First, Roy Staten, chairman of Maryland's Democratic Party, was going to handle it. Then Gov. Marvin Mandel, acting on orders from Jimmy Carter, took over. Busy with the budget, Mandel soon tapped his top aide, Frank De-Filippo, to take charge. DeFilippo threw up his hands in dismay.

Enter a self-described "damn good Maryland boy" from southern Prince George's County named Earl Hargrove. Hand in hand with Staten, Hargrove assured state officials that he could and would provide Maryland's inaugural float.

Forty-five feet long, 18 feet high, and made with 2,000 yards of tufted satin, it depicts Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, after whom Maryland is named. It also features Matthew Alexander Henson, a black explorer who was the first man in Commodore Peary's party to reach the North Pole, and a woman to sing, "Maryland, My Maryland."

Maryland's entrant in the Jan. 20 Inauguration Day parade, said Staten, "is the most fantastic thing ever put in." Titled "America In Miniature," it will be pulled by an engine hidden in a model of the statehouse, and topped by a flag 22 feet long and 40 feet high.

The float is being built by Hargrove on his Deale, Md., farm. Hargrove said Friday it will "the equal in size and scope" of any other state's float in the parade.

He is in a position to know. In addition to building Maryland's float, Hargrove said he is building floats for South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, California, Arkansas, Alabama and a coalition of trade unions.

"My dad and I have been building floats ever since truman's inauguration in 1949," Hargrove said.

This year, Maryland's float survived a good deal of buck-passing before it landed on Hargrove's farm. Staten said the state party organization "took it over as our duty" to arrange the building of the float, but stopped working on it when Carter assigned responsibility for inaugural floats to the governors of the 50 states.

When Mandel passed the project on to DeFilippo, it was accompanied by appeals from "hundreds" of floatmakers for the contract on the Maryland float.

With no experience in floats-contracting, DeFilippo saidgreat was his relief when Staten reappeared to take the project off his hands.

Here the story gets murky. Usually reliable sources outside the statehouse report that Staten told Mandel he had arranged to secure a float at no cost, Staten scoffs at the idea. "Where do you get anything for free these days?" he asked.

Hargrove's explanation of how he got into the float picture is a simple one. "I'm a damn good Maryland boy," he said, "and I went down to the statehouse and told 'em, 'You've got the best floatbuilder in the country here, and you ought to use him.'"

In any event, the board of public works - a body composed of the governor, the state treasurer, and the state comptroller, which must approve all state contracts and leases - later approved a payment of $10,000 to Hargrove for the float.

Both Staten and Hargrove said the total cost of the float is more than $12,500. Hargrove said he donated $2,500 out of his pocket because he knew the state would be willing to pay no more than $10,000. Staten said he will use Democratic party funds to pay about $1,000 in costume and recording costs.

The float is designed to show the highlights of life in Maryland. In addition to the queeen and Henson, it will show the Goddard Space Flight Center, statues of watermen and a plowman, the Naval Academy, and a hard hat laborer.

The District of Columbia float, which is supposed to cost $5,000, will feature a model of the Capitol dome, a copy of the D.C. seal, representatives of five ethnic groups and senior citizens. Its theme is unity.

The State of Virginia will not send a float.