Tonight is the night. San Antonio is celebrating its rich historic pass with this year’s Texas Cavaliers’ Parade along the River Walk. The event will be held from 7 – 9 pm. Each year during Fiesta, an estimated 250,000 folk gather along the San Antonio River — or perch on bridges, or cluster on hotel balconies — to watch the Texas Cavaliers River Parade.
What many don’t know is this annual riparian extravaganza has roots that go back to 1941 when the Texas Cavaliers, a 600-strong fraternal organization, decided a river soiree would be a great way to bring the city together during its springtime party.
Each year, close to 400 Cavaliers donate thousands of volunteer hours to put on the parade, which includes more than 50 participants from across San Antonio — schools, the military, civic organizations and Fiesta royalty.
As has become the custom, three different groups — military service members, underprivileged kids and first responders — receive free tickets to sit in special river-viewing sections.
“It’s a huge honor,” said Hill, whose father also served as a parade marshal. “This is a great mechanism to raise money and awareness for children’s charities. It’s not really about the Cavaliers — it’s about all the participants.”
The event has had an array of honorary grand marshals, such as NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith as 2015’s honoree of the River Parade, country music star Clay Walker in 2012 and actress Eva Longoria in 2011.
Since its inception, the parade has taken place every year, except during World War II, when Fiesta also ceased its activities. It has never been canceled because of rain, according to “History of the Texas Cavaliers,” a compendium on the men’s organization, which was formed in 1926.
The book describes how the idea for the parade originated when a group of San Antonians, including a number of Cavaliers, took a trip to the floating gardens of Xochimilco, near the historic center of Mexico City.
The visitors took in the “gaily flower-bedecked boats and barges plying the canals” and decided a similar event would do well back home.
This was right about the time that the beautification of the San Antonio River downtown was nearing completion, part of the Works Projects Administration effort.
Then-Mayor Maury Maverick was on board with the plan. The first floats were 6-by-20-feet plywood constructions that were propelled by people with poles and oars and decorated with fresh flowers, according to the book.
Today’s barges are powered by motors and feature musical bands, lights and elaborate decorations. The River Parade is one of three major processions — along with the Battle of Flowers Parade and the Fiesta Flambeau Night Parade — that serve as high points of Fiesta.
The first River Parade featured King Antonio XXIII and drew 50,000 spectators, who paid 20 cents per ticket for adults, 10 cents for children.
In 1995, the parade began designating a specific charitable honoree to highlight each year, as a way to raise awareness and bring publicity. That first year, the March of Dimes of South Central Texas served as honoree.
In 2015, the Boys & Girls Club of San Antonio and TEAMability, which provides services to children with multiple disabilities were the honorees.
Jack Hebdon Jr., who served as parade marshal in 1995, said the River Parade is like no other in the country.
“It’s unique,” he said. “It’s so intimate — you’re sitting 5 feet away from the floats. It feels like you’re in the parade.”
The Texas Cavaliers River Parade comes to life before dusk, its route, traditionally, from Navarro Street and ending at East Nueva Street.
Each year, about 18,000 seating tickets are sold, Hebdon said, often to the same families.
“It’s a family tradition,” he said. “It’s amazing — the same people come back year after year and buy the same ticket for the same section, for 30 years. The River Parade is truly a part of San Antonio.”
For details on tonight’s event, click here.
This article originally published in the San Antonio Express-News. Click here to view article.