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Thousands of people crowded the sidewalks of Broadway, spilling out onto the asphalt in a mass of confetti, bubbles, and flower crowns all in anticipation of the ornate floats of the 128th Battle of Flowers Parade.
The parade meandered down Broadway and turned onto Houston Street, passing by the Alamo, where even more people packed onto the sidewalks to wave at Fiesta royalty and various local leaders. Alison Boone, who helped organize the parade, estimated around 350,000 people showed up this year.
With encouragement from her mother, 4-year-old Madison threw confetti as each float passed, though most of it landed on her and her cousins. Madison’s great-grandmother had cut up several reams of tissue paper into small strips and the children were pulling it out of a Ziploc bag and heaving it toward the horses and floats — and also the wind.
“It just blows back,” said Madison’s mother, Felicia McAtee, laughing as the confetti settled around the kids despite their vigorous throwing.
While the parade is mostly about the fun atmosphere, it’s also an opportunity to make money. Seats along the parade route were – as always – the most coveted item on Friday, and a chance for various organizations to raise funds for the efforts. Among those were the San Antonio Founder Lions Club, which sold around 900 seats for the Battle of Flowers Parade and 1,000 for Saturday night’s Fiesta Flambeau Parade, according to Mary Jane Chisholm, a club member.
The Omega Phi Psi fraternity’s local chapter had 400 seats to sell for Battle of Flowers and for Fiesta Flambeau, said Greg Thompson, who sat with his fraternity brother Trevin Demby. Two of those seats went to Beth Glassmeyer and Thomas Wagner, who drove 18 hours from Burlington, Kentucky, for Fiesta.
“It used to be a lot of open seating,” Thompson said. “Now we have all the chairs [to sell], which is a great opportunity for charitable organizations.”
Lynn Ziegler, a former president of the Battle of Flowers Association, said she thinks having the parade in the morning rather than afternoon has helped with audience numbers. This is the second year the Battle of Flowers started in the morning.
“It seems like attendance is up, but that’s just from looking around,” Ziegler said. “Seating is well filled. [The Battle of Flowers Association’s seats] sold out.”
Sunday McDonald sat with her friend Twyla Varnado, waving at marchers as they passed by. McDonald has been going to Fiesta all her life, while Varnado started three years ago after she moved to San Antonio. As the Jefferson High School marching band approached, McDonald and Varnado cheered.
“That’s one of the oldest schools,” McDonald said. “Look at them! We love to come to see the high schools and the bands. I like [the Fiesta royalty’s] dresses, but I come for the high schools.”
They admired the Queen of the Order of the Alamo’s dress, glittering gold and with a train unfurling far behind her.
“Look at that dress. That’s pretty,” McDonald said. “Look at the back of her dress.”
But they both were much more excited when McDonald pointed at the Highland High School band.
“That’s my school! The Highland Owls,” she said. They snapped pictures and bopped along to the drum-line beat.
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By the Alamo, Battle of Flowers Association member April Carnahan watched the parade next to bleachers crammed full with spectators. Carnahan said she is amazed by the amount of work that goes into putting on the only women-run parade for Fiesta. The women of the association organize many events before the parade, as well — a band festival, an art contest for high-schoolers, a writing project for seventh-graders, and much more.
“There’s many pieces to it, but it’s all building up to this parade,” Carnahan said.
Carnahan has been in the association for only a year, but she already feels the solemnity that accompanies that membership.
“It’s a San Antonio tradition, so it’s a big honor to be a part of it,” she said.
The Queen and her duchesses glided by the Alamo in elaborate floats. They showed off their quirky footwear – one sported bedazzled swimming flippers – and waved at the cheering crowd. Colorful confetti drifted in the air alongside them, eventually settling into the cobblestones to serve as a reminder of the celebration that passed through.