Fiesta, ask anyone from texas but especially anyone from San Antonio what that word means and they will tell you that it means the yearly celebration to commemorate the Battle of the Alamo. Now, most people do not why Fiesta happens just that it does and that it has been going on for a long time. With the first festival in 1891 when local women in decorated carriages and bicycles met in front of the Alamo and threw flowers at each other, flowers taking the place of bullets I suppose. Over time, parades, balls, carnivals, and college drinking days have been added. Over three million people attend each year’s events.
With so much fun going on, there are bound to be some dark moments over the more than 125 years that Fiesta has been happening. And that’s what we are here to remember, April 27, 1979. Now I was only one at the time and still in Mexico so I don’t remember any of this but I will tell you that every year that I would attend any of the Fiesta events, this tragic event was in the back of my mind.
The Battle of the Flowers parade, which is the main event each year, that grew from that first fight with flowers starts just outside of downtown is attended by half a million people each year. The parade, the only one in the country to be planned and organized solely by women, is a huge deal. It’s such a big deal that most of the local school districts have the day off. Some places have days off for religious holidays or for historical events, San Antonio does it for parades. So when a man busted out a motor home and started shooting people, it was a date that was etched into the minds of many.
Ira Attebury was known by bank tellers as “Garlic Boy”, due to his body smell. The day before, the 64-year-old, walked into a Bexar Savings at McCreless Mall and added relatives to an account he owned that had more than $20,000. He got in his motor home and drove to the corner of Broadway and Grayson and waiting overnight for the parade.
At 1:02 p.m., the World War II veteran started shooting and didn’t stop for almost 30 minutes. Before he was done two women, one a mother of 13, would die and over 50 others injured, including over 12 kids. The shooter took his own life with a shot to his head. A SWAT officer later said that he saw “ Dozen of loaded handguns lying on a bed…at least 20 riffles lined up against a wall and stacks of grocery bags filled with ammunition.”
It wasn’t surprising to learn that it was reported that he suffered from mental illness and was high on PCP at the time of the shooing. He was an occasional inmate of mental hospitals, and yet still able to get his hands on weapons. He was paranoid and driven mad by people having fun. He would regularly complain about been harassed by the police and issues with doctors at the VA hospital. He was from Missouri and had moved to San Antonio around a year before the shooting.
1979 was not that long ago but enough time has passed that this part of the cities history has faded from the minds of many. And a large number of people simply don’t know about it because the pain of that day is simply too much for those who do remember to talk about it. I first learned about this tragic moment not too long after I moved to San Antonio. Like many from outside of San Antonio, growing up in California had never heard about Fiesta. I wanted to know what it was about and why the whole thing even went on. It would be one of the many things that had been in the recent history of the city that I lived in that was dark and forgotten.
Often in the days before I had a car and took the city bus would stand on the corner of Broadway and think about that day. A lot has changed. The tire shop from which the shooter parked his motor home is gone. The scars removed from the surface of the city.
The parade and Fiesta go on to this day. It’s grown larger and a high point of the city every year. I’ve taken part in different parades and events more than a few times. The pictures I have taken and that you see here are of much more happy times than that dark day in 1979. We shouldn’t forget these days, they should be teaching moments, but we can’t give in to them either. People’s lives were changed that day.
All pictures expect where noted are by me and taken in 2010 and at the 2019 parades. If you wanna read more click to follow, I wrote a new post 6 days a week and like and share. Follow online, links below.
Sky Scraper Pictures is a travel journal with history.