For nearly two decades beginning in the 1920s, Rike’s, the downtown Dayton department store, held a Thanksgiving Day parade.
The Rike’s Toy Parade began in 1923, kicking off the holiday shopping season. Floats designed by high school students in art classes and costumed characters made up the procession.
Early black-and-white photographs capture the parade route, beginning at the old Montgomery County Fairgrounds and traveling along Main Street through downtown. Spectators clogged sidewalks and filled the windows of downtown buildings overlooking the spectacle.
The floats and costumes became more elaborate through the years drawing crowds from Dayton and surrounding communities. Artists worked well in advance designing costumes and carpenters and painters spent weeks building floats.
In 1935, Princess Sari, a life sized-puppet, rode her royal elephant Jumbo through the streets. The animated and gilded beast was propelled by four men underneath as she was followed by costumed escorts.
A 15-foot-tall Mother Goose joined the parade the same year as did “Simple Simon and his Pieman, The Three Bears, Goldie Locks and giant figures of Lean Jack Spratt and Fat Mrs. Spratt,” according to the Dayton Daily News.
Mickey Mouse, the Katzenjammer Kids, Barney Google, Moon Mullins and other favorite characters from comic strips and movies of the era filled the streets.
The highlight each year was Santa Claus and his merry elves, who rode into Dayton on a “throne of snow and ice.”
Santa was handed the keys to the city before climbing a tall ladder to a brick chimney on top of the men’s store, according to the account in the 1935 edition of the newspaper. From there he descended the chimney into his “glorious Toyland in Rike’s.”
The start of World War II ended the holiday tradition. The company did not want to take resources from the efforts to win the war and placed an ad in the Nov. 10, 1943 edition of the newspaper stating the “War Effort must come FIRST!”
“So, Boys and Girls, Mother’s and Fathers, and all who have enjoyed Rike’s Toy Parade — because we feel that winning the war comes first, RIKE’S THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE WILL NOT BE HELD THIS YEAR!”