Unsung Balloon Heros
by Ralph Dewey
Balloon History Spotlight
It was August 29, 1996 at the conclusion of the Democratic National convention in Chicago when a spectacular balloon drop happened. It got rave comments from the usually nonchalant television commentators. It also made the front page of newspapers all around the country. It may have been the most talked about balloon drop ever. When asked what he thought of the Democratic Convention, then Republican candidate Bob Dole said, “It was the most spectacular balloon drop I’ve ever seen.” The lead balloon artist for that balloon drop which lasted 15 minutes was Chuck Gruberman. Chuck was one of the industry’s leading balloon decorators. He was the consultant for that epic event and worked out the design details for the massive balloon drop.
It all began with the DNC (Democratic National Committee) awarded the contract for the balloon drop to a minority contractor Tanzy Lewis of Lansing, IL. Tanzy teamed up with Balloons Galore-N-More of Chicago. Soon they realized that the job was too big for them to handle without some help. They would need lots of balloons, balloon bags, inflators and someone with experience. That’s how Chuck Gruberman got involved. Chuck and Joyce had erned a reputation as being hard working balloon experts. And Chuck had experience with record-breaking balloon jobs. He was responsible for what was probably the world’s largest group of Hi-Float balloons. His team filled 27,000 balloons. Each balloon was injected with Hi-Float, massaged, inflated, tied off and delivered.
For the DNC balloon drop, Chuck estimated it would take 150 people for three days to inflate, tie off, and bag the 151,200 balloons. The first day, 150 people worked all day and did well. Everything was on schedule. However on the second day only 25 people showed up for work. Chuck knew they were in big trouble. His Chicago contractors were able to contact local black churches and plead for workers. So, on the third day 150 workers showed up. With their help they were able to get all of the balloons filled, tied and bagged with two hours to spare. All 150 balloon bags were filled, with each containing 1,008 round balloons. One of the big headaches was the security at the convention. About 100 secret service men were assigned to supervise all of the balloon drop work. The secret service people had to view all the balloon inflating process, guard the stored balloons and escort the balloons from the filling area into the arena. Then all of the balloons had to be subjected to explosive sniffing dogs. Once they had been cleared, the balloons could be hung. For the event, Chuck had 24 people high up in the catwalks of the arena which were 138 feet off the ground. Most of those workers were needed to distribute the confetti and let the balloons loose. This plan was to ensure that the balloons and confetti dropped on queue and that they flowed smoothly down from the ceiling. Chuck made sure the crew was trained so that the confetti didn’t come down in clumps. The balloons were hung and rigged so they could be released in sequence in waves of color over a period of time. Chuck was on the convention floor and he orchestrated the drop by radio. There were so many balloons being dropped that at one point that he was up to his neck in balloons. In order that he could still see and therefore direct the dropping process, he had to have some of his people pop balloons which threatened to cover him.
The first wave of the drop was half-inch Mylar confetti which was hand-shifted for even distribution. After that, 40,000 blue balloons were dropped and then more Mylar confetti. Next came 50,000 red and white balloons which were released along with one and a half-inch confetti. The last scheduled drop was 60,000 red, white and blue balloons along with red, white and blue paper confetti. Throughout the drop, Chuck would radio to increase or decrease the flow of the different waves. The drop was scheduled to end with that wave. However they did have a contingency plan if they needed to use more confetti. And when the TV producer called Chuck with the okay, Chuck ordered every bit of the reserve to be released. The television coverage ended with confetti still fluttering down over the almost totally balloon covered delegates. It was spectacular, awesome and almost magical. Way to go Chuck and team!
One birthday idea for a balloon walk-around is what I call an apple kiss. First make a standard balloon apple from a red #321 in the normal way. Take a Hershey’s Kiss and gently wedge it up into the bottom of the apple. The chocolate Kiss is now loaded. Show the child the balloon apple and ask them if they have ever seen an apple kiss. Of course they haven’t. So ask them to hold out their hand with the palm up. Hold the apple a few inches above their palm and poke your index finger into the top (stem area) of the apple. That action will allow the Kiss to drop into their hand. To repeat it for the next child, secretly load another Kiss into the apple. Then repeat the bit of business. You can have a lot of fun with this idea.