The Big Heads….They’re Following Me!

Back in 2012, I wrote a post about Detroit’s Thanksgiving Parade, including a short blurb about the Big Head Corps:

“There’s a number of unique aspects to Detroit’s parade. The Big Head Corp is one. As I mentioned before, these have been part of the parade since the very beginning, as Charles Wendel had seen people wearing giant fake heads in Italy during Carnival and wanted to bring the idea here. The heads were made in a studio in Viareggio, Italy by Alfredo Moreschalchi and staff. The ones used in Detroit are smaller than the ones used in Italy. The heads depict characters, animals and famous Detroiters/Michiganders such as Henry Ford, Joe Louis and this year, Sparky Anderson.”

I’ve always loved the Big Heads. They are such a unique part of the parade, and showcase some of our best local celebrities. So I’ve been thrilled, lately, that I’ve been seeing the Big Heads around the city in other venues. Why should these awesome figures only be seen once a year?

First, I ran into some historic big heads at the Fisher building when I went to go see War Horse at the Fisher Theater in early January. These heads date back to before 1940, and show very different figures than the big heads of today. Instead of famous locals, most of these heads are shaped like animals or generic characters like pirates and clowns. Made in Viareggio and imported to Detroit for the parade, the Italian newsprint used in the papier-mâché construction is still visible on some of the heads (sadly, I have no pictures of that).

How you wear this while walking, I have no idea

How you wear this while walking, I have no idea

The board below these say two roosters, but I'm pretty sure the one on the left is a hippo....

The board below these say two roosters, but I’m pretty sure the one on the left is a hippo….

So what were these big heads doing at the Fisher? Pure Detroit (the same company from my tours of the Fisher and Guardian buildings), worked with The Parade Company to put on the display, called “Big Heads Take the Fisher.” The Parade Company, which is the non-profit that runs the Thanksgiving parade, owns over 300 big heads, ranging from the 20 historic heads on display to the modern ones still seen in the parade (which are now made locally). Although Pure Detroit and The Parade Company organized the display partially to show off the great history of the big heads, there was another goal as well – many of these older heads are in poor condition and in need of restoration. The Parade Company is looking for people to adopt individual figures to help pay for the necessary conservation work so that these antique heads can eventually  be put back in the parade. Wish I had the cash to adopt one – I would love to see more of these historic figures Thanksgiving morning!

Sometimes I get fancy. And pose with creepy pirates.

Sometimes I get fancy. And pose with creepy pirates.

A few weeks later, I went to the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) downtown. Although the main floor just featured cars, the downstairs exhibit room included a few other displays, including one by The Parade Company. The ParadeLand KidZone, as it was called, offered a mini-tour to kids (and adults!) of some of the floats and big heads used in the parade. They also participated in the daily parades through the main floor, although we sadly missed that part. I loved getting a chance to get up close with the big heads and floats, especially when I (once again) wasn’t expecting to see them.

I see Joe Louis and Henry Ford, and I think Aretha Franklin - not sure about the guy in the middle!

I see Joe Louis and Henry Ford, and I think Aretha Franklin – not sure about the guy in the middle!

One of these days, I would love to go on a tour of The Parade Company’s warehouse downtown and see more of the behind the scenes work for the parade. You need a minimum of 10 people for a tour however…..so I need to find 9 friends who are as crazy as me!

Has anyone else run into any unexpected history lately?

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