The legacy continues
It began in 1957 with four men who recognized the need to create a special event preceding the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. The committee felt the project should be a civic-oriented, annual activity keyed to the 500-Mile Race. The deadline to complete all the needed details for such an undertaking was set in stone to be up and running within 60 days. It was a mighty task, but where there’s a will, there had to be a way. The "dream-makers" conceived the name "500 Festival" and charted the steps they felt would be needed to launch the project. For the first Festival, only a parade, a ball and a square dance were planned.
One of the three original events produced by the 500 Festival, the Parade, has grown to be one of the signature events in the U.S. each year. The IPL 500 Festival Parade consistently ranks among the nation's top three parades, among the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
The first year, both the parade and the ball were held on the same evening at 7 p.m., the night before the race. Units of the parade included nearly every high school band in the Indianapolis area, the Purdue University Marching Band, various marching units and clowns from the Murat Temple, the Indianapolis Police Department Motorcycle Drill Team, the Culver Military Academy Black Horse Troop, marchers from the Guard’s 38th Division and other local military organizations, 20 floats and all 33 pace cars. Actress Cyd Charisse, wrapped in ermine, and Hugh O’Brien, television’s "Wyatt Earp," perched on the backs of convertibles and waved to a crowd of over 150,000 people lining the parade route.
Today, the 500 Festival has grown to encompass the nation’s largest half-marathon and one of the nation’s premier parades. The month-long celebration culminates a year of planning by volunteers guided by the 500 Festival, a not-for-profit organization directed by a board of 35 community leaders and operated by a full-time staff of 18. Approximately 3,000 volunteers help coordinate the IPL 500 Festival Parade, while nearly 300,000 parade goers line the streets of Indianapolis to watch. Today’s Parade is made up of more than 80 entries, including celebrities, race car drivers, floats, bands, balloons and special units.
The journey that started with a handful of civic-minded individuals has created a history that all Hoosiers can look to with pride, a sense of involvement and a growing feeling of community accomplishment.
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