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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.

Thursday, February 01, 2024

⚓ Part 2 Mardi Gras Glossary and History / Feb 2024


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⚓ 

February

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2024 

~ Fiction ~

Roman à clef, cher

by Leonard Earl Johnson 

of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana

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© 2024, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved 

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Continued from January 2024

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LEJ at Carnival Time                                      Photo by Anson Trahan

LEJ's Mardi Gras Glossary
and 
History

⭐ Part Two ⭐

BY  Leonard Earl Johnson

© 2024, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

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The following is one of Louisiana's odd footnotes.  A shrouded backstory to our Devil-may-care Carnival Season.

Iinvolves some Louisianans leading us all to shackles of a disaster hobeling as romanticizing the 
"Lost Cause War Between The States."

Unbelievable as it sounds today, these clueless white folks sent a delegation to meet Ulysses S. Grant, just home from That War, and recently elected President of the reunited 
United States of America.


The delegation proposed Grant resuscitate commerce in 
The War stifled Port of New Orleans by establishing a new confederacy with its capitol located in New Orleans.



1874  
Louisiana 

Post- Civil War Insurrection

Commemorated by the monument at the foot of Canal Street, known as the Liberty Place Obelisk.  Often targeted by demonstrators during events like Carnival, and removed to storage in 2015.

Liberty Place Obelisk
The insurrection was drummed up by the Crescent City White League.  A quirky gang 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 wanted this, the White League reckoned. Because an ill-functioning Port of New Orleans made for an ill-functioning Western Expansion of the United States.

If the Louisian Purchase...  Hell, the very War Between the States were for anything ~ more than evil slavery ~  it was for this Western Expansion, and the newly discovered California gold!

Grant would be too, or so felt the White Leaguers. 

It was, however, the establishment of another confederacy that they were advocating, though this time, they said, allied more with Washington and less with London.  

London?!

"Yes," Norma explained, "London, England!  

"London was long in a tissy over Spain and Portugal getting all the New World gold.  When all England got was stuffy Bostonians ~ and later T. S. Eliot."

England physically crafted its support for the South by providing the Confederate blockade runner, the CSS Alabama. She captured, sank, or burned 68 ships in 22 months before being sunk in 1864 by the USS Kearsarge, off the coast of Cherbourg, France.

The Alabama was a screw sloop-of-war built in Birkenhead, on the River Mersey (opposite Liverpool) for the purpose of running round Northern blockades of New Orleans and other ports.  In 1871-72, a post War tribunal created the Treaty of Washington, which ordered England to pay the United States $15.5 million for damages inflicted by the Alabama.  Mind you, this was 1872 dollars. During the negotiations one proposal illuminating the magnitude of the compensation, asked for cession of Canada from England to the United States.

Yes, London supported the South and would have been on the first train to the mine fields had The War ended differently. 

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Back to the Louisiana White League.  
These masterminds pled their case before Grant, home from The War and newly elected to set true a course for the becalmed U. S. 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 to defeat the old Confederacy, Grant reckoned not to take the advice of these good ole boys from Louisiana and sent them safely home to moan and mumble over their grillades and grits into the next two centuries.

One wonders if Grant might have considered hanging the delegation ~ it was surely treason they were preaching. Were they, however, civil and polite at meetings that might have taken place at the Willard Hotel?  Grant is known to have favored the newly built Willard, and this was not the kind of meeting done openly in the White House.  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 delegation were from Grant Parish, founding site of the Louisiana White League. 

 Grant Parish is a "Reconstruction Parish."  There were eleven such parishes created in 1869 from what had been Winn and Rapides Parishes before The War.  It is located in the 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 had not yet hired on to Mr. Lincoln's side of the coming war when he was hired, in 1859, as the first president of the newly founded 

Known in its day as "The Little Seminary,"  it later moved to Baton Rouge and changed its name to 
Louisiana State University. 

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Yes, boys and girls, the first President of 
L. S. U. was William Tecumseh Sherman!

"It was like Bobby Jindal," Norma giggled inside her cloud of cigarette smoke, "in his stupid run for President against Donald Trump.  

"Starving L. S. U. to please his heartless D. C. handlers and his headless hometown followers."

Our Pedi Cab Driver:
"Long as you keep payin'em, they'll keep telling you, you can be President!"  

We all laughed, tippled, and tossed Carnival beads to smiling tourists.

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

"Both of them Republicans, too!" 
Norma laughed, from inside her cloud.

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Courtesy of Louisiana State University Libraries

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Back at the Parade

Formed forty-some years after The War, Zulu poked heavy-handed fun at the white krewes, and would neither publish their own parade route nor apply for City parade permits.  

They preferred 'spontaneously catching up' with Comus, Momus, Proteus, or Rexand taunting them unannounced.

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

Courtesy of Zulu Social Aid 
and Pleasure Club


"You can imagine their indignity at a float full of white-faced blacks coming up behind their Fatted Ox throwing coconuts! Norma says to visitors, as she blows Carnival smoke in their faces. 

Mayor Barthelemy's 1987 solution of Rex meeting the Zulu King at the foot of Poydras Street softened the satirical sting. 

Zulu had earlier began obtaining parade permits and publishing their route ~ today, always preceding the Rex Parade.

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Rex

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 celebrants this is true.  For most it is not, but for everyone Rex is one glorious part of the spectacle.

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


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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 among Acadiana French as, "Pour moi, m'sieur!" 

Throws include doubloons, plastic cups and beads with and without krewe emblems.  
Celebrant, NOLa   /   photo: Carlos Detres

Some Krewes have uniquely tailored throws, such as the highly sought after Zulu Coconuts, the Krewe of Iris's Sunglasses, and the High Heeled Shoes of the Krewe of Muses.
 
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.

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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 don't forget their Giant Omelet Celebration," L. A. Norma adds, in a staccato of chortling smoke signals.

LEJ.world 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 self- love and open pride, "Down in the Land of Dreamy Dreams."

In truth, it is not unheard of in Louisiana to shepherd civic responsibilities 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." 

 The most colorful Louisiana Carnivals outside of New Orleans massive effort are the Courir de Mardi Gras (Mardi Gras Run)These are events where participants ride horseback from house to house asking for contributions to a 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

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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."
  
Those in the know know Carnival as a participatory thing.  More better done than studied or written about.  So take another turn round the dancefloor, Louisiana.  Them smart folks are here watching us again.

  Aimer la différence!

If you happen to be one of those 'smart and glum' watchers, perhaps you should consider Mobile, Alabama's Mardi Gras.   Folks from Mobile founded New Orleans' first Carnival, but their Carnival today is famously family/boredom friendly.  Perhaps just what you are looking for.

 Louisiana mounted a horse of another color and 
rode off in grandeur greater than Mama Mobile ever expected.

In Louisiana we party til the Purple Vestments come out on Ash Wednesday. 

And a Moon Pie in New Orleans is an entirely different thing in Mobile.

 
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Lagniappe du Jour

White League and Ku Klux Klan alliance, in illustration, by Thomas Nast, in Harper's Weekly, October 24, 1874

The Day After Mardi Gras

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The Ladies Wore Red,

July 2021

Origin Story

of

The Red Women Warrior Stories

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© 2023, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved


If you wish to read any month's column go to www.LEJ.world anytime. 
They are posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few years.

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 LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp
is a monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.world,
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and historically at
Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans
publication of the

It is written by Leonard Earl Johnson
of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana