Tickertape Ain’t What it Used to Be; Neither are the Parades
This week New York City threw its 205th tickertape parade. Like 14 previous tickertape parades, this one honored a New York sports team – or, in the case of the two tickertape parades for the football Giants, a sports team with “New York” in its name. Over the last 40 years, 11 of 20 tickertape parades have been held to celebrate victories by local professional teams.
So it may be somewhat unexpected that sports teams are latecomers to the New York tickertape tradition. The first parade in honor of a professional sports team was not until the 120th tickertape parade, honoring the baseball Giants for their World Series victory in 1954.
Other sports have a longer tradition in tickertape, reaching back to the 1924 fete of the American Olympic team returning from the Paris games. Along the way the Big Apple has honored golf greats Bobby Jones (1926 and 1930), Willie Turnesa (1947) and Ben Hogan (1953), legendary baseball player, manager and owner Connie Mack (1949), pioneering tennis star Althea Gibson (1957), baseball slugger Sammy Sosa (1998), and five different Olympic teams or medalists.
A common cause for parading has been to recognize U.S. veterans and military – 33 times from 1899, in honor of Admiral Dewey for winning the Battle of Manila during the Spanish-American War, to 1991, in honor of Korean War veterans.
Parades to celebrate events in aviation have also been common. The first of these was in 1926, in honor of the first flight over the North Pole. The most recent was in 1998, for the crew of the shuttle Discovery, which included Senator John Glenn. Glenn’s first tickertape parade, in 1962, was the biggest parade ever, at least as measured by the tonnage of paper swept up afterward by New York’s Department of Sanitation. Other aviators who rode the Canyon of Heroes included Amelia Earhart and Wiley Post (twice each), Charles Lindbergh, Ruth Elder, Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan, and the crews of the Graf Zeppelin, Gemini 3, Apollo 8 and Apollo 11.
Firefighters have had four tickertape parades: #116 and #125 commemorated Firemen’s Day in 1954 and 1955; #131 noted a firefighter convention in 1956; and #181 marked the centennial of New York City’s professional fire department in 1965. After that, firefighters left the parade ground, and not even 9/11 brought them back.
The post-9/11 period was the third-longest stretch without a tickertape parade. After honoring the Yankees in 2000, New Yorkers didn’t toss the tickertape again until 2008, for the Giants. Even the World War II lull was shorter, from 1939 to 1945.
The very first tickertape parades were exercises in patriotism. The original, in 1886, marked the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. The second parade celebrated the 1889 centennial of George Washington’s inauguration.
Early tickertape parades were also relatively rare. There were only five before the end of World War I – one parade every six years or so. The Golden Age of tickertape parades followed World War II. The 20 years after VE Day saw 130 parades, almost two-thirds of the 125-year total.
The most frequent reason for tickertape parades has been to honor visiting foreign dignitaries. This tradition dates to World War I, when New Yorkers staged their fifth tickertape parade, in honor of French Marshal Joseph Joffre, a month after the United States entered the war. Eighty-seven of the 205 parades have honored foreign leaders. The trend peaked in the years after World War II. From 1945 to 1985, New York office workers tossed the tape on 134 parades, exactly half of which were parades in honor of foreign leaders – from French Provisional President Charles deGaulle in 1945 to South Korean President Park Chung Hee in 1965. In between, honorees came from all over the world: three presidents of the Philippines; Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, twice; the Shah of Iran, twice; leaders from most of Latin America, from Argentina to Venezuela; kings from Afghanistan, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Morocco, Nepal, and Thailand; prime ministers from Australia, Britain, Ireland and Israel; leaders of India and Pakistan, twice each; and President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam.
The tradition of honoring foreign leaders all but ended after 1965. Only twice since then has the capital of the world honored foreign leaders: Pope John Paul II in 1979 and Nelson Mandela in 1990. And the pace of tickertape parading has dropped – 24 parades in the last 47 years. Half of those parades were for professional sports teams.
I don’t necessarily want to suggest that a parade for King Baudouin is better or more important than a parade for the New York Yankees. But I do think that the evolution of our tickertape parades says something about us as a country. The Golden Age of tickertape parades after World War II was a time of greater appreciation for the world outside our own borders. New Yorkers massed to pay respect to leaders from nations great and small, from Guinea to Great Britain, from Turkey to Togo. Our leaders who scheduled those parades, and the public who made them events of national note, thought it was important to woo the rest of the world, to treat its leaders with respect.
In today’s politics, “European” is an epithet. Consideration of the experience of other countries in formulation of American policy is almost treasonous. Immigrants are demonized. The Occupy left condemns globalization; the radical right condemns the UN. Pseudo-patriotic truisms substitute for analysis: America has the best health care in the world; America is the freest country in the world; American education is the best in the world; America is the most democratic country in the world.
The history of tickertape parades tells me that patriotism is giving way to parochialism and international engagement is yielding to isolation. It also tells me that we as a nation are not just turning inward, we’re turning on each other. We have less cause to celebrate. We have less to unite us.