In time for Thanksgiving, the Clinton-Macomb Public Library recently hosted a presentation on Thanksgiving parades in Detroit. In 1925, the parade was turned over to J. L. Hudson Department Store in Detroit, pictured here.

In time for Thanksgiving, the Clinton-Macomb Public Library recently hosted a presentation on Thanksgiving parades in Detroit. In 1925, the parade was turned over to J. L. Hudson Department Store in Detroit, pictured here.

Photo provided by Romie Minor


Presentation focuses on Detroit a Thanksgiving tradition

‘Everyone becomes a kid again when they see the parade’

By: Alex Szwarc | C&G Newspapers | Published November 23, 2021

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METRO DETROIT — Earlier this month, Romie Minor, CEO of Detroit History Company, gave a Zoom presentation about Thanksgiving parades in Detroit.

It opened with a photo slideshow, set to the music of “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole, depicting the parade over the years.

Minor commemorated the parade tradition with a nostalgic visual journey down Woodward Avenue, looking back at almost a century of magic and enchantment.

The presentation was hosted by the Clinton-Macomb Public Library.

Minor is also the head archivist for the Parade Company in Detroit, works with the Burton Historical Collection and wrote the book “Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.”

He said the first official parade was in 1925, when it was turned over to J. L. Hudson Department Store Publicity Director Joe Mills. The parade today is the third largest in the country, behind the Rose Parade in California and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.

“The glorification of Hudson’s 12th floor toyland at Santa’s Detroit headquarters was another of Joe Mills’ ingenious projects,” Minor said. “He arranged for Santa to officially arrive at the Woodward store in a razzle-dazzle of publicity.”

In the early days of the parade, the Detroit Creamery Company loaned horses and milk wagons to transport Santa and pull 26 other floats.

Due to a material shortage, there was no parade during World War II in 1943 and 1944. Besides those two years, the parade has gone off each year.

In 1920, the display manager at Hudson’s traveled to Toronto to see its holiday parade. Minor said once he saw that, he thought about bringing it to Detroit.

Minor detailed how, over the years, the parade has had different names, like Hudson’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Santa Parade, the Annual Children’s Parade, the Christmas Parade, Hudson’s Toyland Parade, the Michigan Thanksgiving Parade and, now, America’s Thanksgiving Parade.

Hudson’s was the main parade sponsor from 1924 to 1979. The Detroit store closed in 1983.

After giving up primary ownership of the parade, Minor said it went to the Michigan Parade Foundation. The Parade Company, which operates the parade today, was formed in 1983. In 1988, the parade warehouse moved to the old Chrysler Lynch Road Assembly near Mount Elliott Street. In the future, Minor said parade headquarters will be at the Brodhead Armory, along the Detroit River.

The 1945 parade, Minor noted, saw 24-degree temperatures, 600 characters, eight bands and 75 clowns cheer up the freezing audience.

He notes that nativity scenes and many religious themes used to be in the parade.

“It was probably because J. L. Hudson’s was the main sponsor, but you do have a lot of religious and nativity scenes,” Minor said.

In 1990, Minor said Art Van Elslander gave a check to save the parade. Art Van was the presenting sponsor of the parade for a few decades.

Also in 1990, Minor shared the story of when a balloon of Chilly Willy got loose during inflation and escaped. The 40-foot balloon was located the following day near Walpole Island, some 25 miles away in Lake St. Clair.

“Everyone becomes a kid again when they see the parade,” Minor said.

Discussing the main parade attraction, Santa Claus, Minor said after the parade, Santa would go through a special door at Hudson’s, where he would sit in his chair on the 12th floor.

This year’s Detroit parade, on Nov. 25, will be the 95th edition.

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