• The Carnival and Mardi Gras

    The Carnival is New Orleans' most distinctive social feature, and no guidebook to the city would be complete without reference to this world-famed fete, so magnificent in its conception, so gorgeous in its pageantry, so thorough in the perfection of even the most minute detail of its marvelous scope, that competent historians and critics have declared that the famous spectacular tribute of ancient Rome, with all their barbaric wealth and splendor, never surpassed in beauty the wonderful parades of New Orleans.

  • Year after year thousands of spectators travel hundreds of miles to participate in the festivities, and the magnificent success of this unique fete has often inspired other cities to attempt to rival it. But New Orleans remains supreme as the "Carnival City." She established the festival on American soil, and made and won the laurels which she wears so proudly. No rival can ever wrest them from her brow. For it is not only money and pageantry that make a carnival. The people themselves must be a part of it In New Orleans all combines towards the end; the lavish expenditure on the part of a few public-spirited citizens to make all the people happy for just a few days, the hearty response from the depths of the great popular heart, the gracious hospitality with which the stranger is welcomed and bidden to be one of New Orleans' great family of merrymakers, all unite in giving to our Mardi Gras a distinctive character, whose impression remains and yearly adds to the immense throngs that crowd our Carnival streets.

  • In the average mind the words

  • "Carnival" and "Mardi Gras"

    are supposed to be synonyms. But there is a fine distinction. The "Carnival" properly speaking, begins with the grand ball of the "Twelfth Night Revellers," on January 6, and culminates with the magnificent festivities of "Mardi Gras," or "Fat Tuesday," which is the eve of Ash Wednesday, and marks the close of festivities and the beginning of the Lenten Season. The word "Carnival" is derived from the Latin words "carne," "flesh," and "vale," "farewell," or "farewell, flesh." The great popular features of the New Orleans Carnival are the gorgeous street pageants that take place in the week ending on Ash Wednesday.

  • Our Carnival parades date back to the year 1827, when a number of young Creole gentlemen, who had just returned from Paris, whither they had been sent to complete their education, conceived the idea of organizing a street procession of maskers. It was a success. The celebration continued year after year on a grander scale, the whole populace taking up the idea. Mardi Gras was, however, in those days essentially different from what it is now. There was more promiscuous masking. The streets were thronged with quaint, picturesque, grotesque bands of maskers of every age, rank, sex and condition, and their costumes ran the whole gamut from the polichinelle or clown, with his jingling bells, monkeys and polar bears, devils, with red horns, and dominoes of all colors, to kings and queens and knights and ladies of the olden time. An exclusive ball in the old St. Louis Hotel or the Salle d'Orleans followed, while the city generally had its festive gatherings, and fun and merriment reigned. Mardi Gras was also a great day with the boys, who, clothed in dominoes, old calico dresses or bagging, masked themselves, and, armed with a stout hickory stick and a bag of flour, promenaded the streets, seeking for victims upon whom to exercise their mischievous spirit. Their depredations, however, were limited to such as wore the Carnival uniform, and consisted principally in throwing flour and confetti. The flour, confetti and hickory sticks have disappeared, and the number of promiscuous street maskers is growing gradually less each year, but many of the ancient distinctive features of the day still remain, the ball at the old St. Louis Hotel having been the inauguration of the grand Carnival balls which are special features of the celebrations to-day.

  • The various customs that still maintain indicate the

  • Roman Origin of the Festivities.

    Paris derived her Carnival from the Eternal City, and New Orleans derived hers from Paris, so that the historian may trace the genealogy of the celebration far back into pagan times, when the sacrifice of the Lupercalia formed the great festival of ancient Rome. It seems fitting, also, that, since New Orleans derived its old-time Carnival from Paris, the system of street pageants of moving tableaux should also have been introduced into New Orleans from an old French city of the new world.

  • The idea of reproducing scenes from history, poetry, folk-lore or fairyland on floats drawn about the streets was first inaugurated in Mobile by an organization known as the Cowbellions, in 1831. New Orleans continued her street processions, begun in 1827, on Mardi Gras, having quite an extensive one in 1837, and another still more brilliant in 1839. Attention was now being paid also to the purely spectacular part of the pageant, a feature of the procession of 1839 being an immense cock over six feet high, riding in a carriage and delighting the crowds with stentorian crows. In 1857 a society called the "Mystick Krewe," now known as the

  • Mystic Krewe of Comus,

    was organized. The Picayune especially exploited the extraordinary secrecy which shrouded its movements, and stimulated the curiosity of the public to the highest degree in regard to its appearance. Mardi Gras, Feb. 24, at 9 o'clock, the Krewe appeared for the first time on the streets, coming whence no one could say, and presenting a gorgeous series of moving tableaux representing scenes of the infernal regions, taken from Milton's "Paradise Lost" After the' parade the Krewe repaired to the Varieties Theatre, where a series of appropriate tableaux were presented, the subjects, "The Diabolic Powers," "The Expulsion from Paradise," the "Conference of Satan and Beelzebub" and "Pandemonium," being in keeping with the character of the pageant. A grand ball followed the tableaux, far surpassing the first effort in this direction in 1889 in the old St. Louis ballroom, or the exclusive displays which from 1840 to 1845 so delighted pleasure-loving New Orleans. It took rank with the memorable ball of 1852, given in the old Orleans Theatre, and which for gorgeousness of decorations, richness of toilettes and brilliancy of effect has never been surpassed in New Orleans.

  • The Mystick Krewe of Comus continued to give annual displays till 1861, when the tragedy of the Civil War for a time put an end to the pretty gayeties of the Carnival. In 1866, after the restoration of peace, Comus resumed his entertainments, giving a grand street parade and an exclusive ball annually until 1884, with the exceptions of the years 1875, 1879 and 1883. From 1884 to 1890 Comus did not appear. In the latter year, however, the merry God of Revelry delighted the popular heart by reappearing upon the streets in a magnificent series of tableaux, representing the "Pangenesis of the Mystick Krewe's Life and Work," or a review of its own history. Since that period Comus has never failed to delight the Carnival City with an annual display. It is the oldest of the Carnival organizations,

  • The Twelfth Night Revelers,

    the second of the mystic organizations, came into existence in 1870. It derives its name from the night it celebrates, January 6, or the twelfth night after Christmas. For several years the organization gave annual street pageants, very much on the same style as Comus, but varying in the treatment. The first parade was in 1871, and the subject presented was "Mother Goose's Tea, Party." The revellers went out of existence in 1876, but reorganized in 1894, when they gave a grand masquerade ball. Since then the society has annually entertained Its friends at the French Opera House on Twelfth Night. The ball is very interesting, reproducing all the old Creole customs and observances of Twelfth Night, such as the cutting of the Twelfth Night or King's Cake, in which are hidden the gold and silver mystic beans. The one who gets the slice containing the gold bean becomes "King" or "Queen," as the case may be, and the finders of the silver beans become the royal attendants.

  • Rex

    made his first appearance in 1872. This organization was started for the purpose of bringing all the maskers of the city together for the entertainment of the Grand Duke Alexis, who was in that year the guest of the City. The Grand Duke reviewed the procession from the portico of the City Hall. Rex has appeared ever since, and is called the "King of the Carnival." His court is composed of Dukes and Peers of the Realm, appointed from the best circles of the City. Like all the other organizations, Rex chooses a Queen, and this lady, invested with royal symbols, is known as the "Queen of the Carnival." The entry of the King into his Carnival City takes place the Monday preceding Mardi Gras, and is a magnificent display, in which are seen all the Dukes. and Peers of the Realm, forming the royal escort, the household of His Majesty, the royal baggage, etc. He is supposed to come from a distant country* and a gayly bedecked fleet of vessels of all sorts proceeds down the river to meet him and escort his yacht to the landing-place at the foot of Canal Street Having arrived, amid the booming of cannon and the clash of martial music, a parade is formed, and the King and his court are escorted through the principal streets by all the local and visiting military to the Carnival Palace. At the City Hall the Mayor of New Orleans presents the King with the keys of the city on a silken cushion, on which are embroidered the royal arms. Rex accepts them, and no ruler enjoys greater privileges or has more loyal subjects than this merry monarch of a day. The annual parades, which have continued since 1872, take place about noon on Mardi Gras, and are gorgeous spectacles. At night Rex gives a magnificent ball at the Royal Palace, Washington Artillery Hall. The ballroom and throne room are splendidly decorated, and for three days after the Carnival are open to visitors. Mardi Gras is a legal holiday in New Orleans.

  • The first appearance of the

  • Knights of Momus

    also made memorable the Carnival of 1872. Momus first gave his parades on the last day of the year, but in 1876 the organization changed the time of the processions to Carnival week. The first parade represented scenes from Scott's romance, "The Talisman." "The Coming Race," a humorous and satirical forecast of the progress of evolution, was the subject in 1873. Momus did not appear in 1874, 1875 or 1879, but the intervening years down to 1886 were marked by displays of great richness and beauty. In 1886, after a magnificent parade and ball, the Knights of Momus ceased to* participate in the Carnival. In 1889 the organization entertained its friends at the French Opera House with beautiful tableaux from "The Culprit Fay/* by Drake. In 1892 the gorgeous panorama of "Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp" was given. Annually since then the Knights of Momus have given at the French Opera House a grand ball and tableaux, which attract the elite of the social world. In the Carnivals of 1900, 1901, 1902 and 1903, the society was again represented by a street pageant of great beauty on the Thursday night preceding Mardi-Gras.

  • The Krewe of Proteus

    was organized in 1882, appearing first on Mardi Gras Eve of that year in a series of brilliant tableaux, "The Dream of Egypt." Since that time Proteus has not allowed a single year to pass without adding a brilliant contribution to the Carnival festivities in its magnificent parade and ball. The fancy of the artist, the thought of the historian, the dream of the poet, are allowed free scope in the magnificent portrayal of subjects for pageant and tableaux, whether in "A Trip to Fairyland," as in 1893, or in "E Pluribus Unum," Proteus' idea of the States of the American Union, as expressed in twenty moving tableaux in 1899. Year by year the beauty and grace of the pageantry elicit the admiration of all observers.

  • The Krewe of Nereus,

    organized in 1895. is the most youthful but one of the Carnival societies. For several years the Krewe limited its efforts to giving a ball at the French Opera House. But in 1900 it supplemented this entertainment with a beautiful street pageant, mounting its tableaux on trolley cars, which afforded opportunity for a beautiful display of electric illuminations.

  • Several other Carnival organizations, the Krewe of Consus, the Atlanteans, the Elves of Oberon, the High Priests of Mithras, confine themselves to giving one ball annually during the Carnival period. The Carnival of 1898 witnessed the revival of the. Phunny Phorty Phellows, a society nearly a quarter of a century old, which formerly delighted the populace with a daylight procession of Mardi Gras, the themes selected being always of a humorous character.

The balls given by the various organizations having street parades begin immediately after the parade has concluded, and generally occur at the French Opera House, the maskers being put down from the floats as these draw up before the venerable lyric temple. It is a wonderful sight to see the maskers descending; the flaring torches, the ever-changing colors, the glittering tableaux, the marvelous richness and beauty of the costumes, the managers shouting orders, the staring crowds, all combine to make the scene a memorable one.

Admission to these balls is by invitation only, and the cards are not transferable. Admission cards are distributed only through nomination by members of the secret organizations. Strangers who have no friends through whom their names may be presented and communicated to the societies, may write a note asking for invitations. If ratified by the committee, invitations will be sent to the writer's address. Rex's ball is the popular one, and the attendance often numbers 30,000. Invitations to this ball may also be procured by applying to the Mayor. Nevertheless, the admission is hedged about with many restrictions, and to be honored with an invitation is supposed to confer a certain social rank not otherwise obtainable.

It is the custom of each organization to appoint a lady to preside as its

"Queen,"

and to select one of their number to exercise the brief sovereignty of King, representing "Rex," "Comus," "Proteus," "Momus;" "Nereus," etc., as the case may be. The King often exercises the privilege of choosing his consort, and always presents her with magnificent jewels. For a week preceding the ball these handsome ornaments, crown and scepter, necklace and girdle, may be seen in the show window of some Canal Street jeweler, or store on some other principal thoroughfare. The jewels are usually made in Paris, and are very costly. The "Queen" chooses her maids of honor, who occupy with her one of the proscenium boxes at the Opera House during the presentation of tableaux. The box directly opposite is always reserved for the Queen and maids of the preceding year. After the tableaux, the pretty ceremony of the coronation of the Queen takes place, then the dancing of the Royal Quadrille. This is followed by several beautiful dances, in which the maskers lead out the young ladies who have been specially honored with a previous invitation. These ladies occupy special seats in a body in the parquette, and to be "called out" by a masker is considered a great mark of distinction, while to be "Queen" of one of the balls is an honor that clings to the recipient through smiles and tears in this quaint old city. Bach young lady who is called out receives from the masker who has so honored her some beautiful gift, generally of jewelry, and the air of mystery surrounding the giver makes it all the more appreciated. Before the ball is over each masker has divested himself of dainty accessories in the way of badges, scepters, rings and other ornamentation, and presented them to the lady of his choice. Of course, she is not supposed to know who the donor is, and many a time she does not. These are only some of the very pleasant courtesies that make these Carnival festivities unique and happy memories. Many a love match is made on Mardi Gras night, and "once Queen, forever Queen," has grown to be a pretty Carnival motto, just as the King's royal anthem always remains "If Ever I Cease, to Love."

At the Comus ball the principal event is the visit of the King and Queen of the Carnival to the King and Queen of Comus. All the forms of royalty are studiously observed.

How the Parades are Managed.

The Carnival parades are managed by bodies of private citizens of the highest social standing, who form the famous Carnival organizations. These gentlemen spare no expense out of their own private means to make these street pageantry as beautiful, as magnificent and as instructive as possible. The excuse of a single display ranges from $20,000 to $30,000, and sometimes higher. The people are not taxed anything. They have only to come from their homes and enjoy; and so with the thousands of strangers who find such a warm welcome in New Orleans.

The work of the Carnival organizations in the preparation of these magnificent street pageants is shrouded in impenetrable mystery. Besides exciting the curiosity of the public to the highest degree, the strict secrecy maintained enables the organizations to begin their preparations for the next parade almost as soon as one is off the street.

In each organization the system of work is as complete, in a way, as an established government, and the discipline maintained is like that of a small army.

Bach association has its own floats, ladders, housing for the draft-horses and disguises for the torch-bearers. None of the organizations have any known permanent meeting-place.

The association consists generally of about 250 members, mostly leading clubmen, and it may be remarked that many of them have grown old in the service, and are grandfathers. In getting up the parades about 100 gentlemen are selected to appear in the display; the remainder are utilized for duties, much more onerous than is generally supposed.

Mardi Gras is scarcely over before a meeting of the organization is summoned, and plans are taken into consideration for the next parade. A design committee is selected, the head of which is called the "Captain," and he is invested with absolute power. The artist is then summoned for consultation. Each committeeman proposes a subject for treatment, drawn from history, poetry, mythology, fairy lore or modern topics. Often the subject requires extraordinary research to portray it properly and accurately. A half dozen of the best of these suggestions are given to the artist, who makes a series of rough ore yon sketches, which are presented about a month after the first meeting. The final selection of a subject is always a difficult problem. Once the decision is made, the work begins in earnest. The artist is directed to make a drawing of each float as it will appear in full parade, and also to prepare sketches of each of the hundred or more costumes to be worn by the maskers. Bach study is elaborately finished and inscribed with the name of every material which is to enter into the composition. These undergo the criticism of the design committee. Such modifications or additions as are suggested are made, and the characters are so distributed among the members of the association as to harmonize with individual peculiarities. Bach card is then labeled on the back with a memorandum giving the height, size, girth, etc., of the gentleman who is to wear the costume. The

Designing of the Floats

is the hardest part of the artist's task. Each float is done in water colors on a scale about twenty times as large as the costume card. Several sets are made, one with each figure duly numbered and posted as it is to appear in the street parade, is hung upon the wall of the clubroom in which the meetings are held, there to be scrutinized and criticized diligently by the members. Another set with the individual costume cards as marked, is sent to the manufacturer.

These preliminaries are usually over by July 1. In the meantime, the papier mache workers are busy molding the different accessories required to decorate each float. The costumes are usually received by December 1. As soon as they arrive they are carried with utmost secrecy to the "Den," as the mysterious clubroom of the organization is generally called. Each suit is found packed in a separate case and carefully labeled; they are taken out and arranged on a long table, each surmounted by its own' corresponding picture. The members come and try on their individual suits, and for weeks thereafter the Court tailors, armorers and milliners are kept busy making such alterations as are necessary in the fit, makeup, etc. When this immense task is satisfactorily accomplished, each costume is replaced in its proper case, and is duly numbered. It is then locked up and laid aside for the eventful night.

In the meantime, the Float Committee, which has been furnished with a third set of designs, has been busy at the

Float "Den,"

located in some out-of-the-way place, usually the yard of an abandoned cotton-press, where the building up of the floats has been going on quietly, noiselessly, and with the most profound secrecy; though numbers of carpenters, painters, gilders, papier mach6 workers, etc., arc employed for months and months, strange to say, the secret of the place is so well guarded that the public has no clue to its location or ever learns aught of the preparations in progress. The "Ball Committee/ which arranges for the grand function at the Opera House which invariably follows the parade, is also busy; the balls are opened with a series of tableaux, embracing all the characters that have appeared in the procession. The work of drilling the participants in these tableaux is not the least part of the general preparations. On the date fixed for the parade.

All is Bustle and Excitement at the "Den."

If the parade is to take place at night the preparations begin about 2 o'clock in the afternoon; if during the day, they begin almost at sunrise. All the drivers, torch-bearers, attendants, etc., are on the scene being drilled anew in the various duties that each is to perform with military precision. The boxes containing the costumes were removed during the dead of night to some building in the vicinity of the yard where the floats are waiting. Every precaution has been taken to prevent the public from even guessing to what purpose this building is being applied. Exits from other houses are cut into it, the windows are kept darkened, and the main doorways are never opened.

At the appointed hour the members begin to arrive. They bring their for- mal evening dress with them. This they place in the boxes in lieu of the costumes, in which they proceed to deck themselves. If it is to be a night parade, by 7 o'clock all are dressed. The roll is called, and the characters, securely masked, take their places in line and undergo a last formal inspection. In the meantime, a committee has traversed the route over which the pageant is to pass, to see that the street is free from all obstructions. The committee reports all in readiness, and shortly after a squad of police makes its appearance. It clears the streets and establishes a cordon around the yard for about four or five squares. The torch-bearers are marshaled on the left side of the open space, under the command of officers, who are stationed at regular intervals. The floats are driven out of the press yard. The "Captain" calls the numbers, and each gentleman, hearing his special numeral, takes his place upon the float to which he has been assigned. This is driven off expeditiously, to make way for its successor. . The bands of music are then marched in position, the torchmen surround the cars, and the

Procession is Ready to Move,

in remarkably short order. The "Captain" once more rides along the line to ascertain that everything is as it should be, the signal is given, and the procession moves quietly and in darkness to the nearest large thoroughfare. A rocket, piercing the evening sky with a lurid line of light, announces to the waiting multitudes that throng all the line of march that the mysterious Krewe is ones again on the streets to delight their pleasure-loving hearts. Suddenly there Is a blaze of light, for the torches are lit and encircle each float in a brilliant parallelogram of fire, and the streets are transformed into pictures of Fairyland. The Krewe has come, whence no one knows; it will return, where, no one can tell; but it is here; it tells its own story of the time, the labor, the thought, the money that have been expended so lavishly, so unselfishly for this pleasure of a few fleeting hours. And it is because of this sweet sentiment underlying all, the utter unselfishness and thought of others that the Carnival is so dear to our people.

No matter what route has been selected, the parade winds up at the French Opera House at about 10 o'clock. Here the maskers dismount and the floats disappear in the darkness from which they emerged. The boxes containing the dress suits of the members have, in the meantime, been conveyed from the "Den" to the dressing-rooms of the Opera House.

Within the great temple

All is Light and Beauty.

Tiers upon tiers are occupied by the most beautiful and brilliant women of the city and lady guests from other States. The Queen of the evening is there with her court, and the Queen and court, of the previous year. Dozens of the most beautiful girls, who expect to be "called out," occupy honored seats within the ribbon enclosure of the parquette. The curtain rises upon a brilliant series of tableaux, after which the royal quadrille is danced, and after three or four dances reserved for the maskers and the young ladies who have received special invitations in advance, the floor is free to all, and the maskers mingle with the brilliant throng. As 12 o'clock strikes the maskers disappear quietly, one by one. A few moments afterwards they return dressed in the conventional evening society garb. They are obliged to present their invitations at the doors like everyone else, so that it is absolutely impossible to obtain a clue to their identity with the character personated during the parade. A great deal of mirth and laughter follow, the rippling echo of some pretty girl who is sure that she has found a clue, the gay badinage, the merry dance, and then the deepening skies without and the shrill crow of some neighboring cock, announce that it is "Ash Wednesday morn."

The ball is over, the masquers have fled; the Carnival of that year is a thing of the past, and New Orleans, with a sigh for the bright hour of sunshine that was hers, puts on one more a serious garb and says: "Come, children, let us *>hut up the box and the puppets; turn we to better things."

The Carnival of 1904

will be in many respects the most brilliant ever known in New Orleans. Since 1891) there has been a disposition to prolong and elaborate the ceremonies, in order to still better compensate the enormous crowds that throng our city in Carnival Week. The festivities will begin on February 11, when the Knights of Momus will parade. On Monday, February 15, the arrival of Rex will be made the occasion of a daylight parade, and at night the Krewe of Proteus will parade. The following morning, February 16, is Mardi Gras, and Rex will marshal his court and people in a street pageant. At night Comus will close the Carnival in a blaze of glory. And so with the Carnivals to come; each will outrival the preceding effort.

Special Carnival Editions of the Picayune,

beautifully illustrating the parades of Proteus and Comus can be obtained on application at the Picayune office.

During the next three years Mardi Gras will fall on the following dates: March 7, 1905, February 27, 1906, February 12, 1907.

The Picayune's Guide to New Orleans, 1904
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