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
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 squad....fire trucks...military units...and floats on slow-moving
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
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.
* * *
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