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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.

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Mardi Gras Glossary and History / February 2020

LEJ's Louisiana, 

Yours Truly in a Swamp 

🍷 🍾

Leonard Earl Johnson
of Lafayette and New Orleans Louisiana
~  *  ~      ~  *  ~      ~  *  ~
February 2020
LEJ's Mardi Gras Glossary
and History
BY  Leonard Earl Johnson

© 2020, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

~ * ~     * ~     ~ * ~

A Float, A Fence, A State of Mind?
Louisiana Carnival

 Carnival is Coming 
by Leonard Earl Johnson

The Swamp is getting fat.

Please put some beads 
in an old man's hat.

Haven't any beads?  
A half-crown will do.
Haven't got a half-crown, 
Bacchus bless you.
© LEJ.org ✍


LEJ.org, dressed to ride,
 Parc Sans Souci, Lafayette
 photo:   Frank Parsley
~    ~    ~
LEJ.org with Mardi Gras Maidens
Faubourg Marigny, NOLa
Photo credit: Anson Trahan  
~ high definition click image ~

Faubourg Marigny, New Orleans, Carnival Time

*     *     *

The following 
are Carnival terms used by everyone from Rex to thee.
 Follow as you read and read as you follow ~ become one with the Greatest Free Show on Earth,
Carnival in Louisiana!

Janis Turk  and  Karissa Kary                                         photo Janis Turk
~  *  ~       ~  *  ~      ~  *  ~

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

They came, danced with our musicians, dined with our chefs, envisioned Life with thoughts from our artists, captains, and dockside philosophers.  

Then they danced off home with our rhythms and slang bouncing in their ears, and a peptic re-flux marching in their stomachs.
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?"

~ * ~     ~ * ~     * ~

Be Advised: 

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 wrongheaded end, joyful-Carnival must shrink some years. 

It Swells Others. 

2018 was one of Carnival's shortest seasons.
2019 one of its longest.  
2020 ends February 25.  Not long enough but not bad.

Shrovetide (les Jours Gras) is the last three days of every 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. 
~      ~      ~
LEJ.org and Alyce Morgan shopping for Mardi Gras
Rêve Coffee Shop, Lafayette

~ ~ ~     ~ ~ ~     ~ ~ ~
Mardi Gras dates for last year and the next few years  
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.
~ www.LEJ.org  

"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.  

Movable tableaux on Carnival Day (Mardi Gras) are the funniest.  Who can forget the Westbank Big Hair Emergency Repair Krewe marching along, stopping to fix misshapen bouffants along parade routes of yore?

Boeuf Gras ~ The fatted bull or ox ~ in the Rex parade ~ representing sweetly excessive death-to-the-fat, and the beginning of Lenten abstinence (true death).  Said by New Orleans journalists-emeriti 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 (Latin for King)  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 from Mobile Alabama 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 ~ even after being adopted by other krewes ~ 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.

Invitation ~ A 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
  sugared, like a 'Brioche Royal'
 with Mardi Gras tri colored sugars, baked with a plastic baby doll hidden inside. 

It is called 'King Cake' because it commemorates the visit of the Three Kings to see the baby Jesus, literally a Christian epiphany.  

Epiphany meaning an appearance or manifestation of a divine being. 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?  Or, 

as we see it in Louisiana, both!

 The person who finds the doll is crowned "King."  A king without duties but buying the next colorful cake and giving the next King Cake 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.

Photos courtesy of Krewe of Rio en 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 a few years, Rex came 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 the Confederate 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 Schindler, Carnival Artistic Designer  
(An unlikely job description in Minnesota!) 
In this video, Herr Schindler makes a  touching statement
 on the meaning of Mardi Gras among
 New Orleans old line artistic circles.

~ * ~     ~ * ~     * ~

Lee Circle, Saint Charles Avenue, New Orleans
  from Confederate Memorial Hall Museum
Nineteen years after The War, in 1884, the first Queen of Comus was Mildred Lee, daughter of defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee, subject of the Lee Monument once on Saint Charles Avenue at Lee Circle, by Alexander Doyle.  Targeted in 2015 and removed by 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 New Orleans comedian, Chris Champaign, tempered with cheeky Carnival spirit has been seen feigning the Sign of The Cross while saying, "Comus, Momus, Proteus and Rex," the big four of old line New Orleans krewes.  Every Orleanian alive today understands that joke.

Zulu A black krewe formed some forty years after the Civil War, and the post-War 'wars'.

click image 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 was in the news lately as it, too, was targeted by Mayor Landrieu for removal.  

Another Confederate memory banished to the land of out-of-sight-dom.  This one a particularly painful 

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, sworn policemen, were not.

"Then, 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.  In words like William Faulkner's, 

Our past is not forgotten, it is not even past. 

And Action!

Two out-of-town deconstruction companies hired to remove New Orleans' Confederate memorials asked out of their contracts because of death threats.  One, H and O Investments owner, David Mahler, had his $200,000 Lamborghini torched in the company's Baton Rouge parking lot.

Eventually down they came, 

and warehoused they are somewhere undisclosed.

~   ~   ~

For three days, in September of 1874, Governor Kellogg and his cronies (krewe?) took refuge in the recently built U. S. Custom House and Post Office, a handsome Union thumbprint first opened in 1856 ~ as war clouds gathered ~ and serving through the Nineteenth Century (including all the years of War Between the States) as the U. S. Post Office and  U. S. Custom House.  

Remember NOLa spent The War occupied, having surrendered about one year to the day after New Orleanian, P. G. T. Beauregard fired The War's 'first shot' on Fort Sumter, in Charleston harbor (April 12, 1861).  The first Yankee reached the steps of Gallier Hall (then NOLa's City Hall) on April 29, 1862.  New Orleans surrendered without resistance.

The Old Custom House still stands, at 423 Canal Street, across North Peters Street from Brooks Brothers, and not more than a block away from the site 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 following is one of history's odder foot notes ~ a darkly clouded background to Louisiana's Devil-may-care Carnival.  It involves clueless white Louisianans sending a delegation to now 
President Grant, offering help reopening the Port of New Orleans by extablishment of a new confederacy.

The 1874 insurrection, commemorated by the Liberty Place Obelisk, 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 ~  it was for this Western Expansion, and the newly discovered California gold!  Grant would be too!  So felt the White League-rs, anyway. 

It was, however, reestablishment of a Confederacy they were advocating, though this time allied more with Washington thinking, and less with London's.  London?

"Yes, London England," Norma explains.  

"Long in a tissy over Spain and Portugal getting all the New World gold, 
when all England ever got was stuffy Bostonians ~ and later T. S. Eliot."

London agitated for the war, built some of it, e. g., CSS Alabama, a sloop-of-war built in the River Mersey, opposite Liverpool.  London supported the South and would have been on the first train to the mine fields had things gone differently.

~    ~    ~

Back to the Louisiana White League.  These masterminds earlier 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 U. S. ship of state. 

They told President Grant their Big Swamp City,  port of New Orleans would make a fine seat for a 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, imprisoned at the foot of Canal Street in New Orleans.  He said no, to the boys from Louisiana, and sent them safely home to moan and groan over their grillades and grits for the next two centuries. 

  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 taken place at the Willard Hotel?  Grant is known to have favored the Willard.  Did they drink whiskey?  We figure Grant did.  Did any of the Louisiana boys visit the famous pleasure houses of the victorious capitol?  We figure they did.

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 such parishes created from what had been Winn and Rapides Parishes before The War).  This is in an English part of Louisiana ~ around Alexandria and Pineville and where 
William Tecumseh Sherman once lived.

Here lies an even stranger story.

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!

"That's why Governor Piyush 'Bobby' Jindal's Republican groomers . . .

Norma giggled at herself through 
a cloud of cigarette smoke,
 and went on:  

". . . thought they could starve L. S. U., 
during his foolhardy run for the White House!

 "Pleasing both his heartless D. C. handlers, 
and his headless hometown Rome-burners."

We all laughed, tippled, and tossed beads to clueless tourists.

"Sherman burned Atlanta," 
our pedicab driver said, 
"Bobby Jindal burned Baton Rouge!  

"Both of them Republicans, too!" 

Norma laughed, from inside her cloud of smoke.

Courtesy of Louisiana State University Libraries
~   ~   ~

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 likely laced with medicinal 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.

~ * ~    ~ * ~    * ~

Members of Rex generally feel Carnival is built around their focal point.  If not them alone, then the four Old Line Krewes of Comus, Momus, Proteus, and Rex.  For some this is true.  For most it is not. But for everyone they are one splashy part of the spectacle ~ the greatest free show on Earth


L. A. Norma says, "Carnival is what you make of it."

~ * ~     ~ * ~     * ~

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, m'sieur!   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 Festivala large effort. 

"And the Giant Omelet Celebration," L. A. Norma adds.

LEJ.org T-shirt

It should be noted that in New Orleans one often hears it said, 

The City lacks civic energy to do anything but Carnival!

  This is a typically self-deprecating humor spoken with love and open pride among the natives, Down in the Land of Dreamy Dreams.

You see, it is not unheard of in Louisiana to shepherd civic business and still entertain more than one festival.  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 of Louisiana's 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 the items given will be 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, NOLa  /  photo Janis Turk

~ * ~    ~ * ~    * ~

This Saga of Carnival is a perfect example of a kind of Louisiana social studies practiced by those poorer souls who come to "watch" Carnival.
We who know better know Carnival as a participatory thing, more better done than studied.
  So t
ake another turn round the dancefloor, Louisiana, them smart folks are here watching us again.

  Aimer la différence!

And if you happen to be one of those 'smart and glum' watchers, perhaps you should consider Mobile, Alabama ~ New Orleans' Carnival Mother ~ their Carnival is boredom-friendly. 

 Louisiana rode off on another horse, grew grander than hoped, and now parties harder than Mama Mobile expected.

 "Until the Purple Vestments come out on Ash Wednesday," Norma says.
"And a 'moon pie' here is an entirely different thing in Mobile."  LEJ.orghttp://www.LEJ.org

*    *    *
© 2019, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.

Contact me Subscribe@LEJ.org 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 years.

Lagniappe du Jour
Royal at Kerlerec, Faubourg Marigny, NOLa    /   photo by Janis Turk
click image for high definition

~   ~   ~
 LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp
is a monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org,
and periodically 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

* * * * * * * * * * * 

© 2020 Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
~  *  ~      ~  *  ~      ~  *  ~

Coming next month

LEJ's Louisiana 

Yours Truly in a Swamp

March 2020