on Thanksgiving Day have a long-running connection to Ohio. Goodyear constructed the enormous inflatables from 1927 until 1981. Even after the work moved from Akron’s Goodyear plant to its Arizona and Georgia facilities following World War II, the balloons were still test-inflated and photographed in Akron to promote the parade.
In 1952, a group of Goodyear aircraft employees formed the Lighter Than Air Society, with the goal to preserve and promote knowledge pertaining to lighter-than-air flight such as blimps and balloons. “At [that] time, the big focus was on jets and rockets, so the idea of a slow-poke airship seemed to be getting lost in the shuffle,” says Eric Brothers, a board member for the organization, which still exists today with more than 600 members.
Manfred Bass, the former head designer for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from the late 1960s until 2000, knows about the fascination people have with lighter-than-air craft. Over the years, he worked closely with Goodyear to create the enormous inflatable versions of the iconic characters Americans love.
Originally, the balloons were fairly simple designs built out of basic shapes and chambers. But as Bass developed new forms, Goodyear tackled the challenge of creating balloons that could keep up with the complexity of each new design.
“They weren’t just a sphere or cylinder,” explains Bass, who resides in New Jersey. “Superman had muscles. Superman had a face. Superman had a nose. And we had Spider-Man, [who] took his hand and spun the web right in front [of him].”
For Bass, the work he and Goodyear did on the balloons served a larger purpose than mere entertainment. He sees it as helping preserve the American tradition of families sharing time and memories together during Thanksgiving
“I can’t say enough about that holiday,” Bass says. “It’s where you sit down with grandma and grandpa and all your brothers and sisters and kids. Things get a little out of hand, kids get running around, grandma’s favorite stuffing is pulled out and there’s Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade on the TV.” — Jordan Gonzalez
The Columbus Museum of Art’s Center for Creativity embraces the Lego.
Professional Lego artists start their creative process with one simple question: What if? This month, the Columbus Museum of Art’s Center for Creativity presents “Think Outside the Brick,” an exhibit showcasing the work of Lego artists from around the world. The exhibit opens Nov. 8 and runs through Feb. 16, and Jeff Sims, the Center for Creativity’s creative producer, says the collection is intended to do more than spotlight the world’s most famous building block. “The exhibit is less about the Legos,” he says, “and more about the thought process to create something innovative.” — Lauren Cohen
Brick By Brick:
“Think Outside the Brick” features a dozen works ranging from video animation to sculpture to photography. The centerpiece is a large-scale sculpture created by professional Lego artist Sean Kenney. Kenney’s vision was to create a “life-size bicycle towering over a clogged up crazy traffic jam built by kids.” Constructed with green building blocks, the bicycle rests atop a stream of traffic that was assembled by kids and adults over the course of two days and contains 75,000 Lego bricks.
Columbus artist Paul Janssen never forgot the giant castle Lego set he always wanted as a kid. His contribution to the exhibit answers a question posed by Sims: “What if a beloved classic Lego set could be blown up to 12 times its size?” Using 100 smaller Legos to create giant bricks, Janssen built a large-scale version of one of the knights on a horse from that iconic castle Lego set. The difference is his version is almost 4 feet long and 3 feet tall, which brought its own engineering obstacles. “My greatest challenge,” Janssen says, “was functionally building the sculpture.”
Creating works of art using materials familiar to the general public is at the foundation of what the Center for Creativity does. “The idea [for the exhibit] came from seeing Legos as a teaching tool and a demonstration of creativity,” says Sims. And while the show is about challenging conventional thinking, there is one rule everyone must follow: No touching the art. The good news is the related “Imagine the Possibilities” program encourages guests to build a creation to share with other Center for Creativity visitors.
Visit columbusmuseum.org/legocolumbus for more information about “Think Outside the Brick.”
With the Buckeyes and Wolverines set to face off again this month, we talked to former Ohio State football coach Earle Bruce about his memorable win over Michigan in 1987.
The ecstasy and despair surrounding college football’s greatest rivalry was never more evident than in the 1987 meeting between Ohio State and Michigan in Ann Arbor. OSU head coach Earle Bruce had been dismissed earlier in the week, adding intensity to a game never lacking for drama. The Buckeyes, wearing “Earle” headbands beneath their helmets, pulled out a thrilling 23-20 victory, hoisting the coach on their shoulders at game’s end. “I went into the Michigan locker room after the game and saw Kirk Herbstreit,” says the 82-year-old Bruce, who was recruiting the talented Centerville quarterback at the time. “I told him to get his ass out of there because he was going to Ohio State.” We talked with Bruce about The Game, his firing and his relationship with Woody Hayes. — Barry Goodrich
Q: You had a 5-4 record against Michigan, winning three of those games on the road. What makes this such a fierce rivalry?
A: The history makes it a great rivalry. We hate to lose to them and they hate to lose to us. When you play up there, there’s a hell of a lot of blue and yellow and not much scarlet and gray. When I was an assistant in 1969, I had to walk up through the crowd to get to the press box and a guy grabbed me by my jacket and said, `You’re going to get you’re ass handed to you today.’
Q: You found out five days before the Michigan game you would not return as coach. How did that affect the team?
A: We decided we weren’t going to concentrate on me being fired. We were going to concentrate on beating Michigan. The players were relentless all week. On Senior Tackle day, they told me “you’ve got to hit that sled because you’re graduating with us.”
Q: What was it like coaching under Woody Hayes?
A: He was tough to work for and he didn’t pay well. I was making $17,500 coaching at Massillon and took a pay cut to $10,000 when I came to Ohio State [in 1966]. The next year, we lost our homecoming game to Illinois, and Woody told the coaching staff we had to win the last four games to save our jobs. We did, and in 1968 we won the national championship with 17 sophomores on the team. Those players were so good they could have won [the title] when they were freshmen.
This year’s Ohio State–Michigan matchup is set for Nov. 30 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.
Ohio Finds! | Fascinating objects from our past
Grand Army of the Republic Quilt
A century and a half ago ago, hundreds of thousands of Americans were unable to spend Thanksgiving with their closest loved ones, as most of the country was embroiled in the Civil War. Memorabilia from the war is quite collectible with a focus on firearms, uniforms (including buttons) and military ephemera. However, family archives and personal mementos have a wide audience, appealing to anyone with an interest in the history of this important era. With its central location and large population, Ohio played a key role in the success of the Union Army — sending more than 300,000 soldiers to battle. The 150th anniversary of the Civil War has made the market for newly discovered items with regional connections stronger than ever. On Thanksgiving Day 1884, a group of ladies in Cardington, Ohio, presented their friend Amanda St. John with this handmade Grand Army of the Republic quilt — a precious memento to honor her family’s sacrifice. Listed on the quilt are the names, companies and regiments of nearly three hundred Ohio Civil War soldiers, including Amanda’s son, Capt. James St. John of the 96th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. — Amelia Jeffers
Sold at Auction
Amelia Jeffers is co-owner of Garth’s Auctioneers & Appraisers in Delaware.