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    The night after Ali died, Maggie Cassaro and her former classmate spread the petals of a dozen roses across the steps of the Ali Center. The next morning, the petals remained. Cassaro watched as a woman approached the stairs, lifting and dropping a foot at the bottom. “It was like she didn’t know whether to go forward,” Cassaro says. “She started walking, but so gently. I realized that perhaps in her mind she was walking on hallowed ground.”

    The day of Ali’s funeral, Cassaro dropped nearly 90,000 rose petals over the entrance to Cave Hill Cemetery. Eddie Kraft, owner of Nanz and Kraft, contacted every flower distributor within 100 miles. ValuMarket provided roses and assistance. Bags of petals overflowed in Cassaro’s living room and basement. “One person could never accomplish anything like that alone,” she says. (Bob Gunnell, owner of Boxcar PR, said that Lonnie Ali cried when she heard about Cassaro’s proposal.)

    “I knew of no finer way to pay tribute than to kiss Muhammad Ali in his final farewell. As each rose petal fell from my fingers it felt as though I was blowing him a kiss,” Cassaro says.

    Cave Hill told Cassaro that they wanted the petals to remain as long as possible, a physical reminder of Ali and the hallowed ground. But after the hearse passed over the bed of petals, spectators began to collect them. “There were so many people touched by Ali that they wanted to take a piece home with them,” Cassaro says.

    By Jenny Kiefer

     

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