Wednesday, November 25, 2020

A Window into the History of Macy's Christmas Parades



Early. – Though it was only Thanksgiving, R. H. Macy’s store yesterday staged this Christmas parade in Broadway.

Macy’s first Thanksgiving Day Parade. New York Daily News, November 28, 1924.

When Macy’s first Thanksgiving Day Parade, then billed as a “Christmas Parade” even though taking place on Thanksgiving, wound its way from 145th Street and Convent Avenue, down Morningside and Broadway to Macy’s storefront at 34th Street in 1924, the parade itself was not the climax of the day. 


Due at MACY’s Noon

For Unveiling of




New York Evening Post, November 26, 1924, page 6.

The parade was timed to arrive at Macy’s just in time for the main event, the unveiling of its animated Christmas window display, “The Fairy Frolics of Wondertown.”  

New York Evening Post, November 26, 1924, page 6.

Ironically,  the window display was itself a “parade” of sorts, a “window parade,” a revival of a long history of Macy’s “window parades” dating back to  1883. 

Macy’s 1924 window display was the second annual revival of an earlier “window parade” tradition dating back to the early 1880s.  From at least 1882 through 1901, Macy’s staged elaborate, mechanical “window parades” (or “moving panoramas” or “moving tableaux”) with wax figures or dolls on “floats”[i] pulled in a continuous loop inside the show windows of  Macy’s original 14th Street and 6th Avenue location, which ran from the week of Thanksgiving through Christmas Day. 

The windows of some of the shops are fitted up in a rather striking manner.  In one of these there is arranged a moving panorama which, so far as its effect upon the gaping multitude goes, is as good as a circus.  Hundreds of persons may be seen at any hour of the day before Macy’s windows, in which there is exhibited a very gorgeous array of dolls, and a magnificent ocean steamship crowded to its rails with minute tourists. 

Buffalo Commercial (Buffalo, New York), December 16, 1882, page 2.

A nostalgic reader recalled Macy’s “Christmas window parade” tradition in a letter to the editor of the “Them Was the Days” column in the New York Tribune in 1922.

Shame on you! How could you forget R. H. Macy, Sixth Avenue and Fourteenth Street and their annual Christmas window parade?  ANON.

New York Tribune, March 25, 1922, page 10.

Macy’s revived the “window parade” the following year, 1923, but this time with marionettes instead of wax figures.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 26, 1923, page 9.

For those who long to feel once more the thrills of childhood when Jack and Jill fell down the hill and Little Red Riding Hood was nearly eaten by the wicked wolf and the whole great army of soldiers marched between the Giant Gulliver’s legs and Humpty-Dumpty fell off the wall, there is an opportunity to satisfy that longing by a stroll across Thirty-Fourth Street from seventh Avenue to Broadway some day between now and Christmas and viewing the “Puppet Parade” in Macy’s window.

Daily Record (Long Branch, New Jersey), November 26, 1923, page 4.

Macy’s staged a similar window display the following year.

[A]n entire Fairy City in animation, with hundreds of marionette figures moving about in it.  Twenty-six different scenes will be enacted in the spectacle with the aid of a continually moving stage.  Romantic castles, hills and lakes will be seen in the ever-changing panorama. . . .

Central New Jersey Home News (New Brunswick, New Jersey), November 26, 1924, page 9.

Macy’s supplemented its 1924 window display with an actual parade, timed to bring attention to the unveiling of the “window parade.” – Macy’s first-ever Thanksgiving Day Parade.

[T]he parade will terminate with the coronation of Santa Claus and the unveiling of Fairy Wondertown in the special seventy-five foot window on 34th street.

Central New Jersey Home News (New Brunswick, New Jersey), November 26, 1924, page 9.

The man responsible for designing the displays in Macy’s revived window display tradition was a well-known illustrator, animated cartoonist, and popular marionette artist named Tony Sarg.  Sarg’s fingerprints on American pop-culture extend beyond those windows.  He was, in a sense, the godfather of Howdie Doodie and grandfather of the Muppets.  He mentored puppeteers Rufus and Margaret Rose who worked for years on the 1950s children’s television show Howdie Doodie, and who were themselves, in turn, mentors to Jim Henson who created the Muppets.[ii] 

Tony Sarg also created the iconic elements that would come to define the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – the balloons, which are essentially inverted marionettes, hovering above the handlers instead of the other way around.  He created the first parade balloons for Macy’s 1928 parade.

In the early days, instead of putting the balloons back into storage for the next year, they would release the balloons, offering rewards for finding and recovering the balloons.

New York Daily News, December 11, 1928, Brooklyn Section, page 7.

In 1932, airplanes played tag with the balloons, in a game similar to (and perhaps inspiration for) the climactic scenes of the following year’s hit film, King Kong.


Macy’s Thanksgiving-Christmas parade developed an unexpected thrill yesterday when various airplane pilots played a merry game of tag with the great dancing balloon animals, competing to see who could nudge off heads with propellers.

The thrilling game almost resulted fatally for Miss Annette Gibson, who has a limited pilot’s license . . . and her instructor Hugh Copeland . . . .

Flying at 5,000 feet, Miss Gibson attempted to clip the head from what appeared to be a giant rubber dragon, bounding aloft on the air waves.  However, a gust of wind spoiled her aim and the dragon was impaled on the wing of her Stearman biplane, powered by a Wright J-5 motor.

Goes Into Spin.

Down spun the plane at a dizzy speed, with the knife-like wings slicing the burst rubber dragon to ribbons.  Since spinning experience is necessary for a commercial pilot’s license, for which Miss Gibson is working, Copeland allowed her to continue at the controls.

Still spinning in the toils of the dragon, zebra, elephant or whatever it was, the plane reached 1,000 feet and then plunged free to 250.  But it was still spinning over Bellerose, N. J., and the girl pilot could see the upturned faces of some 200 children, gathered to catch pieces of the annihilated rubber beast.

Copeland took the spinning plane at 150 feet, righted it while crowds below gasped, and they returned to Roosevelt Field without incident.

New York Daily News, November 25, 1932, page 8.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day street parade has long since eclipsed its Christmas window parade in significance, even without the added thrill of the balloon chase and joust.  But whereas the history of the street parade is well chronicled, little is known about the “window parades,” without which the Thanksgiving Day Parades may never have happened.



Rowland Hussey Macy was born on Nantucket, Massachusetts in 1822, the seventh generation on the island.  His four-times great-grandfather Thomas Macy was the first European colonist on the island, moving there in 1659 to avoid religious persecution from the Massachusetts puritans who had themselves fled religious persecution in England a generation-or-so earlier.  Thomas Macy had been fined for sheltering four Quakers in his home during a storm.  Two of those Quakers were later hung for being Quakers. 

Rowland Macy followed the example of many Nantucket natives, going to sea at the age of 15 on a whaling ship out of New Bedford.  After three or four years at sea he went to Boston to “make his fortune.”  He spent two or three years in “different kinds of employment,” including about six months in a printing office, before going into business for himself.[iii]  He went into business for himself, but not by himself.  In a pattern repeated at other times in his business career, he got his start with the help and support of family connections, a debt he would later pay forward to other family members after he achieved his own success.

In Boston, Macy met an importer named George Houghton.  Perhaps more significantly, he met and married his sister.  Rowland Macy’s new brother-in-law set him up in business with his own “thread and needle shop” [iv] which he operated with “moderate success” for about five years.[v]  His moderate success didn’t keep him from being delinquent in his taxes in 1847 in the amount of $11.10.[vi] 

Macy went to California during the California gold rush in 1849.  By mid-summer of 1850, he and several partners, including his brother Charles, operated a dry-goods shop in Marysville, California, the “point of debarkation for riverboats from San Francisco and Sacramento filled with miners on their way to the dig sites.”[vii]  Their store, Macy & Co., sold “dry goods, clothing,” “everything necessary for the use of Miners,” and “bar and other tumblers, decanters, fruit dishes &c.”  Something to keep in mind when watching any movies, television shows or historical representations of the California gold rush or miners in saloons; it’s likely that much of what you see, including the miners’ clothing, equipment and saloon glasses, were purchased at Macy’s.

Macy & Co. also acted as shipping agents and banking agents through arrangements with Hawley & Co. Express and Adams & Co., sending “letters, packages and gold dust . . . to all parts of the world,” receiving and paying interest on gold dust deposits, and making bank drafts on banks in any state.

Marysville Daily Herald (Marysville, California), August 6, 1850, page 3.

Marysville Daily Herald (Marysville, California), August 20, 1850, page 3.


Marysville Daily Herald (Marysville, California), September 3, 1850, page 3.

The Macys and their partners dissolved the partnership “by mutual consent” before the end of September 1850.[viii]  Contrary to some accounts of Macy’s life[ix], it does not appear that the business collapsed or failed.  Rowland Macy reportedly returned to Massachusetts in 1851 with between $3,000 and $4,000 in his pocket which he used to open a dry goods store in Haverhill, Massachusetts. [x]  And the name Macy & Co. appears to have retained some value after he cashed in and sold the store.  E. W. Tracy continued to invoke the name Macy & Co. in large print in his advertisements for the store six months after purchasing it from Macy and his partners.  Rowland’s brother Charles B. Macy remained in Marysville where he became the local shipping agent for Adams Co. Express, the same company Macy & Co. had previously serviced.[xi]  He died there in 1856.

Rowland Macy’s experience in California may also have influenced his move to Haverhill.  A letter appearing in the Marysville Daily Herald and signed by “Macy & Co.” describes a visit by “three of our friends just from the mines, bound home, with their piles all made.  Their names are Mr. Stillman Churchill, Mr. Rodney Churchill, and James A. Wilkins, from Lowell, Mass,”[xii] which is about twenty miles from Haverhill.  Those men were all members of the “Sagamore and California Mining and Trading Company, of Lynn, Massachusetts,” many of whose members were from Lowell or nearby.[xiii]  A California gold rush memoir published in 1877 recounts how the company from Lynn “overtook the Boston and Newton party of Massachusetts, numbering eighteen men and six wagons; forty-two days out from Boston” somewhere in Kansas.[xiv]  Rowland H. Macy of Boston could have been in that wagon train and might have struck up an acquaintance with the men from Lowell and vicinity at that time.  There was at least one man from Nantucket in the group from Lynn who could have made the introductions. 

When Rowland Macy returned to Massachusetts with his California profits in his pocket, he may have moved to the region where his friends who had made their “piles” in California lived. 

Macy’s Haverhill business failed in 1855.  It’s not clear how or why he failed, but it seems likely it was related to his arrest for fraud in August of that year.

Boston, Aug. 20, 1855.

Two traders of Lawrence, named Rowland H. Macy and E. F. Cushman, were brought to this city, to-day, on a charge of defrauding sundry traders of this city out of $25,000 worth of goods by false pretences.  They were held in $5,000 each for examination.

Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), August 21, 1855, page 2.

With his dry goods store out of business, Rowland Macy turned to land speculation, primarily in Superior, Wisconsin.  Rowland was not the only Macy in the land speculation business in Wisconsin.  His fourth cousin John B. Macy, also born on Nantucket, spent much of his life speculating in real estate and developing one city after another.  His land holdings became significant parts of Buffalo, New York, Toledo, Ohio and Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.[xv]  He was the Superintendent of the Rock River Valley Union Railroad connecting Fond du Lac with Janesville, Wisconsin and broke ground with the ceremonial shovel for construction of that railway in 1851.[xvi]  He served as a United States Congressman from Wisconsin’s 3rd District from 1853 to 1855.  John B. Macy died in the conflagration and sinking of the Palace Steamer Niagara off the coast of Eastern Wisconsin in 1856, a tragedy in which more than twice the number of people perished than in the better known wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

There is no direct evidence that Rowland was in business with his distant cousin John, but it seems likely that he would have been familiar with and at least consulted with his prominent cousin who was in the same business in the same, then-remote state.  John B. Macy’s early career also related to parts of Rowland Macy’s career in California.  John B. Macy made his first fortune in the “forwarding house” of Smith and Macy, a company that facilitated the shipment of goods and people through the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes

The financial panic of 1857 “ended his career as a speculator, and he came to New York City with a very small capital, where he opened a fancy store on Sixth Avenue, near Fourteenth Street.”[xvii]

Although he was said to have been a land speculator from about 1855 through 1857, Rowland H. Macy appears to have lived in, and was an active member of a Masonic lodge in, Haverhill, Massachusetts in 1856 and 1857.  As Marshal of the Merrimac Lodge of Haverhill, he led a delegation of forty members in a parade for the dedication of a statue of Benjamin Franklin in Boston in September 1856.  He was named as one of the members applying for the creation of a new lodge of the Royal Arch Masons in December 1856, and as one of the charter members of that lodge, the Pentucket Chapter of Haverhill, when the application was granted in December 1857.

Rowland Macy moved to New York City some time before October 1858 and opened a dry-goods shop at 204-206 Sixth Avenue “one door below 14th-st.”  The Macy’s company website lists October 11, 1858 as its first day in business.  Advertisements for his store published within weeks of opening reveal that some of his first products were flowers, feathers and ladies’ hats. 

New York Tribune, November 26, 1858, page 1.

Many popular accounts of Macy’s early career in New York portray him as an outsider, alone in the big city with no business contacts and no access to credit.  But as with all of his earlier business pursuits with nearby family or friends as business contacts in Boston, Marysville, Haverhill and Wisconsin, several prominent and successful family members nearby when he moved to New York City.

Rowland H. Macy’s dry-goods shop at 204 Sixth Avenue just below 14th Street was about 200 feet north of Theodore E. and Charles H. Macy’s grocery shop, Macy & Co., at 190 Sixth Avenue just above 13th Street.  Charles and Theodore were distant cousins (4th cousins-once removed) of Rowland.  The two brothers operated a second grocery store at 319 Sixth Avenue, which was then on the corner of 20th Street. 

While 4th cousins might not generally be expected to be personally familiar with each other, the case of another 4th cousin-once removed named Paul B. Macy may be instructive on how close fourth-cousins were in the Macy family.  Paul Macy had eight children who survived past infancy, including a Charles, a Rowland and a Charlotte.  Of the young children who died early, two were also named Charles and one Rowland.  Rowland Macy had five siblings, including a Charles and a Charlotte. 

It’s possible that Charles, Rowland and Charlotte were simply popular names on Nantucket at the time, and the similarly named sibling groups were a coincidence, but it’s also interesting that Paul B. Macy’s first-cousins Charles H. and Theodore E. owned a grocery store on the same block as Rowland H. Macy’s Sixth Avenue store. 

Another 4th cousin-once removed named William H. Macy was a past Vice President of the New York City Chamber of Commerce, a Trustee of Seaman’s Bank, Director of the Leather Manufacturers Bank and Vice President of the United States Trust Company.  William’s father and brother, Josiahs Sr. and Jr., were involved in Josiah Macy & Sons’, a successful trading company and patent candle manufacturer. 

Although it’s not clear how well Rowland Macy knew his New York cousins, he may not have been as lonely and devoid of local business connections as is sometimes suggested. 

If relatives gave Rowland Macy assistance or support in opening his New York store and earlier business ventures, he also assisted and supported other relatives when he could.  Rowland brought his brother-in-law, David M. Valentine (his sister Charlotte’s husband), into the business soon after starting his store in 1858.  David later went into business for himself in the “retail dry goods business” a few streets over on Fourth Avenue. 

Several family connections appear in a bankruptcy notice for an umbrella manufacturer called, F. A. Macy & Co. in 1888.  The firm was run by Frederick A. Macy, who was the younger brother of Theodore and Charles Macy whose grocery was on the same block as Rowland’s first New York store.  Frederick Macy was also reported to be a partner in several other firms, including two, David Valentine & Co., Macy, Valentine & Co, apparently connected with Rowland Macy’s former partner, David Valentine.[xviii]

In 1872, Rowland Macy hired his nephew Robert Macy Valentine (David and Charlotte’s son) as a buyer for R. H. Macy Co., promoting him to full-partner in the business in 1875.

Relatives were not the only people Macy promoted in his business.  His was one of the first to employ large numbers of women and girls in responsible sales and executive positions.

Feminine kind are particularly conspicuous at Macy’s.  It was the first place where cash girls were to be seen, and women are employed not only in the minor but also in the most responsible positions.  The superintendent of the entire establishment is a woman.  She has been in the house twelve or fifteen years, and has risen from sales-girl to her present very responsible position, which includes the oversight of the whole business, and the employing of the people. Macy, the founder of the firm, died some five or six years ago, but his name is retained by paying a royalty to his widow.

The Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee), May 28, 1883, page 2.

The woman referred to in the above article was Margaret Getchell, a former school teacher from Macy’s hometown of Nantucket, who had had a “girlhood acquaintance with Mr. Macy”[xix] and may have been a distant relative.[xx]  She went to New York after losing an eye, and took advantage of her acquaintance with Macy, asking him for a job.[xxi] 

Margaret Getchell was one of the pioneers.  She started as a cashier at macy’s in New York about 1860, and in a few years became store superintendent, probably the first woman to hold an executive position in American business. 

Frank Mayfield, The Department Store Story New York, Fairchild Publications, 1949, page 174.

Getchell would later marry a man named Maj. A. T. LaForge, who had taken care of Rowland Macy Jr. during the Civil War, employing him as a clerk after his court-martial.[xxii] LaForge would, in turn, become one of Macy’s partners in the business.  In 1870, Mrs. LaForge held the title of “Superintendent” of the store, with Mr. LaForge acting as “general superintendent outside of the store,” attending to “all Custom House business.”[xxiii]

Other business innovations also Rowland Macy’s business grow; cash only – no credit, advertising, and establishing branch offices in Paris and Belfast for easier access to the European goods.  He was also credited with originating “the peculiarity of odd prices, such as 49, 29, and 99 cents, which . . . proved to be singularly successful, and has probably attracted more attention than any other innovation known to the trade.”[xxiv]  

When Rowland Macy died in Paris in 1877, he was proclaimed a “Merchant Prince.”

Mr. R. H. Macy, the New York merchant prince who died at Paris yesterday, was a conspicuous example of the success that inevitably follows the careful exercise of good business habits.  Mr. Macy was in business in Boston shortly before the panic of 1857, but he went down with others in the disasters of that fatal year and came to New York fully impressed with the causes that produced that catastrophe, and determined to avoid them as far as he was concerned personally.  Two of the principal causes of his success were, indeed, at first forced upon him by the necessity of his position.  A stranger from Boston, he could command no credit, and he was compelled to conduct his business exclusively upon a cash basis; a new comer among long established houses he was driven to proclaim his existence to the public by extensive advertising.  He soon found the advantage of both practices.

Brooklyn Daily Times, March 31, 1877, page 2. 

Macy did not live to see his store’s most fantastic, “moving panoramas” or “window parades,” but he did establish an early tradition of focusing on Christmas advertising with elaborate window displays.


Christmas Advertising

In December 1860, during his third year in business and with the United States sliding into Civil War, Rowland Macy focused on Christmas sales.


R. H. Macy, Nos. 204 and 206 6th av.,


Having firmly made up his mind as the Holiday season DEVELOPS itself, that notwithstanding the


and the threatened do., do., do., do.,


still the New-York Public are  not to be induced for a moment to believe that


Are things of the past, although the 4th of July may be. . . .


SANTA CLAUS will be prompt, as usual, therefore there is no time to lose.


New York Times, December 24, 1860, page 6; New York Daily Herald, December 23, 1860, page 6).

Two years later, in keeping with the war-reporting idiom of the day, Macy’s advertised its “Raid on Santa Claus,” and put all of the contraband up for sale.

New York Times, December 9, 1862, page 3.

A decade later, Macy’s had gone from raiding Santa’s dominions to proclaiming itself to be Santa’s headquarters.

New York Herald, December 17, 1872, page 10.

New York Herald, December 24, 1872, page 1.

Macy’s was not the only game in town, as shown by this early FAO Schwarz ad proclaiming itself “Santa Claus’ Head-quarters.”

New York Times, December 5, 1875, page 8.

 But Macy’s windows would soon overshadow all other merchants’ Christmas displays.  Early advertisements for and descriptions of Macy’s Christmas window displays appeared in 1875.  In 1875, one window featured a doll’s skating party, and the other a dolls’ prize baby show.

New York Times, December 9, 1875, page 8.

 The centre window contained the most tempting exhibition of the dolls’ carnival or skating party, and the large window holds a doll’s prize baby show, one of the most amusing and piquant displays, by the way, to be found in the country.  There are twenty-four mothers, nurses and infants dressed in the most approved fashions and looking just “as cunning as they can.”

New York Daily Herald, December 24, 1875, page 3.

In 1876, a large window near the main entrance  had “an exhibition of large dolls, elegantly dressed inold style, and representing a tea party in ‘Ye Olden Time’ of 1776,” a large center window displayed a “representation of French doll life in a French flat in New-York in 1876,” and a corner window had a “scene from a paris park, Equestrians, Pedestrians, &c., representing real life in open air in Paris.”[xxv]

After Rowland Macy’s death, the displays became even more elaborate and more popular.

In one of Macy’s windows there is a miniature stage gaily set out with a doll’s “Pinafore” troupe, and the audience not only covers the adjacent sidewalk, but trenches upon the horse-car track in the middle of the street.

Times-Picayune (New Orleans), December 17, 1879, page 2.

At the Macy bazaar, Sixth Avenue and Fourteenth street, three windows have been fitted up for the holidays at an expense of over $3000.  The first has a scene in Venice, with people landing from Gondolas on the steps of a palace and the Bridge of Sighs in the back ground.  The second has a garden scene, with a fountain in the center and doll children playing games on the lawn.  The third has two life-size child dolls in a large bronze medallion frame, one of which represents wealth and is giving money to the other, a barefooted, ragged, hunger-stricken waif.

Times-Picayune (New Orleans), December 13, 1881, page 9.

In 1882, Macy’s window competed for attention with another store, it’s not clear which store, that installed a “moving panorama” in its window.

The windows of some of the shops are fitted up in a rather striking manner.  In one of these there is arranged a moving panorama which, so far as its effect upon the gaping multitude goes, is as good as a circus.  Hundreds of persons may be seen at any hour of the day before Macy’s windows, in which there is exhibited a very gorgeous array of dolls, and a magnificent ocean steamship crowded to its rails with minute tourists.  In the windows of several Broadway stores the tasteful arrangement of the fine goods – whether brocades or satins, books or birc-a-brac – makes a charming blending of color.

Buffalo Commercial (Buffalo, New York), December 16, 1882, page 2.


Window Parades

The historian Ralph M. Hower dates Macy’s first window display with “moving figures animated by steam power,” also referred to as a “mechanical panoply tableu,” to 1883.[xxvi]  Their first animated window featured a parade of dolls and animals.

Macy’s window is a beauty. . . . Here we have a miniature circus and managerie keeping up a perpetual march before the eager, constant, yet ever-changing crowds of women and children, whose expressions of admiration seem to cheer the figures as they pass with all the splendor of oriental royalty.  First comes a snow white elephant, surmounted by a crowd of gaily-dressed dolls representing staid old matrons, proud belles of fashion, and languishing sweethearts, - all apparently intent on attracting the eye of the public.  They comes an ordinary elephant bearing a similar burden, which is followed by twelve ponies arranged in pairs white and black alternating. . . . riders, clowns, monkey, ostrich, camel, . . .

Central News (Perkasie, Pennsylvania), December 13, 1883, page 2.

Macy’s Santa Claus procession, 1884.

Macy’s Tobogganing Scene.  The approach of the holiday season is shown by the display of toys and similar goods, and Macy’s windows are new thronged.  Macy’s skill in this specialty is well known and every year brings something new.  Last year it was a Santa Claus procession, but now it is a tobogganing scene, and you behold the sleighloads of youth ride down in the most amusing manner.  There is also an ice palace which is apparently inhabited by a liliputian household, and all other details are equally interesting.

The Scranton Republican, December 9, 1885, page 2.

Another witness compared the ride to an early roller coaster he had seen in New Orleans the year before.

But before going inside every one stops to admire the magnificent winter scene that occupies one of the immense show windows, commencing on the 14th St. side, and running around the corner on 6th Ave.  It represents with realistic fidelity an imposing ice palace and a toboggan slide, which are as faithful imitations of real snow and ice as anything could be.  The miniature slide is evidently constructed on the same principle as the summer coasting apparatus, which I wrote you about from New Orleans.   Down come the merry toboggans, laden with gaily dressed dolls, so simply that they can just be distinguished.  In less time than it takes to tell it they have shot out of sight and disappeared under a tunnel way round the corner, and this pretty picture amuses the passers-by from early in the morning until late at night.  Toiling up the steep ascent at the side and dragging their toboggans are many dainty lads and lasses clad in the latest winter costume.  The expense of getting up this novel idea must have been nearly $3,000.

Goldsboro Messenger (Goldsboro, North Carolina), December 21, 1885, page 1.

An advertisement for Macy’s first “moving panorama” in 1886 describes it as something similar to the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland.

R. H. Macy & Co.

. . .









Our “Little Friends” will find that we have not forgotten them this year.  Our window display will enable them to take a “Trip Around the World” in an incredibly short space of time.

Typical scenes and groups representing thirteen different nationalities will be delineated in a moving panorama, all of which will be found not only attractive in the highest degree, but interesting and instructive to both young and old.

The different countries visited will be Ireland, Scotland, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Russia, Turkey, Arabia, Lapland, and back to America, the Sunny South, and the Indian Reservations.

Among the artistic scenic representations will be found a view of the Irish Lake, with the thatched cottage and round tower; Stirling Castle, Scotland, and old tournament grounds; the Arc de Triomphe and streets of Paril; German kitchen and view of the Rhine; Gypsy camp and Spanish city in distance; view of the City and Bay of Naples; view near St. Petersburg, with river and bridge; Turkish Bazaar and street merchant; Arabian Desert, Sphinx, and pyramids; Lapland igloos or snow huts; destruction of tea in Boston harbor; Southern cotton field, with planter’s house, log cabin, steamboat, and rafts; Indian village, with river canoe, &c.

Each group, with its accessories, is a work of art in itself, and no expense has been spared to make this “Trip Around the World” perfect in every particular.

Window will be illuminated every evening. . . .

R. H. MACY & CO.

The New York Sun, November 21, 1886, page 12.

A contemporary reviewer gave it high marks.

The windows at Macy’s tell a wonderful story to the gazing throngs who crowd the corner of Fourteenth street and Sixth avenue.  That story is of a “Trip Around the World,” told by a panorama run by steam.  The scenes and figures in this panorama are veritable works of art. The same artist who makes the wax figures for the Eden Musee made these.  The scenery at the back of each group is evidently the work of a fine scenic landscape painter. . . .

[T]hirteen groups in all – complete this wondrous panorama and window show, perhaps the most costly and elaborate, artistic and interesting that has ever been given as a holiday advertisement.

The New York Sun, December 5, 1886, page 17.

Macy’s window featured scenes of historical figures in 1887, fairy tale characters in 1888 and scenes from literature in 1889. 


Which Will consist of a series of groups representing well known scenes in the early history of America, beginning with “The Landing of Columbus,” followed by “Pocahontas saving the life of Capt. John Smith,” “Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride,” “The Battle of Bunker Hill,” “Gen. Marion and His Men,” “Moll Pitcher at the Cannon,” “Washington at Valley Forge,” “The Surrender of Corn Wallis at Yorktown,” and “The Signing of the Declaration of Independence.”

Each group will contain three or more life-like figures, with appropriate scenic background, the whole forming a moving panorama of rare artistic excellence.  The mounting, costumes, and portraits will be found historically correct, and every detail executed with marvelous accuracy, we have endeavored to make this the finest display of the kind ever submitted to the public, and to present to the children of this country a valuable lesson in American History. . . .

R. H. MACY & CO.

The New York Times, November 20, 1887, page 8.

New-York Tribune, November 18, 1888, page 20.

An eight year-old visitor from Philadelphia described Macy’s 1888 display of fairy tale figures for readers in her hometown.

Don’t you want me to tell you what I saw when I was away?  When I was in New York I saw Macy’s window and there was “Cinderella,” “Babes in the Woods,” “The Sleeping Beauty” and “Red Riding Hood.” They were wax figures on stands and these stands had rollers and went round and round on a track.  They were moved by machinery.

The Times (Philadelphia), February 3, 1889, page 15.


R. H. Macy & Co. have prepared their big show window on Fourteenth street at Sixth avenue for the Christmas holidays in a manner that will make the children’s eyes stick out with wonder and delight when the exhibition is opened to the public view next Monday.  All the efforts of previous years have been surpassed in the present instance, the preparations for which have been going on ever since last Winter, and $10,000 spent in elaborating them.

The entire show window on the Fourteenth street side, 64 feet in length, will be occupied by the moving panorama, which will represent graphically scenes from “Uncle Toms’s Cabin,” “Rip Van Winkle,” and “Robinson Crusoe,” and make fifteen floats altogether.

All the figures in these scenes, which are most artistically arranged by L. W. Seavey, the well-known senic artist, are the work of Alexander, of the Eden Musee, and are larger in size than those of previous years.

New York Evening World, November 16, 1889, page 4.

Although the theme and characters changed every year, the underlying mechanism that moved them through the windows appears to have remained relatively constant.  Several descriptions of window displays over several years (including the one from 1889 above) describe the display as having fifteen “floats” or “groups” of figures.

Advertising has become an art and most of the large business concerns in the East, as well as some in the South, employ men who make the attraction of public notice a study.  . . . A large New York firm, however, has just reached the limit in that style of commanding attention.  A spectacular panorama of “Scenes in the Life of Christopher Columbus” will remain in the windows during the holidays.  The scenes are in wax, the work of Alfred Alexander, the Eden Musee artist.  There are fifteen groups, eleven scenes, fifty-seven figures and 120 feet of canvas scenery in the panoramas. 

Daily American (Nashville, Tennessee), November 30, 1890, page 4.

And indeed he who has seen Macy’s window has seen much.  On fifteen moving floats are scenes as interesting to the eye and sweet to the memory as certain old, old tunes are to the ear and the soul.  They are simply nursery tales done in wax.  The figures, modeled by one of the biggest wax-modellers in this country, are life-like.  They are dressed and grouped to represent characters and scenes dear t othe heart of every reading child and f every man and woman who was once a reading child. . . .

Statesville Record and Landmark (Statesville, North Carolina), November 30, 1893, page 5.

The two people primarily responsible for creating Macy’s window displays were a scenic designer named Lafayette Seavey, and a wax figure artist named Prof. Alfred Alexander, of the Eden Musee.


Lafayette W. Seavey

Lafayette W. Seavey was a theatrical scene painter with a studio in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx.


Lafayette W. Seavey, the scenic artist, whose studio is at the corner of Cheever and Walton avenues, Mott Haven, was the first man in this country to make Christmas window decoration an art.  Even now, the business is almost entirely in his hands, for no one else so thoroughly understands its mechanism, accessories and appurtenances.

Mr. Seavey began in a very small way about ten years ago.  His first order was from R. H. Macy & Co., and the subject chosen was “Pinafore.” It caught the fancy of the public so  completely that Mr. Seavey’s services have been greatly in demand ever since.  The decoration of macy’s window ten years ago cost $75.  The decoration of Macy’s window this year has cost $10,000, and next year it may b e even more expensive.

New York World, December 10, 1893, page 28.

Before his work with Macy’s made him “the leading specialist of the United States for Christmas Automatons,”[xxvii] Seavey ran a successful business creating accessories for photography studios, including background scenery, props and posing supports, which he advertised for sale and sold around the world.

Sevey again takes the field, with a host of Winter Landscapes, Winter Cottages, Sleighs, Bridges, Snow-covered Rocks, Artificial Snow, Ice, etc. Suitable for men, women, and children, standing, walking, sleighing, coasting, skating, in clear weather or in storm.

Full instructions sent, enabling any photographer to get up “a great snow-storm” in five minutes, even in warm weather!

. . . Plain and rich Modern Interiors, fire-places, Antique Cabinets, Bric-a-brac, Vases, Pitchers, Plaques, Papier Mache, and Genuine Richly Carved Chairs; Children’s Chairs, Stands, Japanese Screens, etc.

Address for Sample Photogrpahs, and mentioning the articles on which you wish information, to Lafayette W. Seavey, No. 8 Lafayette Place, New York.

Studio established 1865.

The Photographic Times, Volume 10, Number 103, January 1880, page 10.


Lafayette Seavey played a role in the history of Broadway, or at least in the history of capturing  Broadway stars on film.  Dr. David S. Shields, the McClintock Professor at the University of South Carolina, referred to Seavey as the “supreme nineteenth-century artist of the photographic background.”[xxviii]  He also played a role in establishing the tradition of Macy’s Christmas “window parades,” a revival of which would lead to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.


Eden Musee

Professor Alfred Alexander does not appear to have been as well known as Lafayette Seavey, but his employer, the Eden Musee, was a popular tourist attraction in New York City, a combination wax museum, art museum and musical performance venue in operation from 1884 through 1915.

The Eden Musee is near Sixth Avenue.  This is one of the most extraordinary collections of wax figures in the world, and the stranger should by all means pay it a visit. The figures are startling in their life-like appearance.  The Chamber of Horrors is well fitted to satisfy the most exacting of horror seekers.

Illustrated New York City and Surroundings, New York, C. W. Hobbs & Co., 1889, page 19.

The Eden Musee

 The Eden Musee was located several blocks north of Macy’s on Sixth Avenue at 23rd Street, so cooperative cross-advertising could have attracted visitors from one to the other, and vice versa.  Even after their moving window displays appear to have come to an end, after 1904, Macy’s advertised in the Eden Musee’s monthly catalogue of current exhibits.

Eden Musee Monthly Catalogue, 1914.

One of the Musee’s major attractions was the wax Chamber of Horrors, yet it also displayed genuine works of art and hosted live performances, films, and the “automaton” Ajeeb the Chess Player.  The lifelike appearance of the Musee’s wax figures provided material for the occasional joke.

Bill Nye, syndicated humor column, 1890.

Life Magazine, 1884.

Life Magazine, 1887.

Macy’s continued their tradition of “window parades” through about 1904, generally referring to them as “window panoramas,” “moving panoramas,” or a “procession of scenes.”  Macy’s ordered a window display for the 1902 Christmas season, but it was not delivered in time for display.  The fact that the store was then in the process of moving from its Sixth Avenue location between 13th and 14th Streets and its new store at Herald Square and 34th Street may have played a role in the delay.

The moving window display was brought back again in 1903 and 1904, but this time referred to as a series of “moving tableaux.” 


Bring the Children to see our Ten Thousand Dollar Holiday Windows.

Twenty-one Moving Tableaux. Larger Clipping

The Evening World (New York), November 30, 1903, page 4.

Macy’s appears to have maintained its relationship with the Eden Musee.

This year’s window show of revolving groups is the most elaborate ever presented.  The scenes represented are all historical, with the exception of the Santa Claus scenes, which bring a shout from the children every time they come in view.  The historical scenes represented as in life are the work of the Eden Musee, and every detail has been carried out.  Jackson, Lee, Rough Riders, Molly Pitcher, De Soto, Pocahontas and John Smith, Landing of the Pilgrims.

Evening World (New York), November 22, 1904, page 11.

It is not clear why they abandoned the annual display after 1904.  It may have been gone, but it was not forgotten.  When, in 1922, the New York Tribune published a brief piece about art for the masses a generation earlier, an anonymous reader scolded the author for not mentioning Macy’s old Christmas windows.

Shame on you! How could you forget R. H. Macy, Sixth Avenue and Fourteenth Street, and their annual Christmas window parade? ANON.

New-York Tribune, March 25, 1922, page 10.

Macy’s brought back its moving window display the following year, with “toyland on parade” or “puppet parade” during the Christmas season of 1923. 

Macy’s held its first annual Thanksgiving Day Parade a year later, to bring attention to attention to the unveiling of its new window parade.

The parade is now the main attraction.

[i] Statesville Record and Landmark (Statesville, North Carolina), November 30, 1893, page 5 (Macy’s Show-Window . . . .  On fifteen moving floats are scenes as interesting to the eye and sweet to the memory as certain old, old tunes are to the ear and the soul. They are simply nursery tales done in wax.”).

[ii]  “Jim Henson’s Red Book,” post dated July 28, 2013.

[iii] Benson John Lossing, History of New York City, New York, A. S. Barnes & Co., 1884, pages 791-793.

[iv] A “thread and needle” shop or store was a type of retail shop that typically sold dress trimmings and dress ornaments, lace, embroidery, hosiery, gloves and other small wares, including, presumably, thread and needles.Berkshire County Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts), April 12, 1860, page 3; Berkshire County Eagle, May 17, 1860, page 3.

[v] Benson John Lossing, History of New York City, New York, A. S. Barnes & Co., 1884, pages 791-793.

[vi] List of Outstanding Taxes Amounting to Over Five Dollars for the Years 1845, 1846, 1847, Boston, 1848, page 32.

[vii] “About Marysville, California,” website of the Mary Aaron Museum of Marysville,

[viii] Marysville Daily Herald (Marysville, California), September 24, 1850.

[ix] A century after the fact, for example, The New York Daily News (January 5, 1958, page C 19) suggested that Macy’s California firm “dissolved a year later and he beat his way back to New England, broke again.”  The same article suggests that his business in Boston had failed and he was broke before leaving for California.  That description runs contrary to Lossing’s characterization of his business as having been “modestly successful.”  It also raises the question of how someone who was “broke” could afford the trip to California and finance the inventory necessary to run a successful mining town supply business.

[x] Benson John Lossing, History of New York City, New York, A. S. Barnes & Co., 1884, pages 791-793.

[xi] Sacramento Daily Union, December 24, 1851, page 2; Marysville Daily Herald, August 29, 1853, page 4.

[xii] Marysville Daily Herald, August 20, 1850, page 2.

[xiii] Of 47 members named in the California gold rush memoir, Overland to California in 1849 (Oakland, Butler & Bowman, 1877), thirteen were listed as being from Lowell, eleven from Lynn, and several from other nearby towns of Nashua and Manchester, New Hampshire and Dracut and Tewksbury, Massachusetts.  Rodney and Stillman Churchill were listed as being from Nashville, New Hampshire (now a part of Nashua), thirty miles from Haverhill, and James Wilkins was listed as being from Cohasset, Massachusetts, significantly further away south of Boston.

[xiv] Joseph Sedgely, Overland to California in 1849, Oakland, Butler & Bowman, 1877, page 18.

[xv] Silvanus Macy, Genealogy of the Macy Family from 1635-1868, Albany, New York, Joel Munsell, 1868,  page 230.

[xvi] Watertown Chronicle (Watertown, Wisconsin), May 21, 1851, page 2 (“John b. Macy, Esq., of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, agent and superintendent of the Rock River Valley Union railroad”); The Superior Times (Superior, Wisconsin), July 27, 1878, page 2 (“There are many who will recall the fact that twenty-seven years ago to-day the first ground was broken, in this city, for what is now the C. & N. W. Ry.  The first spadeful of earth was lifted by John B. Macy, deceased”).

[xvii] Benson John Lossing, History of New York City, New York, A. S. Barnes & Co., 1884, pages 791-793.

[xviii] New York Times, April 4, 1888, page 8.

[xix] Edward Hungerford, Romance of a Great Store, New York, R. M. McBride & Company, 1922, page 16.

[xx] New York Daily News, January 5, 1958, page C19.

[xxi] Edward Hungerford, Romance of a Great Store, New York, R. M. McBride & Company, 1922, page 16.

[xxii] New York Daily News, January 5, 1958, page C19.

[xxiii] Chicago Tribune, January 1, 1871, page 2 (from the New York Herald, December 29, 1870).

[xxiv] Benson Lossing, History of New York City: embracing an outline sketch of events from 1609 to 1830, and a full account of its development from 1830 to 1884, New York, A. S. Barnes & Co., 1884, page 792.

[xxv] New York Tribune, December 11, 1876, page 9 (Macy’s advertisement).

[xxvi] William L. Bird, Holidays on Display, New York, Princeton Architectural Press, 2007, page 21.

[xxvii] Fall River Daily Evening News, December 5, 1887, page 1.

[xxviii] “Broadway Photographs, Background: The Picture in the Picture,” David S. Shields, Photography & the American Stage, The Visual Culture of the American Theater 1865-1965,