Thanksgiving in Michigan: Detroit Parade’s ‘Big Head’ History
Detroit's Thanksgiving Day Parade, also known as America's Thanksgiving Day Parade, has been a Motown and Michigan tradition since 1924. Often hailed as the second-oldest Thanksgiving parade in the U.S. (the first held in Philidelphia in 1920), it tied for that honor with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade held in New York.
How and why was this nearly century-old tradition created? Charles Wendel was working as the display director of J.L. Hudson Company (Hudson's Department Store) at Woodward and Gratiot (a once massive, 2,124,316 square-foot department store in the heart of Detroit), and after watching the Toronto Eaton's Santa Claus Parade, made plans to bring a similar extravaganza for Detroit.
The Creation of Detroit's Thanksgiving Day Parades Iconic "Big Heads"
Wendell, looking for something to set Motown's parade apart from others, collaborated with Italian puppeteers and loads of paper mache. This led to the creation of some very large, but unmistakably Detroit, Big Heads.
The city was on the cusp of becoming a global automotive superpower, and Hudson's, along with the City of Detroit, embraced it from the beginning. While there are other Turkey Day parades, this one stands out for its world-renowned papier-mache big heads.
Past Big Head Michigan celebrities and Detroit stalwarts featured include:
Of course, there are a slew of colorful Big Heads that resemble giant cartoon characters, animals, and more that kids of all ages enjoy. These iconic pieces of art are cared for, created, and restored by Detroit's The Parade Company, established in 1990 by the Detroit Renaissance Foundation, who had taken control of the event from the form Hudson's in 1979.
Attendees begin lining Detroit's Woodward Avenue at 5 a.m., hoping to get a seat that offers the best view of the iconic floats and legendary "Big Heads". There are over 300 of these avatars, but usually, only around half of those will be in any given year's parade and new additions are added regularly.
If your curiosity goes beyond the behind-the-scenes peek at the Parade Company's warehouse (keep scrolling), you can take a first-hand tour of the world's largest collection of paper mache heads resembling local celebrities and famous characters. You can even see the original Big Heads that were crafted in Viareggio, Italy, which is the venue's featured attraction.
Inside Detroit, Michigan's Parade Company Warehouse
Gallery Credit: Scott Clow
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