Battle of Flowers Parade Is Where San Antonio’s Fiesta Began

By John Bloodsworth
Photography by Gale Gregory. Archival Photography Courtesy of Battle of Flowers Assn.

When is comes to celebrations, San Antonio is the epicenter of civic conviviality as Fiesta San Antonio hosts over 100 events packed into 11-days of non-stop merriment. Every facet in the bejeweled city’s creative crown shines brightly as community leaders, shop keepers, senior citizens, school children and guests from all over the world don Fiesta finery, display an array of Fiesta medals proudly on colorful sashes, affix faux tiaras to quaffs of big hair and take to the streets in an unrivaled revelry that began in 1891.

The grandmother of all Fiesta events, rather, the Grande Dame event, began in April 1891 to honor the men of the Alamo and those that fought for Texas independence at the Battle of San Jacinto. It started, as most well-planned events do, with a group of women.

“I am absolutely elated to take the baton from the hands of those that have so diligently led the Battle of Flowers Parade through its 122 years of success,” says this year’s newly elected president, Anne Ballantyne. “It is thrilling to have seen the college students who have just competed in our Oratorical Contest that began in 1926 and exciting to think that over 3,500 high school students will perform a mass musical performance at out 75th Band festival.”

By 1890, San Antonio was a thriving trade center with a population of 38,000. In 1891 a group of citizens decided to honor the heroes of the Alamo and Battle of San Jacinto with a Battle of Flowers. It is said that a Mr. Ballard asked a group of prominent ladies why there had never been a parade in San Antonio. Ellen Maury Slayden, who was born at the Maury family home, Piedmont, in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1860; moved to San Antonio in 1883, as the bride of James Luther Slayden, a merchant and rancher in San Antonio. She had attended a wonderful affair in Venice where ladies rode in elaborately decorated carriages and pelted each other with spring flowers, which inspired her greatly. Mrs. Slayden served for a time in 1889 as society editor of the San Antonio Express newspaper and she and the ladies involved adopted the idea for the first Battle of Flowers Parade held April 21, 1891. The first parade had horse-drawn carriages, bicycles decorated with fresh flowers and floats carrying children dressed as flowers. The Belknap Rifles represented the military. The participants pelted each other with blossoms, just like in Venice.

The Battle of Flowers was an immediate success. On the tenth anniversary of the parade, it was reported in the Express-News that the parade was the first in the nation to have a horseless vehicle.  By that time, more events were taking place on or near April 21—a carnival, balls and coronations of “royalty.” The tradition of Fiesta Royalty is almost as old as Fiesta itself. The first queen, Ida Archer, was selected in 1896. But, there was quite a stir amongst the local ladies because she was from Austin – of all places – and not San Antonio.

For well over a century, parade patrons have lined the downtown streets of San Antonio for the oldest and largest parade of Fiesta San Antonio, attracting crowds of more than 350,000. Spectacular flower-covered floats with participants adorned in colorful costumes, giant helium balloons, horse drawn carriages, antique cars, uniformed military cavalcades in precision march, high school floats, pep squads, cheerleaders and marching bands from near and far stimulate the crowds with enthusiastic entertainment at every turn.

The parade has assisted countless thousands with its largesse. As the only parade in the United States produced entirely by women, all of whom are volunteers, the Battle of Flowers Association has supported the educational, artistic, social and philanthropic achievements of their community’s youth with sponsorship of parade entries for area high schools, parade and band festival art contests, essay contests for area teens, collegiate oratorical competitions, band competitions, children’s charities parade watching celebrations and by affording nonprofit organizations the opportunity to raise funds for worthy causes with over 45,000 parade seats sold by charities along the parade route each year.

“Celebrations,” the 2013 Battle of Flowers Parade theme will fete about 200 parade entries with dazzling floats and flower covered carriages depicting world festivals, heritages and anniversaries. “We encourage all of our friends in Texas and beyond to join us in celebrating our world,” says Battle of Flowers parade vice president Donna Vaughan. “In addition to our own observance, we will be showcasing the celebrations of other countries with spectacularly decorated floats and colorfully costumed parade participants.”

During the Association’s annual “Float Picking Party,” eight area public high school organizations are given an opportunity each year to participate in the themed celebration with a float produced and paid for by the Battle of Flowers Association, and a stipend given to each group for costuming and props. Celebrations to be brought to the streets during the 2013 parade will represent a global influence, including Mexico’s Cinco De Mayo, Spain’s Running of the Bulls, Brazil’s Rio Carnival, Australia’s Flower Festival, Children’s Day in Japan, and India’s Pushkar Camel Fair.

Always an attraction, the Queen and Princess of the Order of the Alamo and their court of in-town and visiting duchesses resplendent in elaborately jeweled dresses and trains – some 15 feet long – riding atop fairy-tail like floats produce cheers from the crowds along the parade route. For all of the pomp and pageantry, the most sought after appeal is for the young ladies to “show us your shoes!”

The stylish ladies of the court often wear cowboy boots, slippers, tennis shoes or other foot wear that they have decorated with rhinestones to match the gorgeous gowns. One duchess donned a pair of Kermit The Frog house slippers with ruby red rhinestone eyes and green glittered body that matched the deep emerald green of her Fiesta frock.

Platoons of marching bands, cavalry and cadets keep parade patrons entertained with pulsating rhythms and precision steps. Jamie Bloodsworth, a member of the Battle of Flowers Association recalls a story told about her late father, Robert Killian, by one of his Texas A&M Corp of Cadet peers. It seems that Killian and his buddies were bringing up the rear of a marching formation during a 1950s Battle of Flowers Parade.  As they passed the Southern Jewelry Company on Alamo Plaza, the cadets broke rank, ran through the front of the shop and out the back over the loading dock just as the brigade rounded the corner. They never missed a beat.

Battle of Flowers Parade
Friday, April 26, 2013
Vanguard steps off at 12:30PM
2103 Parade Grand Marshal

Motion picture star Armie Hammer. Accompanied by his actor/journalist wife, Elizabeth Chambers

Armie Hammer

  • Born in Los Angeles, lived in Dallas and raised in the Caymen Islands.
  • Paternal great-grandparents were oil tycoon and philanthropist Armand Hammer and Russian-born actress Olga Von Root.
  • Dropped out of high school in eleventh grade – to pursue an acting career – and took college courses at Pasadena College and the University of California, Los Angeles.
  • Appeared in the television series Veronica Mars, Gossip Girls, Reaper and Desperate Housewives.
  • Played the Christian evangelist Billy Graham in “Billy: The early Years.”
  • Portrayed identical twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss in “Social Network.”
  • Costarred with Leonardo Di Capio in Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar”, portraying Clyde Tolson.
  • Co-starred with Julia Roberts and Lily Collins in “Mirror Mirror” as Prince Andrew Alcott.
  • Starring as Lone Ranger in upcoming film “The Lone Ranger” with Johnny Depp as Tonto.

Elizabeth Chambers

  • Modeled at age 16 appearing in shows for Fendi and was featured in Seventeen and Brilliant magazines.
  • At 17, she lived and worked in Tokyo where she appeared in series of campaigns for Japanese food products and clothing line.
  • While studying at the University of Texas, cast in:  “The New Guy,” “The Rookie” and the television series, “Going to California.”
  • While attending UT, cast by writer/director, Thomas Hayden Church, in his independent film, “Rolling Kansas.”
  • Graduated Magna Cum Laude from UT with a degree in Journalism
  • Worked at Current TV as anchor and on-air reporter. On her first assignment. Elizabeth crossed the border with illegal immigrants, interviewed coyotes and did a two-day ride along with Border Patrol agents.
  • Appeared in CBS’s “Moonlight,” portraying Mick’s Victoria’s Secret model love interest.
  • Starred opposite Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as his love interest, Kathryn, in Disney film “The Game Plan.”
  • Appeared opposite James Woods in CBS’s “Shark.”
  • Appeared as herself in cameo on CBS’s “Criminal Minds.”
  • Contributor to Fox’s “The Strategy Room”
  • Reporter for E! Entertainment’s “E! News Now” and for the E! News Bureau.


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