Tuesday, December 1, 2020

My Honorary Aunt, Planner of America's Best-Known Parade

Leona "Lee" Wallace and feathery friend

Leona "Lee" Wallace (1903-1989) lived quite a life! She was my honorary aunt, the life partner of my favorite aunt, Dorothy Schwartz (1919-2001). As I write a dual family history of my aunt and her twin sister, my beloved Mom, I'm continuing to research their personal and professional lives--and making wonderful finds.

I had no idea of Lee's family background and early career until my newspaper research unexpectedly revealed a surprisingly informative interview published exactly 68 years ago today, on December 1, 1952

Lee Wallace, Head of Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

Lee became famous during the 1950s for planning the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, known throughout the nation for its giant balloons and A-list bands. A respected master of publicity for Macy's special events, she was at the height of her fame when she sat down with journalist Alice Hughes, who wrote a column titled "A Woman's New York." (The copy I saw ran in the Poughkeepsie Journal in New York, column copyrighted by King Features Syndicate, Inc.--now saved to my Ancestry tree!)

In the 1952 interview, Lee spoke with enthusiasm about the five "mammoth inflated balloon figures" that were the stars of that year's parade, including a 50-foot rocket ship and a 60-foot space man. She said "jets and mystery missiles hurtling through space rivet [children's] eyes and minds to the sky." Although this was five years before Sputnik was launched, my honorary aunt was already focusing young people on the wonders of space!

Lee Wallace, Caring for Brothers and Taking Night Classes

The interviewer devoted two lengthy paragraphs to a synopsis of Lee's life before becoming America's most prominent parade planner.

  • Lee raised her two younger brothers on her own, working during the day and attending high school classes at night. In her spare time, she took art lessons.
  • During World War II, she worked in labor relations for the Quartermaster Corps, headquartered in Washington, D.C.
  • After the war, she applied to Macy's in New York and worked her way up to head of the department store's high-profile special events group--including planning for the biggest event of the year, the Thanksgiving Parade.
Lee and my aunt Dorothy met at Macy's and settled into a happy life together soon afterward. The photo at top shows Lee with the mischievous little parakeet that kept my mother company during the 1970s. 

I'm thinking of honorary aunt Lee with great affection today, and feeling quite grateful for the 1952 publication of an interview that told me so much about my honorary aunt's early life.

"Gratitude" is the theme of week 48 in the #52Ancestors challenge.

This is also my #GenealogyBlogParty entry for #WomensHistoryMonth at the Genealogy Blog Party for March, 2021!


  1. What an interesting and accomplished woman! And aren't newspapers the best source of gems like this?

  2. Just think, those parades were such a part of so many people's childhood memories and your aunt was part of making them happen. Just wow.

  3. Lee was obviously an incredibly cool person. How fortunate to have her in your family!

  4. Her connection to Macy's Parade is quite amazing. I watched it on TV in NJ every year when I was little (wishing I was in the City) - waiting for the spectacular end when Santa made his appearance.

  5. Ladies, thank you for reading and commenting on this post. Lee was a special person. I'm so happy to know more about her life before the parade!