Celebrate Mardi Gras with these historic photos

Entertainment

Written by:

This year’s Mardi Gras parades and public celebrations in New Orleans have been canceled or are being celebrated virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As disappointing as that may be for some revelers, it isn’t the first time it’s happened. In fact, since 1857, Mardi Gras festivities have been canceled on 13 different occasions for various reasons like wars, pandemics and even a police union strike.

Still, New Orleanians are finding plenty of creative ways to celebrate this year (it’s Yardi Gras, y’all!), and you can, too.

First, you can mix up some classic New Orleans cocktails to set the mood. You can dress up in your favorite Krewe colors, bake a King cake, or even throw a Mardi Gras-themed Zoom happy hour. And you can also enjoy this trip down memory lane with a brief history of how Mardi Gras began, how it’s changed over the years, and a slideshow of historic photos from collections held by, and published with permission from, the New Orleans Public Library.

So don your beads, crank up your Zydeco tunes and let the good times roll!

Mardi Gras float
Courtesy of the City Archive, City of New Orleans, New Orleans Public Library / Robert Tallant Photograph Collection

The history of Mardi Gras

The origins of Mardi Gras are traceable to medieval Europe. These traditional revelries were brought to the Americas by French settlers very early on, with “Boeuf Gras,” or fatted calf celebrations.

In fact, according to NewOrleans.com, French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived on March 2, 1699, at a plot of ground 60 miles directly south of New Orleans, and named it Pointe du Mardi Gras” when his men realized it was the eve of the festive holiday. 

Mardi Gras 'Maskers' circa 1907
Courtesy of the City Archive, City of New Orleans, New Orleans Public Library / George Francois Mugnier Photograph Collection

The first Mardi Gras in colonial America wasn’t in New Orleans

That may make you think the first offical Mardi Gras celebration took place at or near New Orleans, but it didn’t. Bienville also was responsible for establishing “Fort Louis de la Louisiane” (modern-day Mobile, Alabama) in 1702. The next year, in 1703, the renamed Fort Louis de la Mobile celebrated America’s very first Mardi Gras.

The Zulu Province Prince Krewe parade
Roberto Michel / iStock

The beginning of Krewes

The following year, Mobile established a secret society (Masque de la Mobile), similar to today’s Mardi Gras krewes. In 1710, that was replaced with the “Boeuf Gras Society,” which paraded from 1711 through 1861. The procession was held with a huge bull’s head pushed along on wheels by 16 men. Later, Rex would parade with an actual bull, draped in white and signaling the coming Lenten meat fast. This occurred on Fat Tuesday.

New Orleans was established by Bienville in 1718 and, by the 1730s, Mardi Gras celebrations were in full swing each year, but not with the parades we know today. It wasn’t until 1781 that a reference to Mardi Gras “Carnival” appeared in a report to the Spanish colonial governing body. That year, the Perseverance Benevolent & Mutual Aid Association was the first of hundreds of clubs and carnival organizations formed in New Orleans.

Throwing beads at Mardi Gras
Roberto Galan / iStock

How ‘throws’ began

In 1870, Mardi Gras’ second Krewe, the Twelfth Night Revelers, was formed. This is also the first recorded account of Mardi Gras “throws” when krewe members toss trinkets and treats into crowds of onlookers.

Mardi Gras colors
Nodar Chernishev / iStock

Mardi Gras Carnival’s official colors

In 1872, a group of businessmen invented a King of Carnival, Rex, to preside over the first daytime parade. To honor the visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff, the businessmen introduced Romanoff’s family colors of purple, green and gold as Carnival’s official colors. Purple stands for justice; gold for power; and green for faith. 

Mardi Gras float
swdiecidue / iStock

‘If ever I cease to love’ theme

This was also the Mardi Gras season that Carnival’s improbable anthem, “If Ever I Cease to Love,” was cemented, due in part to the Duke’s fondness for the tune.

It was the following year that parade floats began to be constructed in New Orleans, and in 1875, Gov. Henry Warmoth made Fat Tuesday a legal holiday in Louisiana. It remains so today.

Mardi Gras in historic photos

Krewe of Rex on St. Charles Ave. in 1901
Courtesy of the City Archive, City of New Orleans, New Orleans Public Library / Cornelius Durkee Photograph Collection

Krewe of Rex on St. Charles Ave. in 1901

King of Rex
Courtesy of the City Archive, City of New Orleans, New Orleans Public Library

An undated photo of the King of Rex in the Rex Parade

Mardi Gras crowd, 1930
Courtesy of the City Archive, City of New Orleans, New Orleans Public Library / City Hall Slides Collection

A Mardi Gras crowd in 1930

Carnival Krewe members toss 'throws'
Courtesy of the City Archive, City of New Orleans, New Orleans Public Library / Dewey Bowman Photograph Collection

Carnival Krewe members toss ‘throws’ to the crowd, circa 1960s

Mardi Gras parade circa 19th century
Courtesy of the City Archive, City of New Orleans, New Orleans Public Library / George Francois Mugnier Photograph Collection

Mardi Gras parade, circa 19th century

King's float, 1968
Courtesy of the City Archive, City of New Orleans, New Orleans Public Library / Dewey Bowman Photograph Collection

The King’s float in an unidentified parade, 1968

Bourbon Street crowd
Courtesy of the City Archive, City of New Orleans, New Orleans Public Library / Dewey Bowman Photograph Collection

A colored black-and-white photo of crowds on Bourbon Street during Carnival, circa 1960s

New Orleans residents celebrating Mardi Gras
Courtesy of the City Archive, City of New Orleans, New Orleans Public Library / Alexander Allison Photograph Collection

A neighborhood group on Milan Street, circa 1930

A toddler admiring her Mardi Gras beads, 1918
Courtesy of the City Archive, City of New Orleans, New Orleans Public Library / Alexander Allison Photograph Collection

A toddler admiring her Mardi Gras beads, 1918

Mardi Gras parade spectators at The Chess Club, 1908
Courtesy of the City Archive, City of New Orleans, New Orleans Public Library / Alexander Allison Photograph Collection

Spectators wait for the parade at The Chess Club at Canal and Baronne, 1908

Flambeaux night parade, 1959
Courtesy of the City Archive, City of New Orleans, New Orleans Public Library / Dewey Bowman Photograph Collection

‘Flambeaux’ during a night parade, 1959

Krewe of Iris float, 1959
Courtesy of the City Archive, City of New Orleans, New Orleans Public Library / Dewey Bowman Photograph Collection

Krewe of Iris float, 1959

Rex floats in their den, 1901
Courtesy of the City Archive, City of New Orleans, New Orleans Public Library / Cornelius Durkee Photograph Collection

Rex floats in their den, 1901

Carnival group riding on a National Biscuit Company cart
Courtesy of the City Archive, City of New Orleans, New Orleans Public Library / Harry D. Johnson Photograph Collection

Undated photo of a Carnival Group riding on a National Biscuit Company cart

Atlanteans Ball, 1940
Courtesy of the City Archive, City of New Orleans, New Orleans Public Library / John N. Teunisson Photograph Collection

The Atlanteans Ball, 1940

This article was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

Image Credit: wundervisuals


Celebrate Mardi Gras with these historic photos

Constance Brinkley-Badgett

Constance Brinkley-Badgett is MediaFeed’s executive editor. She has more than 20 years of experience in digital, broadcast and print journalism, as well as several years of agency experience in content marketing. She has served as a digital producer at NBC Nightly News, Senior Producer at CNBC, Managing Editor at ICF Next, and as a tax reporter at Bloomberg BNA.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.