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MARDI GRAS KREWES

Krewes are the masking and parading clubs for which New Orleans is both famous and infamous. Several of these are described below.

Babylon - Started by a New Orleans dentist, Frank Oser, in 1939, it remains one of the 10 oldest parading krewes in the city. Its membership is made up largely of physicians.

The "flambeaux" are a Babylon custom (see picture). These burning "torches" - really tubes filled with chemicals that produce a brilliant, sometimes colored, light - are traditionally carried by African Americans who march alongside the floats. The image of the torch was inspired by the slave ritual of Bois Caiman, performed on August 14, 1791, at the beginning of the Haitian War of Independence.

After a fiery parade, the slaves swore allegiance to their priest leaders. (When the war ended in 1804, Haiti emerged as the second country in the Western hemisphere to gain its independence, and the first free black nation.)

Carrollton - A krewe founded in 1924 by an Oak Street businessman as a neighborhood parade.

Comus - From the Greek komos, meaning revelers. They are the oldest parading krewe, having originally been called "The Mystick Krewe of Comus."

In 1856, six men (all Protestant, white Americans) who had moved to New Orleans from Mobile, Alabama, met at Dr. Pope's drugstore to discuss introducing their brand of Carnival to the city (parades had begun in Mobile a few years earlier).

They formed a secret society along with 13 New Orleanians and mounted a tableau ball for 3,000 at the Gaity Theatre. Their first parade included two floats lighted by flambeaux.

In keeping with the early Masonic traditions of secrecy, the members of Comus never reveal the name of their king. Comus members are the most discriminatory of the old-liners, and up until a generation ago, they wouldn't even admit Catholics to their ranks.

In protests to the city council's anti-discrimination ordinance, some members of Comus have replaced their Carnival night parade with a procession from Antoine's restaurant to their ball at the Municipal Auditorium.

The revelers ring cowbells in honor of the group that inspired them, the Cowbellion de Rankin Society of Mobile, Alabama.

Iris - A ladies-only krewe formed in 1917, this group held its first parade in 1959, and today has over 500 members. They parade during the day on the Saturday before Mardi Gras.

Mid City - Carnival's eighth oldest parade was formed in 1930 by a group of Mid City merchants. This krewe introduced animated floats in 1947.

Momus - Chartered soon after Rex in 1872, the group was named after the god of mockery. Their motto is "Dum vivimus, vivamus" ("While we live, let us live"). Members come from the ranks of the all-white Louisiana Club.

Okeanos - A krewe founded in 1949 by a group of Ninth Ward businessmen who wanted to bring Carnival to St. Claude Avenue, Carnival's original parade route.

Original Illinois Club - One of three old-line black krewes that presents debutantes, the Original Illinois Club was formed by several Creole-of-color community leaders in 1894.

The "Chicago Glide" is the dance unique to this club. Though the club has less than 50 members, they mount an elaborate ball for over 700 guests.

Phunny Phorty Phellows - This group of costumed men and women celebrates the official opening of Carnival season by riding a decorated streetcar along St. Charles Avenue.

The group eats king cake as they toss throws to the spectators and serenade them with a jazz band. The name comes from a nineteenth-century krewe.

Proteus - Taking its name from the ocean shepherd of Poseidon's seals, Proteus presented its first procession in 1882.

One of the more stingy krewes in their parading days, they have now halted parading altogether due to MCS 14984, the ordinance that denies parade permits to discriminatory groups.

Rex - The main event parade of Mardi Gras Day. The King of Rex is the King of Carnival. He is always a civic and business leader, and generally a member of the old-line Boston Club (an old, conservative, Christian club).

The krewe itself has the most liberal admittance policy of all the old-line groups, as they are a shade more interested in professional stature than in pedigree.

When Frank Howard became Rex's King of Carnival in 1895, he ended up married to his queen, Lydia Fairchild, and it got tongues to wagging. Nowadays kings are old enough to be the grandfathers of queens.

A feature of Rex parades is the boeuf gras, the fatted beef, bull, or ox that symbolizes the last meat eaten before the beginning of Lent.

Rex calls the Queen of the Carnival and the Maids of the Rex Court the "Carnival Court". No other organization is entitled to use this designation.

The charter name for the Rex organization is "The School of Design," the same group that presented the first daytime parade in the city in 1872. All Rex objects bear the motto, "Pro Bono Publico" ("For the good of the public").

Thoth - (Say "Toe-th"). This parading krewe was formed in 1947 to bring Mardi Gras to institutions for children and adults with disabilities.

Tucks - In 1969, two Loyola University students created a rag-tag parading krewe and named it for their favorite local hang-out, Friar Tuck's. Today the krewe maintains its Animal House reputation.

Zeus - The krewe that began the Metairie parade tradition in 1956.

Zulu - The Zulu Aid and Pleasure Club was founded in 1909, held its first parade in 1914, was incorporated in 1916, hosted its first celebrity monarch when Louis Armstrong became their king in 1949, and remains the most permeable of the old krewes.

It has just under 400 members. Zulu is the only krewe in which the king gets to choose his own queen. During parade time, any friend of a member can pay a fee and ride in the parade.

Go back to the Mardi Gras page, or on to "The Biggies: Bacchus."