Mistick Krewe of Comus

From the first day on which its organization began to be whispered around the city, it has been something concerning which the liveliest anticipations have been indulged. Not only have the gorgeous and fantastic processions been the occasion of an out-door demonstration on the part of almost the entire population, but the tableaux and ball which terminate the evening's festivities have ever been a subject of the deepest anxiety in the circles of the best society of our city. The beautiful and costly cards of invitation, and the mysterious manner of their distribution, combine with the social position of those selected, to invest this part of the entertainment with a still deeper interest. It has grown to be a recognized evidence of cast to be the recipient of one of these mysterious biddings, and here is the sole clue we have to the character of the organization.

That the persons composing the "Krewe" have taste and money in abundance is apparent enough: that they belong to our very best society is shown by the position of those whom they choose each year to witness the closing oblations ot their festival. Here the knowledge seems destined to rest forever. When the new organization was first spoken of, it created great interest, and this was increased by the mystery surrounding the affair. The beautiful cards ot invitation issued to their entertainment at the Varieties (then Gaiety) Theatre, coming from - the recipients knew not where - were highly prized, and everybody was on tip-toe of anxiety to know what the new spectacle would be.

First Festival, 1857

  • About nine o'clock in the evening, of February 24th, in this year, the Krewe made their debut on the streets of New Orleans, making' a very unique appearance, resembling a deputation from the lower regions. They called upon Mayor Waterman, then chief magistrate of the Crescent City, and after marching through the streets, the glaring torch-lights, displaying their costumes to much advantage, repaired to the Theatre, where a brilliant assemblage of the beauty and fashion of our city and neighborhood awaited them.

    They represented the different characters with which religion and mythology have peopled the infernal regions, and which Milton has described in his "Paradise Lost." There were four appropriate tableaux, combining the difterent characters, over a hundred in number, after which the barriers were removed, and a brilliant ball commenced, in which the invited guests took part. At 12 o'clock the members of the Krewe silently stole away, leaving their friends to enjoy themselves until the "coming of the gray morn."

  • Second Annual Festival, 1858

  • February 17th, was a beautifully propitious day and the great success of the first parade seemed to have stimulated the Krewe to exert themselves for a grand turn-out. The Krewe assembled in Lafayette square, at nine o'clock, and were met by Mayor Waterman, whom they took prisoner, and marched through the streets with torch-lights and music; everywhere greeted by thousands of spectators. This year the Krewe revived the mythology of olden times in all its glory, presenting the different deities which have for so many ages given subjects for the sculptor's chisel, the poet's pen and the artist's pencil.

    Comus, Momus, Janus, Flora, Diana, Jupiter, and a host of other gods and godesses were presented in a splendid procession, after which at the theatre, four beautiful tableaux were given, at the conclusion of which, as on the first occasion, the dance began and Terpsichore was enthrowned queen of the night.

  • Third Annual Festival, 1859

  • The reputation of the Krewe was now so well established, that long before the arrival of the day - March 8th - the greatest interest was felt as to the coming exhibition. The subject chosen was "Twelfth Night, or the courtly pageant of Misrule" and the elegant manner in which the parade was conceived, and the magnificence of its execution, is yet remembered and often spoken of by those who witnessed it. They first appeared on Orleans street, and proceeded to pay their respects to the mayor; welcomed on every hand by immense crowds who had gathered to see them. Four tableaux were given at the Varieties theatre, which was crowded to overflowing, and the ceremonies wound up with a grand ball, the Krewe disappearing as usual as the hour of twelve was tolled.

  • Fourth Annual Festival, 1860

  • This time the festival came earlier in the year, February 21st, but not too early for the thousands who anxiously looked for the advent of the mistical Krewe, who first appeared on Royal street, and as usual streets, galleries, windows and steps, were crowded with people anxious to see the pageant. The subject chosen was illustrative of American History; there were fifteen cars or wagons, so fashioned as to represent blocks of granite, drawn by horses draped in white, and each containing a group of living statues, representing persons distinguished in the history of our country, from the time of Christopher Columbus, and Sebastian Cabot, to the days of Clay, Calhoun and Webster. At the theatre, ten tableaux or groups were presented to a brilliant assemblage of beauty and fashion among whom were many from a distance who had come to see the famous Krewe. As on former occasions the evening's entertainment wound up with a ball.

  • Fifth Annual Festival, 1861

  • The previous spectacles presented by the Krewe had prepared the people for something grand, and the morning of February 13th was welcomed with pleasure. The maskers on the streets during the day served to increase the interest in the coming visit of the Krewe.

    Between eight and nine o'clock in the evening, the welcome lights from their torches were discovered on Camp street, and as the strains of music from the band accompanying them sounded upon the air, thousands of eyes were turned in their direction, and a thrill of pleasure filled every heart as they came into view, representing "Scenes from Life" in the four divisions of childhood, youth, manhood and old age. The first masker represented Childhood - an infant in a cradle, followed by a nurse. Then came Boyhood surrounded by maskers, representing a kite, a spinning top, sweet cakes, marbles and the things appertaining to that time in life. Then followed Youth, with a crowd of maskers representing the virtues, aspirations, temptations and trials of that period. Manhood came next, with a band of maskers representing the vices, follies, and also the better qualities of mature age. Finally came Old Age, with maskers representing the virtues, and vices which struggle for the mastery of man in his latter days. This group was followed by a masker representing Death - a skeleton in a shroud. The tableaux at the theatre were given in splendid style, and were witnessed by an immense audience ot the elite of our city and State, after which the dancers took possession of the floor.

  • Sixth Annual Festival, 1866

  • The intervention of the "Great Struggle" forced the postponement of everything like social amusement, and the entertainments of the Krewe shared the common late. When peace came, however, the Krewe, whoever they are and wherever they had been, once more gave evidence of life and spirit, and the announcement that they would "walk" again, revived many pleasant memories of the past. The four sad and dreary years since their last parade, were beautifully and magnificently portrayed on the cards and invitations for this year, where the bubbles blown from the "pipe of peace," represented the years 1862, 1863, 1864, and 1865, as obscured by dark clouds. Long before dark, on this day, February 13th, crowds of people were seen gathering on the streets, where it had been hinted in the papers that the Krewe would appear, and the route soon presented a perfect sea of men, women and children, all anxious to welcome the return of the old favorites. Appearing first on Royal street, they called on the Mayor, and after their usual march proceeded to the theiitre, where four tableaux were given, representing "The Past," "The Present," "The Future," and "The Court of Comus." A grand ball wound up the evening's entertainment.

  • Seventh Annual Festival, 1867

  • The festival this year, came on March 5th, and the parade represented "The Triumph of Epicurus." The costumes were elegant, and the arrangement of the procession perfect. The Krewe first appeared on Lafayette Square, but how they got there was a most profound mystery. After their usual march around town, they finally disappeared in the theatre, and then gave their tableaux before an audience which has often been mentioned as brilliant and beautiful. At twelve o'clock the Krewe disappeared, leaving their guests to enjoy the giddy mazes of the dance until the "wee sma' hours ayant the 'twal."

  • Eighth Annual Festival, 1868

  • The interest in the Krewe, if it had ever slumbered, was now fully aroused, and the long-looked for day, February 25th, was welcomed by our entire city, and the fall of evening shades anxiously looked for. The balconies on Canal street, long before dark, were teeming with ladies and children, and streams of people moved to and fro in the streets, all looking for the jolly old Comus, and his merry Krewe. At last they appeared far down on Canal street, a glorious crowd repesenting the Senses, and the enormous nose of the party representing " Smell," the ponderous hands of "Touch," the glaring eyes of "Sight," with the other senses and their appropriate accompaniments, elicited the warmest applause from the thousands of spectators lining the route of their march. As on previous occasions, the evening wound up with tableaux and a ball at the theatre.

  • Ninth Annual Festival, 1869

  • Once more the carnival was drawing to an end, February 9th, was the last day and as usual, New Orleans was full of mirth and revelry. But the grand event was of course the parade of the Mystick Krewe of Comus, and the elegant taste and refinement, so prominent in their entertainments, were never more strongly displayed than in their pageant of this year, founded on Moore's favorite poem of "Lalla Rookh." The gorgeousness of the Eastern costumes, the brilliant beauties in the train, the chivalric knights, with all the approriate surroundings made up a procession that charmed every one who beheld it. The tableaux at the theatre were marked for their correctness of conception, and excellence ot execution, and when the Krewe at their usual hour withdrew to give place to the dancers, every one felt that they had quite eclipsed all their former efforts.

  • Tenth Annual Festival, 1870

  • The fame of the Mystick Krewe of Comus had spread throughout the Union, and there were visitors here from Boston, New York, St. Louis, and other distant cities. In commenting on this spectacle, a Boston journal declared that it was "worth crossing a continent to see." The festival came on March 1st, and long before the appearance of the Krewe, every gallery, window, doorstep and available standing place on the line of march was occupied. The procession illustrated the history of Louisiana, and was greeted with enthusiastic applause along the entire route. At the Varieties theatre the tableaux were given in superb style. At the usual hour the Krewe retired, leaving their guests to enjoy themselves and "chase the glowing hours with flying feet."

  • Eleventh Festival, 1871

  • The spectacle this year was, if anything, grander than that of 1870. It was based upon the majestic epic of Spenser's Faerie Queen, and illustrated in appropriate groupings the principle episode ot that delicate and fanciful creation, which, in the centuries that have elapsed since its birth, has lost no beauty or splendor by comparison. As usual. Camp, St. Charles, Carondelet, Chartres and Royal streets were crowded to suffocation, every window, gallery and available standing place being occupied.

    After visiting the Mayor, and performing the stated line of march Comus, followed by the brilliant pageant of his Krewe, repaired to the Opera House where, in the presence of an overflowing assemblage of invited guests, the Festival was terminated by the usual tableaux.

    The occasion was rounded off with another of those magnificent balls which have, through a long series ot years, maintained a mysterious secrecy only equalled by the splendor with which they are conducted and the unfailing care employed in forming the company of the most select of our residents and visitors.

    The entire aftair was quite up to the standard originally reached by this mystical association, and proved at least one thing - that they were gentlemen of unlimited means and the most distinguished taste.

  • Twelfth Festival, 1872

  • This year the Mystick children of the deity selected as their subject THE DREAMS OF HOMER.

    Perhaps, all things considered, it was their finest effort in the way of pageantry. The immortal characters of the Iliad seemed reproduced from the glowing pages of their historian, and, for the first time in this city, those vague gigantic creations were presented to us in shapes that seemed to embody the dim conceptions of our minds.

    The Greeks under Agamemnon and the Trojans under the old sorrow-stricken King, file by in splendid cohorts, and then come the Gods of Olympus who took such active portions in that memorable war. Following these, the central figures of appropriate groups, came those individual heroes who stand forth in bold relief from Homer's work.

    At the Varieties Theatre the tableaux were given with unusual magnificence and in presence of the same mysteriously selected assemblage.
    The Judgment of Paris.
    The Combat.Hector and Mars, and fierce Diomet! Priam and Cassandra, and the God-like Agamemnon are the umpires.
    Nine groups in this colossal picture, represent the trials of Ulysses.
    Here broad burlesque takes the place of epic heroes, and the clash of brass-clad men is followed by the Battle of the Frogs and Mice.

  • Thirteenth Festival, 1873

  • Never before, perhaps, was pageantry carried to a more brilliant perfection. The unanimous opinion of every one was that the Mystick Krewe had reached the limit of their powers, that no employment of money or energy could surpass that wondrous eftort. Yet a fresh triumph awaited the Krewe on the occasion of their Thirteenth Annual Festival, 1873.

    The morning of February 25th dawned bright and glorious, and found the Crescent City, with its thousands of citizens, and multitudes of visitors prepared for a day of unlimited enjoyment. The brilliant pageant which graced the sunlight hours will be lound in the annals of his majesty the King of the Carnival.

    Here we speak only of the world renowned Mistick Krewe. That they appear before the public but once a year, that no one knows whence they come or whither they go, that their exhibitions are so gorgeous that the sight of one is the memory of a life time, or that thousands of strangers come from all parts of the land expressly to see them, are facts too well known to be repeated. To sum all in a word, those who have seen the Carnival at Rome, do not hesitate to say that it is far surpassed in elaborateness of design by that of our own city. The Krewe never had such a reception before. Heretofore one or two club-houses have been illuminated, but this night THE, ILLUMINATION was almost universal.

Thirteenth Festival, 1873
Along the line of march the illumination was general, the principal features of which were those on CANAL STREET.
The Pickwick Club, corner of Exchange Alley, was brilliant among the brilliant. Beneath the flag-staff, from which floated the royal standard of his Majesty Rex, stood a figure of the immortal Pickwick in the act of addressing the club.
The rooms of the club were ablaze with light. Outside the columns supporting the verandah of the second story were gorgeously illuminated with variegated lights, whilst between each column, tastefully arranged, festoons of Chinese lamps were suspended in the form of arches, which thrilled the beholder with pleasure.
The establishments of Col. S. N. Moody, Messrs. A. B. Griswold & Co., Frederickson & Harte, Giieble & Nippert, Kain & Co., and several other stores were beautifully decorated with variegated lamps, while the Varieties Theatre appeared a perfect blaze of splendor.
THE CHALMETTE CLUB. At the corner of Carondelet a perfect flood of light was cast upon the street from a myriad of jets around the house of this club, which was also decorated with the mystic letters, M. K. C.
Nearly opposite the Chalmette, the dry goods store of D. H. HOLMES was adorned with an immense pelican in ever changing colors, beneath which were suspended the initials, D. H. H.
CARONDELET STREET. THE BOSTON CLUB also put on its Carnival suit in the form of numberless festal lamps, which amply made up for the lack of other illuminations on this street.
ROYAL STREET. THE SHAKESPEARE CLUB, corner of Royal and Customhouse streets, over the famed cigar store of Messrs. Fernandez & Villa, was also beautifully illuminated with the initials of the club and sundry lines of light.
That old ducal palace, THE ST. LOUIS HOTEL, also wore a holiday air, and, in addition to its usual globe lamps, was lighted above and below the verandahs with tastefully arranged jets.
ST, CHARLES STREET presented a scene of almost Oriental splendor, being a perfect blaze of light to the CITY HALL, which was more handsomely adorned than in any former year.
THE ST, CHARLES HOTEL. Along the entire front, at the base of the massive columns, was displayed a line of lights so brilliant as to dim the eye that dared to glance on them, while above, pendent between the columns, were festoons of globe lamps, which made the grand old place look like a palace in Fairy-land.
THE CRESCENT HALL, corner of Canal and St. Charles streets, where that genial and ever popular gentleman, Col. Walter Merriam presides, was brilliantly illuminated and its splendid front looked fresher than ever.
The St. Charles Theatre, the offices of the Times and Picayune, the establishments of Messrs. Heath & Lara, upholsterers, E. C. Palmer & Co., stationers. Rice Bros, & Co., stove and hardware dealers, R. M. & B. J. Montgomery, auctioneers and dealers in furniture, and T. E. Suter, painter, were tastefully illuminated, the front of their respective buildings being decorated with, appropriate designs.
As darkness came on THE THRONGS began to gather. Needless to repeat the serviceworn phrases descriptive of their coming. Let such stereotypes as "long before the appointed hour," "the beauty and elite of the Crescent City," "galleries overflowing and resplendent with the fluttering throng," "multitudes from all parts of the Union." "all along the line of march," etc., etc., be understood as somewhat more intensely and universally applicable than ever before, and we pass at once by all preliminaries.
And yet such a multitude is not to be so summarily elbowed through. The people did not merely gather, they thronged, they swarmed, they massed, in short, they simply came out in myriads.
For the present day, as a day of universal inquiry, as a day of rapid scientific progress, as a day when the people - the whole people are interested hearers at the councils of the sages, and that human nature, which once demanded the circus with its broad claps and laughs and huzzas over the theories and disputes of the doctors; for such a day as to-day, what choice, for the crowning jollity of the Carnival, could have been a more happy, nay, a more natural selection than that of the DARWINIAN THEORY.
After all the investigatioD, discussion, dissension, retraction and contradiction connected with the subject of Man's descent, there was something left unrevealed until this night. After all the savans - Cuvier, Lyell, Huxley, Spencer, Darwin had spoken - it was meet that Comus should have an audience.
The following poem, which has received the universal enconiums of press and people, was composed for the occasion, by one of the most popular writers connected with the New Orleans press, and will give to the reader a better idea of the pageant presented by the Krewe, than any other pen picture we could present.
The transparencies designating the difterent characters assumed by the members and borne before them were inscribed with its witty couplets, and copies of the poem were distributed in the theatre:
First stanza;
The Missing Links to Darwin's Origin of Species.
Oh! mighty Darwin, Monarch of all Sages
Adorning this or long forgotton ages,
Whose magic touch ope's portals paleologic
And shatters seals of periods geologic -
Before whose search, the mysteries of creation
Dissolve like mists of morning exhalation -
Who thread'st the line of life to Nature's germs.
To find God's image in ancestral worms.
(Poem contains 18 very lenghty stanzas, consequently this webmaster has chosen to forgo entire insertion.)