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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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.
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