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About Mardi Gras
*What are the Krewes actually about? How did they start and how do they still flourish today?*
The krewes are the actual carnival society organizations. The membership pay in dues to maintain the society, finance the krewe's activities including parading, organizing and staging the carnival balls, and funding the construction of their costumes and props. Some krewes only stage their own carnival balls, since parading with floats is a mighty expensive proposition, and some groups prefer the more dignified celebration characteristic of the upper strata of society. It is not unusual, for example, for debutantes to be presented at the balls, and the older krewes are composed of some of the richest and most socially and politically connected families in New Orleans.
To be even a maid at the ball of Comus, for example, is to have attained one of the highest social honors imaginable in New Orleans --the equivalent of the debs' ball in most other cities. There are some 70 separate carnival organizations in the New Orleans metro area, 10 of which, at the least, have been in continuous operation for over 100 years. In addition, there are several marching organizations, such as Pete Fountain's Half-Fast Walking Club and the Jefferson City Buzzards, and the various Mardi Gras Indian tribes, which have been an Afro-American carnival tradition going back a century and having its roots both in the local voudoun religion and the long history of amity between black and Indians extending back to the days of slavery.
Today Mardi Gras Krewes and their Celebrations can be found around the world including our own "Mystic Krewe of the Kingdom of Lamuria.
Mardi Gras History 101
Carnival traditions were brought over to North America from Europe along with the first colonists. Louisiana was founded by the French and for about 45 years was ruled by Spain, then briefly by France again before Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States in 1803. The 85 years of combined French and Spanish rule resulted in a strong European cast to the settlements established in this part of the country, which were carried through by their Creole inheritors.
When the United States took possession of Louisiana in 1803 and Americans began settling in, establishing their presence in New Orleans, there was, for more than 40 years, a bit of antagonism between the Creole society and the American upstarts, who controlled two separate sections of the developing city. The more puritanical Americans shunned Carnival, while the Creoles continued to celebrate it, though the celebration began slowly to die in the 1850s. The break-out of riots in 1856 did not help matters, and it seemed that Carnival traditions were about to die out altogether in the growing port city.
That same year, a group of transplanted citizens from the city of Mobile (which had been celebrating Carnival since 1705) who were members of a marching/ball society calling themselves the Cowbellions, met in the third-floor room of a pharmacy in the Vieux Carre and decided to form a carnival society of their own here in New Orleans. They also decided to do something which had been virtually unknown up to that time in New Orleans carnival --to field a tableaux display consisting of marchers in elaborate papier-mache costumes, and three floats. They fashioned themselves as a royal court in the traditions of Old England, even down to adapting the word "crew" in Chaucerian fashion so that it came out, forever afterward, as "krewe". They chose, as their central figure representing themselves, the offspring of the Greek god Bacchus and the sorceress Circe, as filtered through the poetry of John Milton, and thus was born the Mystick Krewe of Comus.
The Civil War interrupted carnival through the duration. Comus and other marching groups, along with the carnival balls, reappeared between 1866 and 1867, but tensions varied with the occupying Union forces and the Reconstruction government.
But when it was announced that Russia's Grand Duke Alexis was going to take in New Orleans as part of his tour of America and that his visit would coincide with Carnival in 1872, a group of leading businessmen and theater designers quickly formed an organization calling themselves (which they remain, formally) the School of Design, to stage a carnival parade complete with floats, bands, and costumed marchers to honor the Grand Duke on Carnival day.
The School of Design grandly proclaimed their monarch the King of the Carnival, and he became synonymous with the name of his parade: Rex. Rex paraded during the day, presenting themselves for the Grand Duke's review at noon, whereas Comus had always paraded at night. By adding a day parade, a whole new dimension had been added to the celebration. Comus' first procession of floats in 1857 had captured the public imagination and had literally saved Mardi Gras from oblivion.
Rex merely expanded this beyond any scope known, and the future pattern of the Carnival had been established. The Krewes of Proteus and Momus joined the carnival in the early 1880s, and the krewes began a gentle rivalry to produce not only the most elaborate tableaux balls, but the most beautiful and popular parades on the streets; hiring professional float and prop builders (where previously everything they presented on the streets and at the balls had been fashioned and imported from France), costumers, theatrical designers, and prop-makers. From 1890 onward, the number of parading and ball organizations has steadily grown; some existing only a short time, others having histories extending back decades and even a century and a half.
Hopkinsville's first and only active krewe, The Mystic Krewe of the Kingdom of Lamuria, was formed in 2003 and has participated in or sponsored many events in Hopkinsville and the surrounding area. Through the efforts of the krewe members thousands of dollars have been raised for local charities.
To view pictures from past events please visit the Rogues Gallery Photos
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