I love Chilly Willy and the Thanksgiving Day Parade and back in 1990, these two combined to make what for me is the best Thanksgiving Parade story ever. What many people don’t realize is the Detroit Thanksgiving Day parade is the 2nd oldest and 2nd largest in the nation. Over the years there’s been plenty of parade balloon mishaps in NY and Detroit, but for me the one that tops them all is simply known in Detroit as the “1990 escapee”.
25 years ago on a windy Thanksgiving morning the 40 foot Chilly Willy balloon came loose and broke free from his moorings, floating away to the delight of a cheering crowd that chanted “Fly Chilly Fly” as he drifted toward Canada and eventually out of sight. The 40 foot tall, wayward penguin was soon spotted by startled commercial aircraft pilots at an altitude of about 5000 feet, which must have been quite a sight. Chilly was found the next afternoon by the Coast Guard in the water (where penguins like to go) near Walpole Island in Lake St. Clair, Canada some 25 miles from home!
Note: According to the Detroit Free Press, this was the first time a balloon every escaped the Detroit Thanksgiving Parade.
Although he didn’t really look like the classic Chilly Willy here is Chilly right before he made a break for it in 1990.
“Penguins Can Fly!“, Penguin Place Post, November 23, 2015.
Penguin on the Loose, Detroit Free Press, November 23, 1990.