The Man Behind The Great Sea Serpent Of Nantucket
Who doesn’t remember the excitement of waking up to The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television every year as a young child? There is something fascinating about those creatures floating high above the streets of NYC. They are like visions from a child’s fantasy brought to life. I used to imagine that someday I would walk those NYC streets holding one of those ropes, trying not to float away, but secretly wishing that I would.
The man we have to thank for those childhood imaginings is Tony Sarge. It was Anthony “Tony” Frederick Sarge, the man credited with being the father of modern puppetry in North America, who introduced the first giant, helium filled balloons into the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the late 1920’s, just a handful of years after the parade began, but one of the most famous moments of the awe inspiring parade actually began on Nantucket Island.
Always a kid at heart, Sarge was an illustrator, puppeteer and Nantucket toy store owner. Nothing tells the story of the man behind the balloons quite like the Tony Sarge hoax of Nantucket Island. It was the Summer of 1937, and the island was buzzing with tales of giant footprints on the beach and sightings of a Sea Serpent swimming in the sea. Sarge himself can be credited with the buzz. The prankster had alerted the town press to the giant “creature” that would be floating at sea. The elaborate publicity stunt was a success. By the time the sea serpent washed up on the beach, off target of its original destination, the national news wire had picked up the story and the whole country had its eyes set on the Nantucket beaches. That Fall, Tony Sarge’s most famous balloon to date took to the air over the streets of Manhattan while Sarge, no doubt, looked on with pride and a lot of laughs.