Balloons fly high during parade despite near freezing temperatures, wind

Philadelphia celebrates its 94th annual Thanksgiving Day Parade.

While the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City traditionally draws national attention, Kelly Smeltzer packed his bags to attend Philadelphia’s 94th annual 6 abc Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade.

As the band director of Portland, Indiana’s Jay County High School, Smeltzer carried plenty of luggage and high hopes for his students’ performance in America’s oldest Thanksgiving Day parade.

“The kids are so excited to perform in front of such a large crowd,” Smeltzer said. “We’ve been practicing around our fairly large campus to get used to the temperatures. It’s a 1.4 mile parade so we work on building a strong endurance.”

With a high of 36 degrees and AccuWeather “RealFeel” temperatures dipping into the teens, participants and spectators braced the freezing conditions alongside the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Smeltzer considered the harsh weather when submitting the application video of the band’s Indianapolis 500 parade production, but he couldn’t let Mother Nature interfere with this opportunity for his students to gain exposure outside the Hoosier State.

“I came to the Philly parade with Jay County in 1999,” Smeltzer said. “It rained all day and night, but we still went out there and did our thing.”

Mayfair native Shane Petro enjoyed a respite from the cold by warming up in the sponsor tent. As Radio Disney hosted trivia contests and dancing games for children, Petro circled the tent for free samples from Campbell’s Soup, Pace, Pepperidge Farm and of course, Dunkin’ Donuts.

“My wife says I’ll spoil my appetite for the turkey, but that’s why she’s at home cooking,” Petro said. “The kids and I come to this tent every year for all the free food and swag, but this year we’re hiding from the damn wind.”

The National Weather Service reported winds of about 17 miles per hour gusting to 28 miles per hour which prompted officials to confine the character balloons to Eakins Oval rather than the 20th annual Thanksgiving Day Parade and JFK starting point.

Northeast Philadelphia native John Madden has attended the holiday event for over 30 years and believes the lack of balloons hurt the atmosphere.

“I bring my kids here every year because they love the giant cartoons,” Madden said. “They want to see Elmo and Scooby Doo. It’s tough to keep them entertained for Santa after sitting through a bunch of marching bands.”

Christa Wagner, treasurer of animal welfare nonprofit Philadoptables, was scheduled to join the “Clifford the Big Red Dog’ balloon handlers until unforeseen circumstances prevented her involvement.

However, Wagner still organized Philadoptables’ fourth year at the parade, raising awareness for the animal control shelter.

“About 25 volunteers blow up the balloon and carry it along the route,” Wagner said. “It’s neat when the people cheer for us to spin the balloon around and around. It’s great exposure for our organization and it’s great bonding for our team members as well as the families and friends who attend the parade.”

Celebrities appearing in the procession included Cedric the Entertainer and Phillies’ first baseman Ryan Howard. Singers such as Jay Sean and Debbie Gibson accompanied local choirs, tap dancers and the Boy Scouts of America.

Rubbing shoulders with superstars didn’t faze Smeltzer who brought along all the talent he needed.

Kelsie Adkins, a senior drum major in Jay County High School’s marching band, didn’t know what to expect from the City of Brotherly Love.

“This is my first time in Philly,” Adkins said. “I usually go to my grandmother’s for Thanksgiving dinner, but this year I ate with my bandmates and friends. I knew Philly was a big city, but this is crazy.”

John Corrigan can be reached at

1 Comment

  1. Debbie Gibson was an absolute train wreck. I’ve never witnessed a more cringe-worthy performance in my life. She was HORRIBLE!

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