From the Archives: A runaway Rose Parade float

Jan. 2, 1939: During the Rose Parade, the brakes on the Dr. Ross Co. float fail while the float is on Colorado Boulevard. The runaway float, left, swings around the Eagle Rock float before being brought to a stop.
(Dick Whittington)

This photo, taken by Los Angeles-based commercial photographer Dick Whittington, was published on page two of the Jan. 3, 1939, Los Angeles Times.

The accompanying story reported:

Despite the valiant efforts of the driver and the heroism of several pedestrians, five persons received injuries when the prize-winning Dr. Ross Co. float lost its brakes, and after careening wildly down the Colorado Boulevard hill, forced its lead Shetland ponies into the massed crowd.

The heavy float, a floral replica of an old-fashioned calliope, started rolling at the top of the Colorado Boulevard hill, just behind the flagpole. Apparent failure of the brakes and lack of weight of the Shetland ponies caused the float to gather momentum.


Only the expertness of the driver kept the float right-side up as he turned the lead ponies into the middle of the street just when it seemed it would crash into the crowd. Frantically the driver guided the float to the other side of the street and around the bulky Eagle Rock entry. Back again it careened, the ponies in full run now to keep ahead of the float. Someone from the crowd rushed out and grasped the lead team and pulled them toward the crowd.

Others held on to the rear of the float, which was gradually slowed to a standstill on level ground.

Where the ponies went into the crowd, several persons lay injured, none seriously.

One woman owes her well-being to presence of mind, for, when caught between the crowd and the Eagle Rock float, she jumped nimbly onto the float as the speeding ponies and calliope rushed by.


After several minutes, the ponies were back in position, and the float took its place in the parade.

This photo was moved by a wire service and appeared in the Jan. 16, 1939, Life magazine.

The Dick Whittington Studio archives is divided between the USC (“Dick” Whittington Photography Collection, 1924-1987 and) the Huntington Library (Whittington Studio Collection of Negatives and Photographs).

In the Herman J. Schultheis Collection at the Los Angeles Public Library is a photo of the Dr. Ross Dog Food Co. float at the 1939 Rose Parade that appears to have been taken after the float was stopped.


The flagpole mentioned in the Los Angeles Times story is the Pasadena Memorial Flagpole. In 1939, it was in the middle of the intersection of Orange Grove and West Colorado. The flagpole since has been relocated to the northeast corner of the intersection.

This post was originally published on Dec. 27, 2013.

See more from the Los Angeles Times archives here