Baldwinsville resident Danny Magowan is pictured with one of his crew members, Aimie Best. Magowan’s company, Balloon AffAIRs, has provided balloons and streamers for the New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square for 25 years. (Ian Hardy, Countdown Entertainment)
“As long as I can remember, Times Square New Year’s Eve is where it is. … You turn on the TV and watch the ball go down,” said Danny Magowan. “Just to think that there’s a billion people watching this event, and I did it.”
He’s not on screen with Ryan Seacrest and Jenny McCarthy, but Magowan, who resides in Baldwinsville, is a crucial part of the action during NYE in NYC. Since 1994, Magowan’s event decorating company, Balloon AffAIRs, has been supplying thousands of balloons for the Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment’s ball drop celebration.
“I’ve been in the balloon business for about 30 years. A friend of mine has been doing the confetti for 27 years and he needed help doing the balloons,” Magowan said.
Treb Heining, a balloon and confetti industry pioneer based in California, began organizing the balloon and confetti dispersal for Times Square in 1992. Over the years, Heining and Magowan have worked their magic for concerts, political conventions and other major events.
“I’ve worked with him on the last five Republican [National] Conventions and the last Democratic convention,” Magowan said. “I’ve done a lot of different events with him. He’s a pretty neat guy.”
When he moved to Syracuse in 1984, Magowan got a job with the Singing Baker, which delivered birthday cakes and singing telegrams.
“About seven months after I started, I wound up buying the business and taking it over and focusing a little more on balloons,” he recalled. “There was a balloon decorating convention every year where people would come from all over the world. It was great — I would go and learn a lot of different techniques.”
Over time, Magowan dropped the telegrams and cakes, focusing on the balloons. Magowan has toured with Rascal Flatts and Balloon AffAIRs does large-scale events for Turning Stone Resort Casino. In fact, one of Magowan’s daughters was managing Turning Stone’s New Year’s 2018-19 event while her father and three siblings were in New York City.
Magowan has a crew of about 30 friends, family members and volunteers who spend a day and a half inflating 25,000 balloons in a vacant theater in New York a few days before the celebration.
“A lot of them come back year after year because it’s so much fun,” he said. “It’s really nice for me to be able to let these people come and have such a great time.”
About two hours before midnight, Magowan and his crew hand out balloons to the waiting revelers in Times Square. The colors vary each year based on the corporate sponsor; the 2018-19 balloons, sponsored by Planet Fitness, were purple and yellow.
“We started out doing 10,000 of the long, skinny balloons that you twist into animals,” he said. “For 2000 — the Millennium — they wanted something a little different.”
For the 1999-2000 celebration, Magowan added foil streamers that shimmered as people waved them.
As preparations continued to welcome the new millennium, fear of the “Y2K bug” swept over many people. Many thought computer systems could shut down and wreak havoc on society.
“They thought the prisons were going to open, banks were going to close … people were panicking,” Magowan said. “I actually had a friend in the balloon business who sold her business and moved to Alaska. She thought the world was going to end.”
Still, the show must go on, so Magowan’s crew assembled their shimmery balloons and headed to the rooftops to help disperse confetti and watch the ball drop. The countdown finished 3, 2, 1…
“There was like a three-second pause before everyone realized everything was going to be okay and nothing was going to happen,” Magowan said.
Then, the masses cheered, having arrived in the new millennium all in one piece.
Magowan and Heining’s work ends up in millions and millions of pieces, however. Once the mass exodus of revelers empties the square, the New York City Sanitation Department swoops in on cleanup duty.
“I’m glad I don’t get that job,” Magowan said. “Five minutes after midnight, the whole square is practically empty of people and then there’s like three inches of trash throughout the whole square. … They’ll have like five street sweepers go across and an hour later they’ll have the whole street cleaned up.”
Confetti continues to flutter through the air for a few days, Magowan said, sometimes longer.
“I’ve been back to New York sometimes in the middle of the year and I’ll see a piece of it,” he said.
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.