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From many cultures in the Middle East and beyond, we get the helpful saying that “the dogs bark, but the caravan moves on”.

This is the Tournament of Roses parade for you. It’s the target of the culture because it’s too white, too masculine, too conservative – but it still goes on.

This time next week, Pasadena will sweep up flowers and trash thrown along the 5.5 miles of what is officially counted as the 134th Rose Parade, even though there have been four years where war dogs and COVID-19 barked, and the caravan didn’t move at all: 1942, right after the attack on Pearl Harbor, in 1943, in 1945, and again in 2021.

Colloquially, you are allowed to call it the Rose Parade, always capitalized. While neither word is out of the ordinary, together they’ve created a bonanza and PR juggernaut in Southern California since 1890, when the first tastefully decorated cars hit the streets of Pasadena in full winter.

From the few hundred who stood on the sidewalk to watch the first parade, to those who saw it in black and white newspaper cartoons, then color photographs, and on television and now via the global interwebs, it prompted hundreds of thousands of people to move south. California, and millions more who scoff in their eggnogs and under their thermal blankets as they see the sun-kissed multitudes in shorts and t-shirts.

It’s not the Hollywood sign or the Eiffel Tower, but still, the thing has become so visible and identifiable that it has become a barometer and a model of the times, and not always to its advantage. If this was America – even allowing for chipper and patriotic – then that was a pretty filtered view of it.

In the mid-1960s, NAACP organizations threatened to picket and boycott parades, and once, in 1967, black people picketed for the coronation of the Rose Queen with her all-white court. Miraculously, the following year, for the 1969 parade, the charm of the all-white princess was broken with the selection of Sylvia Peebles, a young black woman from Pasadena who said generously: “…it’s good to write the ‘story. It had to happen one day. And that same year, Janice Lowe became the first Asian American princess. “I’m glad to see the court represent America as it really is – a country made up of all people. That’s all the more important since the tournament is so widely publicized.

Black leaders and groups sponsored the first black float, “Freedom Bursts Forth”, for the 1964 parade, after very public talk about the absence of people of color in the parade. The parade chairman’s retort was that he basically didn’t know why all the fuss had been, “We’ve always had a black turnout. Majority of the bands have had niggers in them. We never had a nigger policy one way or the other.

For a few years the parade had an award category for entries from religious organizations, and during the 1960s the National Rifle Assn. sent floats with names like “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave” and “Bill of Rights”.

In 1991, the parade people entered a hornet’s nest of their own making when they chose a descendant of Christopher Columbus to be grand marshal for the parade in 1992, the year of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ presence. in the New World. In 1991, there was already a fairly acute awareness of the catastrophic nature of the arrival of Christopher Columbus and the waves of European arrivals that followed for the indigenous populations of the Americas.

Still, the parade was taken aback by the ferocity and scale of the reaction to the choice, and within a remarkably short time there was what The Times called “an unprecedented capitulation to criticism”: nominating the senator American and Native American Ben Nighthorse Campbell as Co-Grand Marshal. “Our goal,” explained the tournament chairman, “is to generate goodwill, not controversy.”

The 2023 grand marshal is former Democratic congresswoman from Arizona Gabby Giffords, who was seriously injured in a savage shooting in 2011 that also killed six people.

It wasn’t always just a parade. As this vintage postcard from Patt Morrison’s collection shows, the Tournament of Roses also included chariot races from 1904 to 1915.

Pink flowers on an egg-shaped float, with people dressed as chicks inside and people wearing chicken costumes outside

Chickens on parade! A vintage postcard from the collection of Patt Morrison with a postmark from 1911 depicts a chantecler-themed float, including people in chicken costumes.

40 or 50 years ago, it is unlikely that she was in contention for the star turn in the big convertible. For many decades, a tally of parade grand marshals shows that a number of them are Republicans or conservatives – not just the politicians but the artists, John Wayne, Bob Hope, Walt Disney, Jimmy Stewart, the silent film pioneer Mary Pickford and Frank Sinatra were great marshals. Then, in the 1980s, the parade made great marshals of liberal stars like Danny Kaye, who had once belonged to a Hollywood support group for the Hollywood 10, and Oscar-winning actor Gregory Peck.

Four past, present, and future GOP chairs were grand marshals — Richard Nixon appeared twice — as were two Republican California governors and two Republican-appointed Supreme Court jurists. As far as I know, the first Democratic politician to be Grand Marshal was Senator and astronaut John Glenn.

Many athletes have been selected: Amos Alonzo Stagg, Hank Aaron, Arnold Palmer, football legend Pelé, Carl Lewis and several Olympians. And military heroes – generals and Medal of Honor recipients – figured prominently among the grand marshals.

Crowd favorites remain beyond politics: Vin Scully, Carol Burnett, Angela Lansbury, Charles Schulz, Apollo 12 astronauts Kermit the Frog, heroic pilot Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, and primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall.

Anything as old as this parade has accumulated many delicious rumors. The first, probably truer than rumor, is why the parade never takes place on Sundays. New Year’s Day in 1893 fell on a Sunday, and lest the hustle and bustle scare the horses in the churches along the road, it was postponed to the following day. On occasions when New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday, such as January 1, 2023, the parade runs for 24 hours.

A sinister legend goes against the pious schedule of ever Sunday: the early organizers made a deal with the devil to ensure rain-free parade days. It rained on the parade at times, and anyway, you have to wonder what the heck would have gotten out of it. (On the other hand… National Weather Service forecast for Pasadena on January 2, 2023, through December 27: “Mainly sunny, with highs near 60.”)

My favorite is the rumor that the choice of grand marshal, officially made each year by the leader of the Tournament of Roses, is, in fact, the preference of the president’s spouse; one or the other, or both, explains swings as wild as actress Cloris Leachman one year to Sullenberger the next.

The parade’s arithmetic has been challenged by people as elated as the doctors at Caltech. From the 1930s, the Pasadena Police party line was that one million people were there to watch the parade—sometimes as many as one and a half million. The Pasadena Star-News, in an act of bravery or lese majestydisputed these numbers of angels on pinheads and referred to a 1960s story that three Caltech doctors had estimated the maximum number at 50,000. A 1971 text on transportation and engineering took the trouble to calculate and arrived at a maximum of about 891,000, and even at that there would be an immobilized mass of people crammed into 1.5 square feet each.

On parade morning, it must certainly feel that way.

Patt Morrisonat USC in Los Angeles, Calif., Sunday, April 24, 2022.

Explaining LA with Patt Morrison

Los Angeles is a complex place. In this weekly dossier, Patt Morrison explains how it works, its history and its culture.

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Only a pandemic (once) and a war (three times) can stop the Rose Parade

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