LEJ's Blog

My Photo
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Leonard Earl Johnson (photo credit Frank Parsley) covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for ConsumerAffairs.com. He is a contributor to Gambit Weekly, New Orleans Magazine, SCAT, Baton Rouge Advocate, Advocate Magazine, The Times-Picayune, Country Roads Magazine, Palm Springs Newswire and the anthologies: FRENCH QUARTER FICTION (Light of New Orleans Publishing), LOUISIANA IN WORDS (Pelican Publishing), LIFE IN THE WAKE (NOLAfuges.com), and more. Johnson is a former Merchant Seaman, and columnist at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans; and African-American Village. Attended Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Piney Point, Maryland. Winner of the Press Club of New Orleans Award for Excellence, 1991, and given the Key to The City and a Certificate of Appreciation from the New Orleans City Council for a Gambit Weekly story on murder in the French Quarter.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

LEJ's Mardi Gras Glossary / February 2017

LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp
 written by Leonard Earl Johnson
of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana
Archives: www.LEJ.org

* * * * * * * * * * * 

February 2017

LEJ's Mardi Gras 

BY  Leonard Earl Johnson

© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

   Society of Ste Anne marching on Rue Royale at Kerlerec,  New Orleans Mardi Gras   /    by Janis Turk
LEJ.org at Parc Sans Souci, Lafayette
 photo credit   Frank Parsley
* *

Terms used by everyone from Rex to thee!

Janis Turk  and  Karissa Kary                                         photo Janis Turk
* *

Many Yankee traders will awaken at home the week after Mardi Gras, with moss-stuffed voodoo dolls staring at them bewilderingly from atop their desks and computers.

They dance with our musicians, dine with our chefs, envision their offing with thoughts from our artists, captains, and dockside philosophers and then they dance off home with our rhythms and slang bouncing in their ears, and a peptic reflux marching in their tummies.
Wshow them our "dis and dats," and they fill our hotels.  We give them beads and they pay our rent and laugh at our jokes. 

"Ever hear the one about the tourist who ate the paper bag at Antoine's?"
* * *

Carnival is like the Catholic Church,  
the deeper you look the more there is to see.

Carnival celebrants /  NOLa
Carnival Season ~ 
Begins every year on January 6, but ends at different days on the calendar ~ but always on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent ~ a day that, by Canon Law, changes location in the month. 

This is done to keep Lent ever forty-suffering days long.  To achieve this Carnival shrinks some years. Swells others. 2017 is one of the longer Carnivals.

Shrovetide (
les Jours Gras) ~ The last three days of Carnival Season.  Sunday is for going to Mass; Monday and Tuesday are called Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras ~ Fat Monday and Fat Tuesday respectively ~ and they are for everything you probably think Carnival is about. 

Mardi Gras for the next few years  
February 28, 2017; 
February 13, 2018; 
March 5, 2019; 
February 25, 2020; 
February 16, 2021; 
March 1, 2022; 
February 21, 2023; 
February 13, 2024; 
March 4, 2025; 
February 17, 2026; 
February 9, 2027.


"It moves," L. A. Norma says, "it's alive!"

Ball (tableau ball) ~ A masked party featuring performances of scenes in still-life representing a specific theme.  Can be deadly dull.  Can be uproariously funny.  

Moveable tableaus on Carnival Day (Mardi Gras) 
are the funniest.  Who can forget the Westbank Big Hair Emergency Repair Krewe marching along fixing misshapen bouffants along parade routes of yore?

Boeuf Gras ~ The fatted bull or ox representing sweetly excessive death-to-the-fat, and the beginning of Lenten abstinence (true death).  Said 
by journalist-emeritus and Mardi Gras overseers Arthur Hardy, and Errol Laborde to be the most photographed sight of Carnival.

Boeuf Gras ~ Rex parade ~ Mardi Gras ~ NOLa

Captain ~ Leader of each Mardi Gras organization.

Court ~ The king, queen, maids and dukes of each Mardi Gras organization.  There is a hierarchy here culminating in Rex.  However, no court or krewe is more important than the one you are in.

Rex Doubloon                                     Wikipedia

Rex ~ One of the "Big Four" ~ oldest four krewes of New Orleans Carnival ~ founded in 1872 by a group calling itself, The School of Design. Ponder such a krewe name ~ with its religious, mythological and historical resonance ~ and you will see dimly into the mysteries of Carnival.  
 * * *
Doubloons ~ Coin-like objects bearing some 
Krewe insignia on one side and the parade theme on the obverse.  Doubloons were first introduced 1959-60 by New Orleans artist H. Alvin Sharpe They were gold colored aluminium and first thrown by Rex in 1960.  For a few years they were generically called Rex Doubloons. Today doubloons are thrown by many krewes in various colors, themes and names. 

Favor ~ This is a personalized souvenir.  Given by organization members to friends.

InvitationA non-transferable printed request for attendance at a Mardi Gras ball.

King Cake ~ This is an oval cake (traditionally brioche but today anything)
King Cake with Baby

 in Mardi Gras tricolor, with a plastic baby doll hidden inside. The baby doll is loosely seen as the Epiphanous  Baby Jesus, and concurrently all temporal joys-on-Earth. 

Songwriter/singer/musician Al Johnson's beloved Carnival Time opens with the line, "The Green Room is smokin' and the Plaza's burnin' down / Throw my Baby out the window, let those joints burn down..." An act of rescue or callous disregard?  
as we see it in New Orleans, both!

 The person who finds the doll is crowned "King" and buys the next colorful cake and gives the next party.

In New Orleans, the first Carnival parade each year is organized by a happily knit group of swells on Twelfth Night, January 6 (King Cake Day, a.k.a. Epiphany). This krewe calls themselves the Phuny Phorty Phellows

Phunny Phorty Phellows  Street Car Parade / NOLA.com
They are made up of a 1981-incarnation of 1878 revelers ~ who  neither looked nor acted much like anyone today.  Originally parading on foot on Mardi Gras Day behind Rex. Today they ride the Saint Charles Streetcar in colorful costumes, on Epiphany night. Sometimes with brassy music. Around car stops and the Car Barn can be good spots to see this first-of-season show.

Krewe ~ a generic term for all Carnival organizations and clubs. Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology are sources for half the krewe names.  Some clubs are named after neighborhoods, while others are named after historical figures or places.

Rio parade, Lafayette

Amid large parades i
n Acadiana's Hub City of Lafayette rolls the samba-swinging Krewe of Carnival en Rio.


Clubs are chartered by most cities as non-profit entities and are financed by dues, by sale of krewe-emblemed merchandise to members (who give them as favors) and by fund-raising projects.  Mardi Gras krewes are sometimes involved in charity work. But not much.

Lundi Gras ~ French for Fat Monday (Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday).  "Fat" is a broad term for prosperity and joy, the very things being done in Carnival-excess before somber Lent takes them all away.

The Day before Mardi Gras from 1897 to 1917 was celebrated by arrival of Rex aboard a steamboat on the Mississippi River.  In 1987, under the New Orleans Mayoralty of Sidney 

Barthelemy, a local
Courtesy of Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club
 book-learned Creole Catholic-

seminarian turned Tulane trained master-of-sociology ~ with mild manners and movie star looks ~ revived the practice. Ultimately with the addition of King Zulu.  

Each year since ~ aboard separate vessels, and for the last few years, Rex has come on the streetcar.  

Zulu and Rex arrive at Spanish Plaza and greet each other, at the foot of Poydras Street. 

"One River Two Boats!"  ~  L. A. Norma wrote at the time in a letter to the old Times-Picayune daily.


Comus ~ One of the oldest krewesFirst paraded in 1857 ~ four years before Secession ~ with the parade theme: The Past, The Present, The Future. 

 Comus does not currently parade ~ a bitter hangover from political battles with former City Council Woman, Dorothy Mae Taylorover race restrictions in luncheon clubs and Carnival krewes. 

Comus and Rex still hold an elaborate meeting-of-the-courts ball on Mardi Gras night.  But only Rex parades.
  Henri SchindlerCarnival Artistic Designer makes a touching statement on the meaning of Mardi Gras in New Orleans old line artistic circles. 

Lee Circle, Saint Charles Avenue, New Orleans
  from Confederate Memorial Hall Museum
In 1884, the first Queen of Comus was Mildred Lee, daughter of defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee, subject of the monument on Saint Charles Avenue at Lee Circle, by Alexander Doyle.  Targeted in 2015 for removal by current Mayor Mitch Landrieu 

"You lose, you blues," a musician I know says.

New Orleans is a city built along a bend in The River, and organized around Carnival.  Old line comedians tempered with cheeky Carnival spirit have been seen feigning the Sign of The Cross  while saying, "Comus, Momus, Proteus and Rex," the big four of old line New Orleans krewes

Zulu A black krewe formed some forty years after the Civil War, and the post-war 
click to read caption
Battle of Liberty Place ~ a Reconstruction era battle that took place at the foot of Canal Street in front of today's Harrah's Casino. The battle's monument is in the news lately as it, too, is targeted by Mayor Landrieu for removal.  Another Confederate memory banished to the land of 

The obelisk commemorates the bloody battle of 14 September 1874.  It was part of a terrorist plot that removed the elected governor, William Pitt Kellogg. The inscription on the monument refers to the National Elections two years later ~ 1876 ~ as the moment that ended failed-Reconstruction, and united Louisiana White Supremacy with Yankee Jim Crow Laws.  Names of whites fallen in the battle were inscribed in the stone.  Names of fallen blacks were not. 

"De facto wage-slavery became the law of the land!"our pedicab driver says. 
New Orleans Civil War Era 
US Custom House and Post Office
free  downloadable  poster

"At best," Norma chortled from inside a plume of cigarette smoke. 

Some think the insurrection should be sharply remembered.  Two out-of-town deconstruction companies hired to remove the Confederate memorials sent lawyer-letters to The City asking out of their contracts because of death threats.

For three days, in 1874, Governor Kellogg and his cronies (krewe?) took refuge in the newly built U. S. Custom House and Post Office, a handsome Union thumbprint first occupied in 1856 and serving through the Nineteenth Century (including the years of War Between the States) as the U. S. Post Office and Custom House.  Still standing, at 423 Canal Street, across North Peters Street from Brooks Brothers, and not more than a block away from the sight of the Battle of Liberty Place.  Today the crestfallen edifice is home to the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium.  

"The Bug House," Norma calls it.

* * *

The 1874 insurrection was drummed up by the Crescent City White League, a group of Confederate sympathizers, planters, and World traders who wanted what everyone wanted.  At least everyone who was a World trader, planter, or Confederate sympathizer.  
Hell, even President Grant wants this, they reckoned.  Because, an ill-functioning Port of New Orleans makes for an ill-functioning Western Expansion of the United States.  And if the Louisiana Purchase!  Hell, the very War Between the States, itself, were for anything ~ more than evil slavery ~  they were for this!  Grant would be too!  So felt the White League-rs, anyway. 

It was, however, reestablishment of a new Confederacy they were talking about, though this time aligned more with Washington and less with London.

Masterminds even sent a delegation to plead their case before Ulysses S. Grant, recently home from the war,  and newly elected to steady the wheel of the US ship of state. 

They told President Grant their Big Swamp City,  port of New Orleans would make a fine seat for this new Confederacy.    

Having personally just fought the Civil War to defeat Robert E. Lee and such a Confederacy, 

Grant reasoned he must now send in troops to free Governor Kellogg, and said no to the boys from Louisiana. Whom he sent safely home to moan and groan over their grillades and grits for the next century and a half. 

  One wonders if Grant might have hanged them ~ it was surely treason they were preaching.  
Or if they were civil and polite at a sociable meeting that might have been at the Willard Hotel?  Did they drink whiskey?  We know Grant did.  Did any of the Louisiana boys visit the famous pleasure houses of the victorious capitol?

Some of the men in the Louisiana delegation were from Grant Parish, founding site of the Louisiana White League.  Grant Parish was a 1869 "Reconstruction Parish" (there were eleven created fromWinn and Rapides parishes after The War).  Grant Parish is in an English part of Louisiana ~ around Alexandria and Pineville and where William Tecumseh Sherman once lived.

Sherman was from Ohio, and a recent graduate of West Point. 

He was not yet a Union general when he was hired, in 1859, as first president of the newly founded

Known as "The Little Seminary," in its day.  Later it moved to Baton Rouge and changed its name to Louisiana State University. 
Yes, boys and girls, the first president of L. S. U. was 
William Tecumseh Sherman!

"Guess that's why Governor Jindal thought he could starve L. S. U., and gain favor with both his hired D. C. handlers and his backhome Rome-burners," Norma said through a cloud of cigarette smoke.

"Sherman burned Atlanta," our cabbie said, 

"Bobby Jindal burned Baton Rouge!"
Courtesy of Louisiana State University Libraries
Bobby Jindal, Louisiana Governor and Republican 
US Presidential no-chance ~ absent  from state
much of his term.
Led Louisiana from budget surplus to insolvency.
Stood against Donald Trump 2015-16  
Courtesy of Rumproast.com 

* *

Originally Zulu poked heavy handed fun at the white krewes, and would neither publish their parade route nor apply for City parade permits.  They prefered to catch up with Comus, Momus, Proteus, or Rexand taunt them unannounced.

The old line krewes did not like this and had been working for some way to stop it ever since it started.

Courtesy of Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club

"You can imagine the indignity of a float full of white-faced blacks coming up behind your Fatted Ox throwing coconuts!"  
Norma says this to visitors as she blows Camel Cigarette smoke in their faces ~ this time of year laced with Marijuana.

Mayor Barthelemy's 1987 solution softened the satire and Zulu now obtains a parade permit and publishes their route, usually following the Rex Parade.



Celebrant,  NOLa   /   Carlos Detres
Throws ~ These are inexpensive souvenirs tossed from floats (since around 1871) by costumed and masked Krewe members in response to traditional calls of "Throw me something, mister!" Sometimes heard in French Louisiana as, "Pour moi, monsieur!   Mon ami, mon ami!

Throws include doubloons, plastic cups and beads with and without krewe emblems. 

Ash Wednesday ~ The day after Mardi Gras, and the beginning of the Lenten fasting season.

Hangover ~ This one you may already know.  It is most appropriate for Ash Wednesday.

Carnival is celebrated in most towns in Coastal Louisiana.  One town most famously not celebrating Carnival is Abbeville.  I do not know why. When you ask locals they say it is because they host the yearly Louisiana Cattle Festival. A large effort.

LEJ.org T-shirt
 It should be noted that in New Orleans one often hears it said, The City lacks the  civic energy to do anything but Carnival ~ and deprecating humor is practiced with love and open pride.

Still it is not unheard of to entertain more than one festival per town. Lafayette, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans have them almost weekly. 

"Daily in Baton Rouge," Norma says, "when the legislature is in session." 

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
 The most notable Louisiana Carnivals outside of New Orleans massive effort is the Courir de Mardi Gras. These are events where participants ride horseback from house to house asking for contributions to the communal gumbo pot.

Among these items is a live chicken or two.  A grand drunken chase ensues.  Hardly anyone is injured if you do not count the chicken.

Courir de Mardi Gras


LEJ.org, Royal at Kerlerec   /   Janis Turk


LEJ.org at Carnival Time  /  Mark Konikoff

This Saga of Carnival is a perfect example of a kind of New Orleans and Louisiana social studies practiced by those poorer souls who come to "watch" Carnival.
We who know better know Carnival is a participatory thing.
Come take another turn around the dancefloor, Louisiana, them smart folks are watching us again.

Your comments and corrections are welcome

© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.


Go here For 
T-Shirts, Koozies, LEJ.org icebox magnets
and such falderal ...

You may not receive a monthly e-mail notice for LEJ's Louisiana / Yours Truly in a Swamp unless I figure out how to set up a new freemail system. But you can always go to www.LEJ.org

Don't hold your breath on my figuring out le Internet.  I am a storyteller, not a computer-pinball gamer. 

Contact me if you want on the list - that may get e-mailed. If you wish to read any month's column go to www.LEJ.org anytime. They are posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few weeks. 

For more L. E. J.'s Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp go to www.LEJ.org 

Sidney Barthelemy then and now

Al Groos, General Manager Royal Sonesta; Al "Carnival Time" Johnson;
 Pat Brady; Henri Schindler; Leonard Earl Johnson, and Marvis Early
 photo credit Mark Konikoff

*  *  *

Image may contain: sky, cloud and text

* * *

Confederate Memorial Hall Museum, New Orleans
(keeper of Queen Mildred Lee's (1884) Comus treasures)

(old Carnival song) 
Dixie Cups

* * *

LEJ.org with Maidens (click image for high resolution)    Photo: Anson Trahan
 LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp
is a monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org
and at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans,
publication of the

It is written by Leonard Earl Johnson
of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana
Archives: www.LEJ.org

* * * * * * * * * * * 

© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.