Last Sunday, the Herald on Sunday carried a lengthy piece about that famous night. We've held it back until today; the actual anniversary; here's how it began:
For Sir Murray Halberg, it was a night tinged with death and sadness. For Peter Snell, it was the moment he realised he wasn't just an 800m runner.
For athletics official (and an athlete himself) Toby Bowyer, it was a time when the police detective didn't mind suffering 'grievous bodily harm' at the hands of jubilant coach Arthur Lydiard.
For Nick Willis, Wanganui's Cooks Gardens has a special significance too - which is why he is the star turn at Friday's track meeting there to celebrate Snell's world mile record set on January 27, 1962.
That night, a menacing black cloud hung over Wanganui. Outside the town, rain pelted down and threatened to put a dampener on the Agfa International Athletic Meeting. But at Cooks Gardens, apart from that cloud, the evening was still and perfect.
"It was almost an eerie thing," recalls Sir Murray Halberg, who was trying to warm up for the programme's feature race under the weight of some tragic news.
The reigning Olympic 5000m champion had promised to help his mate Snell become the first man to break four minutes for the mile in New Zealand.
The pair, both coached by the legendary Lydiard, had already contributed a unique piece of Kiwi sporting history, winning gold medals within an hour of each other at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
Halberg held the national mile record at 3m 57.5s, achieved in the same race that Australian Herb Elliott had set the existing world mark in Dublin four years earlier. Now he was expected to help break his own record.
But Halberg was struggling with the revelation that a training buddy had died on the trip south from Auckland. Popular Owairaka athlete Peter Hitchens had drowned while swimming off Foxton Beach.
"Whenever I think about that night, I think about Peter Hitchens," reflects Sir Murray. "He was a middle distance runner, a typical enthusiastic harrier and a good club member. I heard about his death before the race but I don't think we told Peter [Snell] until afterwards."
Out on the track, Toby Bowyer was checking and re-checking the markings. As clerk of the course, his job was to ensure the circuit was correctly laid out and, if records were broken, that task would become doubly important.
"I had to make sure everything was running right and all the pegs were in the right place," explains Bowyer, a detective at the time. "It was all surveyed beforehand and right up to scratch."
In the book Peter Snell: From Olympian to Scientist (2007), written by Garth Gilmour, Snell would describe the grass surface as bare in patches and not particularly beautiful, "but as a running surface in the conditions that prevailed, it was excellent".
The gathering crowd of 15,000 was expecting something special. While Snell, then 23, fully expected to better four minutes and perhaps challenge Halberg's national record, he was annoyed to find Lydiard had predicted a time of 3m 55s in the local paper.
"If I did end up running well inside four minutes, I preferred it to be something better than expected," he said later.
It was a magical night for Sir Peter Snell, and for the thousands who turned out to watch the event. And it was replayed in 1992 when a re-run was staged, and all the surviving athletes returned to Wanganui to run the race again. Naturally, Peter Snell won!
There's a big athletics meeting in Wanganui tonight to celebrate Snell's achievemnt, and his inextricable link with the River City. Unfortunately, Snell himself won't be there, but American runner Bruce Tulloh will be; he ran second to Snell on that famous January night.
And although there's no longer a grass track at Cooks Gardens, Olympic silver medallist Nick Willis will run tonight, and he too has strong links to the venue; his father was there on 27 January 1962, and Willis himself holds the fastest mile time on the new Cooks Gardens track; 3:52.75.
We might just have to wander down to Cooks Gardens tonight, and celebrate the achievement of an athlete who can truly be described as one of the greats.