As Fiesta San Antonio returns to life this year, things have changed around the Alamo. Long the heart of the party, Alamo Plaza falls under new more exacting standards of proper etiquette.
According to Scott Huddleston of the San Antonio Express-News:
Fiesta’s two big street parades are set to resume in April, but people will need to quiet down when passing through Alamo Plaza, as it is now part of the historic site’s ‘reverent zone.’ Air horns, amplified music from floats and ‘shouting and other celebratory behavior’ will be prohibited for parade participants and discouraged for the public….
One goal of a nearly $400 million makeover of the plaza is to create a more respectful atmosphere in an area where some 1,300 burials were recorded and hundreds of Anglo, Tejano and Mexican battle combatants died.
The goal is worthy, and I’m not here to debate it. I’m just pointing out that the ghosts are not used to it.
According to an 1891 edition of the San Antonio Daily Light, the first Battle of Flowers Parade was about as rowdy as could be. Concept: a parade of nearly 100 flower-bedecked carriages circling around Alamo Plaza commemorating the 1836 Texian victory on the fields of San Jacinto by cascading flower petals upon spectators. Sounds peaceful. But things got way out of hand.
While the ladies and children riding in the carriages were well-armed, the crowd wanted to return fire. Attendees began digging up flowers and breaking off branches of laurels on Alamo Plaza to hurl back. Some of the carriage drivers were not amused and began using their parasols and even whips upon those on foot. There were rearing horses, runaway carriages and multiple injuries before the supposedly “mock battle” was brought under control by police more than an hour later.
Although Battle of Flowers parades were tamed after that initial melee, Fiesta has been lively on the plaza ever since. While researching An Ostrich-Plumed Hat, and Yes, She Shot Him Dead, I spent a lot of time exploring Fiesta celebrations in the 19-teens because the real-life people upon which the truthful novel was based spent real time at the events. And there were a lot of them.
Take 1912. The spirits haunting Alamo Plaza were jerked wide awake by more than two parades. There was the Decorated Automobile Parade; the Firelight Parade led by King Zeus; the Burlesque Circus Parade of “strange, ferocious and voracious animals;” the Parade of Ben Hur Shriners with its barefoot initiates seeking passage “over the hot sands;” the Civic Trades Parade with 100 decorated commercial floats; the Parade of Fables of elaborate floats; the above-mentioned Flower Parade; and the Mask Lantern Parade closing things out with revelry lasting until midnight. The dead were given no rest at all.
Compounding the lack of reverence exhibited around the plaza during Fiesta Week more than a century ago was a constant carnival atmosphere. The calliope sounds of Freed’s Jumping Horse Carry-Us-All might have seemed too much for some, but that noise paled compared to the Motordome, nicknamed the devil’s saucer, set up nearby. Pairs of motorcycle riders roared around its steeply inclined sides at death-defying, dizzying speeds.
Closer to the old post office was Neptune’s Kingdom filled with shapely mermaids attracting admiring men amazed at the capabilities of the mermaids unnaturally large lungs to hold air underwater for long periods of time. And the crowds also cheered exuberantly when May the Diving Pony plunged from her platform into a huge vat of water set up on the plaza.
So, for those who scoff that silencing Fiesta parades on the plaza might be near impossible, the reverence-seekers already have a major head start. Fiesta on Alamo Plaza is almost as quiet as, well, a graveyard compared to days of yore.
But are centuries of sleep what ghosts, assuming they exist, want? Or might spirits enjoy being surrounding by the vibrant sound of people celebrating? Hard to know because the dead have no voice in this.