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Your Guide to Mardi Gras, circa 1889
By Ana Brazil
February 25, 2020

It’s Mardi Gras, friends, and I have prepared the Paper Lantern Writer’s super-secret time machine to take us all back to fabulous Gilded Age New Orleans, where the celebration of Mardi Gras is the once and forever revered tradition!

I’ve set the date and time controls to Tuesday March 5, 1889, about 10am. We’ll land in Lafayette Square, just across from City Hall, where a few of our fellow time travelers are already waiting for us.

You can hear them whispering to other that, “As with all time, you must be very, very careful to behave authentically and respectfully.”

That should be no problem for us! We know exactly what to do today because every New Orleans newspaper and guidebook has printed instructions on exactly how to behave during the day and night festivities.

If we follow all of these instructions, we should have an outstanding Mardi Gras!

First of all, you had to understand that Rex—the acknowledged King of Carnival—ruled the day. From the moment that Rex’s royal flotilla of 26 steamboats landed at the foot of Canal Street, you became his loyal subject.

 

Rex’s wishes were your command and command he did!

During the parade, Rex required that:

  • All malicious mischief upon the part of subjects—such as throwing flour—is…forbidden under the severest displeasure.
  • All houses and galleries along the route of the different processions are ordered to be decorated under the penalty of the King’s displeasure.
  • All places of business, both public and private, are hereby ordered to be closed, and all traffic suspended throughout the entire city.
  • At 6 o’clock p.m. a sunset salute will be fired by H. M.’s Artillery, when all loyal subjects will unmask and disperse, making way for his Majesty’s cousin, “Proteus” who, with his “Krewe” will appear after nightfall.

 

After the parade, Rex and his court celebrated at a reception and ball at the Imperial Palace. From his elegant throne, Rex commanded that:

  • FULL EVENING DRESS IS ABSOLUTELY required from all guests.
  • Gentlemen with colored suits or overcoats and ladies with hats or bonnets WILL UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES BE ADMITTED.
  • Invitations are PURELY PERSONAL, and no transfer will be recognized.
  • Household troops will see that these orders are rigidly carried out.

 

Rex was not alone in laying down the law during Mardi Gras. At the Krewe of Proteus reception at the Opera House, attendees were instructed to abide by these regulations:

  • Guests are specifically warned that to secure admission to the Opera House they must present their INVITATION CARDS.
  • Gentlemen will not be allowed to occupy seats until all ladies are provided for, and will not be permitted to obstruct the aisles.
  • Ladies with bonnets or not in full dress will be conducted to the upper tiers and will not be allowed on the dancing platform.
  • Gentlemen are requested not to approach the dancing platform until the termination of the FOURTH DANCE by the maskers.

Most of these pronouncements insured the desired revelry:

“The streets are thronged all day and far into the night by groups of merry faces…No where in the world are such magnificent street parades given, or such elegant balls…Banners flaunted their gay colors in the air above the mass of spectators assembled on galleries, balconies, stands and other posts of observation.”

Sounds like the King had everything covered, right?

Not quite. This was Gilded Age New Orleans after all, so there was still mayhem galore. The week’s newspapers reported shootings, stabbings, and snatchings, but it does look like Mardi Gras 1889 escaped the taint of murder. And so, by obeying Rex’s rules and regulations, thousands of citizens—not to mention our exhausted time travellers—survived another Mardi Gras.

Ana Brazil
Written by Ana Brazil

Ana Brazil writes historical crime fiction celebrating bodacious American heroines. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Historical Novel Society, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers.
Ana’s latest historical mystery is THE RED-HOT BLUES CHANTEUSE, which features murder, mayhem, and music in 1919 San Francisco. Her award-winning historical mystery FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER is set in Gilded Age New Orleans.

View Ana’s PLW Profile

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