It all started as a patriotic celebration. The San Antonio Battle Of Flowers Parade was first launched during the Victorian Era, 1891. The mission was to honor the heroes of the Alamo (March 6, 1836) and to commemorate the victory at the Battle of San Jacinto (April 21, 1836.
Today, the ten-day Fiesta San Antonio continues to be held late in April. An estimated 3.5 million people now attend the festivities. Hundreds of thousands of cascarones are cracked and flowers tossed during parades, dances and other events. According to mySanAntonio.com, the fiesta now lasts 18 days.
A San Antonio citizen had seen a flower parade in Nice, France. The highlight was well-dressed women throwing flowers at each other in a mock battle. Similar flower parades had been seen in Spain and Mexico.
Local socialite Ellen Maury Slayden spearheaded the San Antonio Battle of Flowers Parade with the help of J.S. Alexander, whose husband enlisted the help of The San Antonio (men’s) club. The Parade was still recognized as a woman’s project and the Battle of Flowers Association was formed.
According to Jack Maguire in A Century of Fiesta In San Antonio, it was decided early on that they would honor the local tradition of fiestas, rather than trying to emulate the European parades. Since the San Antonio Battle of Flowers Parade would be a great way to advertise their flower market, local flowers would be used as “ammunition.”
“Much discussion was devoted to the handling of the “ammunition” to be used in the battle. The committee ruled that only small nosegays, a single rose, and no more than two of any other flowers could be tossed in the attack. Large bouquets were considered dangerous.”
The call was put out for citizens to decorate their carriages with flowers and foliage. A local bicycling club had just started. Members were invited enter the parade. A special float was built to carry children dressed as flowers.
San Antonio Battle Of Flowers Parade Ran Amok In 1891
The first San Antonio Battle of Flowers Parade apparently turned into a mock war zone. The following was transcribed by Sarah Reveley from an article published in the San Antonio Daily Light, April 21, 1891.
“…The procession contained over 100 carriages and other vehicles, all gaily decorated and many containing decorations of real artistic merit. Mr. Madarasz’s carriage, decked in pure white lilies and variegated grasses, with honeysuckle was plain, pretty and neat. Col. H. B. Andrews’ pony phaeton, with four Shetlands drawing it, was exquisite, and J. J. Stevens’ children in a four-in-hand Shetland surrey, representing a yacht, was also very pretty….
On arriving at the plaza the police divided the procession into two lines, each half going in opposite directions and passing around the park were brought, face to face with each other. The crowd on foot pressed the carriages closely and the fight began and waged furiously for nearly an hour.
The occupants of the carriages had all the ammunition while those on foot had none. They began picking the fallen roses from the pavement, and even tore off the trimmings of the carriages, and soon had the best of the fight. Heavy bunches of laurel thrown soon had their effect, and many ladies lost their temper and used their carriage whips indiscriminately on the crowd.
One lady struck Mr. Doc Fitzgerald, a passive spectator, a severe blow on the face with her whip, but did not see fit to apologize for her mistake. Mr. H. P. Drought made an ugly cut with his whip into the crowd…. One young angel with white wings appealed to the crowd for protection from the missiles saying, “I wish you men would make them quit….”
The police were powerless to keep the people off the park beds, and prevent them from tearing off the flowers. One outright fight occurred. Mr. Phil Shook, one of the horseback parties, lost his temper, and cutting a man in the face with his riding whip, was assaulted, and a fistfight on the pavement resulted. Both combatants were arrested by the police.
Mr. Charley Baker used his umbrella for defense. While the crowd was very dense on the plaza, waiting for the procession to come along, Mr. Cristoph Pfeuffer’s splendid team and carriage took fright on South Alamo Street, at an electric car. The carriage was decorated and contained several ladies, a child and the driver. Dashing into Alamo Street, past and into the crowd of people and vehicles, it overturned a buggy and horse at the corner, and its driver jumped out and was dragged under the carriage by the lines. The lady on the front seat caught one of the lines and held it, but the horses made straight for the crowd of women and children in the park and struck a very deep mass of them, it being impossible for them to move out of the way.
The ladies were thrown out and their clothing was badly torn. One little boy was knocked senseless, another was bruised, and one little girl had her apron torn off. Other children were trampled by the frightened people. The plunging horses were secured and the carriage was taken to a side street….
Some irrepressible small boys arranged a dogfight in the midst of an interested crowd of spectators, during the battle, and a regular stampede ensued. Some of the combatants, whose supply of ammunition had exhausted, resorted to buggy robes and quirts for aggressive warfare, and umbrellas and parasols for the defensive….
The battle was a success, but if it is given next year, more police will be needed, carriages must not be allowed on the plaza at all, and the participants must not lose their temper.”
MySanAntonio.com offers a full timeline of the history of the San Antonio Battle of Flowers parade.
The Rivard Report delivers an excellent rundown of events, not to mention the hilarious side of the San Antonio Battle of Flowers Parade and festivities. Events include the Fiesta Fandango Fun Run, Fiesta Flambeau Night Parade and the Cornyation, a drag show during which the King Anchovy is crowned.
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