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When Pasadena moves 8 million flowers from one end of town to the other on New Year's Day, more than a million people come to watch. About 45 million more stay home to watch this pageant on their television sets, for this is one of the most looked-at events in the U.S.
It started as a flower-throwing picnic among friends, but it has spread into a project so breathtaking that the whole town pants when it is over.
Thirty committees of Pasadena businessmen work on their Tournament of Roses parade, and all they ever get out of it is fun, and a chance to buy two Rose Bowl tickets at the regular price. There are 3,000 people who walk or ride in the parade, enough to populate a small town.
Seasoned amateurs run this show, the most famous single-day celebration in the world. For 51 weeks before the parade these businessmen have been planning, scheduling, screening, routing, listing, checking, conferring and setting it up. Somehow a football game got attached to the lighter events.
When the world lines up on Pasadena's curbs this coming January 1, 1957, this is what it will see:
Sixty floats—a fairyland in flowers, green-and-gold dragons, jet planes, ships; all riding on metal skeletons over truck beds shaped with chicken wire and plaster and plastic cocoons like those that cover the Navy's mothball fleet. Over that the pay load: flowers, decorated with pretty people in shiny clothes, bringing giants and knights and nursery rhymes to life.
"Every inch of every float must be covered with real flowers or plants," explains a committeeman. "We check that very carefully. Absolutely nothing artificial, all freshly cut."
Twenty of the best marching bands in the nation will deploy among the floats, blaring through town and trampling on fallen roses and lilies and orchids in the streets.
Two hundred horsemen and horsewomen are polishing silver now for this parade. Some of their saddled mounts are worth $50,000 on the hoof.
Sixty-seven parades have preceded the one that is now nearly ready to roll. They started soon after Dr. Charles Frederick Holder came home from Europe in 1888 and spoke a fateful sentence, something like this: "I saw a lovely thing in Rome. They called it the Battle of the Flowers. Why couldn't we...?"