Archive for November, 2015

An Eyewitness to Chilly’s Escape

November 23, 2015

Here’s a first hand account of the adventures and mis-adventures of the fugitive Chilly Willy from Mark Osler, a former Detroit resident who in 1990 was witness the Chilly’s escape and subsequent adventures.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. This is my favorite holiday– I love the idea of it, and the fact that it is a holiday geared more to reflection and humility than patriotism or commerce.

But, like many other good things, there is a dark side. Those of us from Detroit know to keep a lookout for a Thanksgiving menace that appears when least expected– Chilly Willy the Penguin.

In 1990, a frozen dessert company entered a 40-foot inflatable penguin in the Detroit Thanksgiving Day Parade down Woodward Avenue. Given the variety of social ills (street violence, poverty, a rotting infrastructure) faced by Detroit back then, few in attendance thought that a greater threat might be posed by the giant gaseous penguin. They were wrong.

Midway through the parade, Chilly Willy made a break for it. I remember this– I was there. He broke free of his handlers and charged into the sky, taunting those below. Legend has it that several bystanders stopped shooting at one another and fired at the fleeing bird to no avail. The irony was overwhelming; After decades of tragedy, now the city was under threat by a giant flightless bird that had somehow taken to the air. Now he headed for the home of the singer-songwriter who defined irony for so many of us: the Great White North’s own Alannis (“Isn’t It Ironic?”) Morrisette.

So, like other Northern-border fugitives, Chilly Willy headed to Canada. Many watched as he headed down the Detroit River and across Lake St. Clair toward freedom in a nation famous for its generous proportions of ice and snow. He got as far as Walpole Island, just into Canada, before he was finally apprehended.

Chilly Willy’s reign of terror was not complete, though. In a Napolean-like comeback, some months later he was trusted with the duties of appearing at a car dealership for promotional purposes. Not missing an opportunity, he lashed out with violence. It was not random violence, however– his target was an official of the very parade from which Willy had escaped! CW threw his terrified victim from the roof of the dealership, breaking her arm and leg, and teaching a valuable lesson on the hazards of trying to tie down a restless spirit that cannot be contained.

They say that Chilly Willy has been safely deflated and stored in a secure facility. Believe that if you want… I’m watching my back.

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The new Chilly Willy balloon in a recent parade.

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Penguins Can Fly!

November 23, 2015

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!

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Although he didn’t really look like the classic Chilly Willy here is Chilly right before he made a break for it in 1990.

 

The Great Almost Penguin Escape

November 14, 2015

The Penguin Post has learned about the video shared by the Odense Zoo in Denmark of an ill fated attempted penguin escape that was foiled by the flightless birds’ own wet footprints on the concrete.

The video posted to YouTube by the Odense Zoo features a zookeeper holding a camera while following the wet footprints from the penguin enclosure down a corridor meant for zoo staff.

The zookeeper soon catches up to the five penguins as they make a mad dash for freedom.

The zoo compared the antics of the birds to those of their animated counterparts in the “Madagascar” series of films. The slippery escape artists come to a dead end in the corridor and turn around to run back toward their enclosure.