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
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
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