The Bamberger's Thanksgiving Day Parade

by Nat Bodian


One of my warmest memories as a child growing up in Newark's old Third Ward, close to downtown Newark, was the Bamberger department store annual Thanksgiving Day parade.

I recall edging as close as possible through the thick crowds to the Market and Washington Streets corner of Bamberger's where the parade would wind up.

At that point, Santa would alight from atop a throne on a huge float and step onto the marquee on the Washington Street side of Bamberger's and wave to the cheering crowds before entering the store to officially open the downtown Newark Christmas shopping season.

For me, as a small child, the parade had everything...huge helium-inflated balloons--their restraining cords held by gaily clad Bamberger employees...circus clowns...stilt walkers...buccaneers...frontiersmen...Newark's mounted police trucks...military units...and floats on slow-moving trucks.

As I recall the five-mile long line of march usually ended early enough so parade watchers could get home by noontime for the traditional Thanksgiving Day feast.

Around 1931, the earliest year I can recall going down to the parade, from my home on Montgomery Street, an old newspaper report of that year's parade stated that the crowd for the 1931 parade was about 250,000, more than half the population of Newark. My guess is that perhaps a third to a half had come in from the suburbs.

The parade that day, that had started on the grounds of the Carteret Academy in West Orange, followed a traditional parade route that was unchanged for many years: Down Central Avenue into Newark and at South Sixth Street into West Market, then down West Market to Market Street at the Essex county Court House. Then, down Market Street to Bamberger's, where it turned in to Washington Street to terminate at the Bamberger's marquee, Santa's stepping off point.

A Newark Evening News account of that year's parade described the parade thus: "On the sidewalks and out past the curb lines, two wide lines of humanity were kept back by hundreds of policemen as good humored as the parade itself. At Washington and Market, almost all the street space was given over to the public."

Further, continued the Newark Evening News report, "Upon arrival at the front door of Bamberger's, the giant 100-foot long dragon was allowed to soar off with the winds, as were the other helium-inflated figures."

Living Close to downtown Newark, I remember going to all the downtown parades, but the only one deeply etched in my childhood memories for its sheer joy, color, and excitement was the one put on by the Bamberger's employees on Thanksgiving Day that heralded the arrival of Santa to Bamberger's eighth-floor toy department, and the start of downtown Newark's Christmas shopping season.

My memories of the parade as an adult spanned the decades of the 40s, 50s, and 60s. In the late 1940's and early 1950s, I took my nieces, Sharon Bodian and Marilyn Naiman, and my nephew, Louis Bodian, down to see the Bamberger's parade.

In the early 1960s, I took my two young sons, Mark and Lester, down to the parade and we were able to witness the parade ending and Santa's arrival from the second floor windows of Housecraft, Inc., directly across Washington Street from Santa's entry point into the Bamberger store. My sister, Sylvia, and her husband Sam Green owned the Housecraft sewing center at that time.

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Origin of the Parade and Its Fate

According to Charles F. Cummings, Newark City Historian (in the Star-Ledger of November 27, 1997) "Newark contributed to the Thanksgiving Day Holiday season when Bamberger's Department Store established its Thanksgiving Day parade. Although Marcy's later purchased the store and took the parade to New York, it is still remembered by thousands throughout North Jersey as a tradition that originated in Newark."

Cummings wrote further in that Star-Ledger report "Today, Bamberger's is gone, as well as the era of the great downtown Newark department store. Unfortunately, Newark's wonderful Thanksgiving Day parade was 'hijacked' by Manhattan's Macy's.

"Yet I bet many Newarkers and suburbanites over 45 still remember the time when Santa proudly rode down Central Avenue on the way to be installed in a great department store at Christmas rather than just appearing on a television screen from New York City."

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