New York Nostalgia Part of “Canyon of Heroes” Parade

 DETROIT– The office of New York Mayor Bill deBlasio made it official, as his staff announced that the U.S. Women’s National Team will get a parade down Broadway Avenue into the “Canyon of Heroes” on Friday morning. These days, the Mid-Manhattan honor of such parades is mostly reserved for local New York sports teams that win a major championship. That hasn’t always been the case.

Olympic medalists got a parade in 1984, Sammy Sosa got one in 1998, and numerous non-sports figures have been honored as well. On March 9, 1960, the Heiss family of Ozone Park, New York got a parade down the “Canyon of Heroes”. This was to celebrate home grown figure skating Olympic gold medal winner, Carol Heiss and her family.

The U.S. Women’s National Team is the first women’s sports team to get their own parade down the “Canyon of Heroes”. As the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup victors, this group is joining some very elite championship company.

According to The Wall Street Journal, New York City has hosted 205 parades down the “Canyon of Heroes” dating back to the first procession marking the Statue of Liberty’s dedication in 1886. Parades honoring other women had included Amelia Earhart and Althea Gibson. When New York City celebrated the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886, former New York governor and then-president Grover Cleveland established the rare tradition with a huge parade in celebration of what was quickly becoming a symbol of the nation’s spirit and integrity. The biggest parade in audience was estimated for the massive reception for pioneering aviator and Detroit native son, Charles Lindbergh, in 1927. It attracted hundreds of thousands of spectators to lower Manhattan, and made the ticker-tape parade famous around the world. The longest was estimated for the welcome home celebration for the victorious soldiers of World War I.

Carol Heiss did not know about her place in New York ticker-tape parade history until now, but the memories of her riding on the back of a convertible with then New York mayor Robert Wagner are still very fresh. In 1960, at 20 years old, Carol Heiss was making sports history. It was a monumental year for Heiss, who married 1956 Olympic gold medal skating champion Hayes Jenkins a month later.

Carol’s younger brother Bruce Heiss, then 16, sat in the second car with his father, Eddie and sister, Nancy Heiss. “There was confetti and paper flying everywhere,” said Heiss, now of Milan, Michigan. Bruce and his other older sister Nancy were also elite skating champions. At one time or another, they were all coached by the legendary, Pierre Brunet. The three Heiss siblings also trained at Michigan State University and the old Detroit Skating Club on West Seven Mile in Detroit in 1958-59.

Bruce Heiss reminisced about the parade, “There looked to be a million people hanging out the windows of the skyscrapers. I actually caught a glimpse of a neighbor, Vic Galdi, who lived in Queens. It was very cold and windy and Carol was in the lead car in her new fur coat.”

Carol, 75, now has a granddaughter playing college soccer. “We were in convertibles,” remembered Carol. “It was a cold sunny day and I couldn’t believe how big the buildings were.”

When asked about her role models, Carol didn’t hesitate, “My parents, especially my mother (Marie). She was always supportive and encouraged us to fulfill our personal dreams.”

Carol added, “She taught us all perseverance. With perseverance comes a sense of concentration and determination, and a certain amount of self-confidence. And you have to be careful there, because there’s a very fine line separating self-confidence from conceit. You can’t build it on your own. You need others to help you see what it takes – the hard work and the work ethic – to succeed. All three of us, inherited that other thing……an ethic of hard work.”

“After the parade, Mayor Wagner gave me the key to the city and took our whole family to the Top of the Sixes, at 666 Fifth Avenue,” said Carol. It was the popular and chick Manhattan restaurant of the day. It was a meeting place of all the New York power brokers. “I had lobster,” recalled Bruce Heiss, now 71 and a retired Northwest Airlines DC-10 captain. Carol added with a smile, “I was too nervous to eat.”


Bruce Heiss, Nancy Heiss and Carol Heiss as young elite skaters in New York.
Photo courtesy of Rolco Sports & Entertainment

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, who beat Japan 5-2, on Sunday in Vancouver, will ride an open-topped bus down Broadway. The game was the most-watched soccer match in U.S. history. A first half hat-trick by Carli Lloyd blew Japan away early in the match. The television viewership was watched by an average of 25.4 million viewers, peaking at 30.4 million.

Editors note: Raymond Rolak is a chairman of the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame..