Brochure for the Krewe of Hermes, 1940 (courtesy John Minor Wisdom collection, UNO)
Hermes parade and ball over the years
Krewe of Hermes, 1938 (Teunisson photo)
Even in times of adversity, New Orleans uses Carnival to give the city an emotional boost. Carnival time got the city through the Great Depression. In typical New Orleans fashion, a group of businessmen expanded the celebration for the 1938 Carnival season.
Hermes Ball, 1938 (Teunisson photo)
Carnival parading grew from Comus in 1857 to Rex and Momus in 1872, to many more by the 1930s. In 1938, the Friday night was empty. In 1937, Congressman F. Edward Hebert sponsored a group of businessmen in their effort to start a krewe. These businessmen gathered enough interested men to hold a parade the following year.
Hermes on Canal Street, 1987 (courtesy Infrogmation)
The Krewe of Hermes was an instant hit. Looking to introduce new ideas to the Carnival celebration, the krewe outlined their floats with neon lights, so that the floats lit themselves as well as drawing light from the flambeaux carriers marching along with them.
Dukes and Maids
Queen of Hermes, 1938 (Teunisson photo)
Hermes adopted the tradition of holding a bal masque that doubled as a debutante ball.
Hermes parade in 1987. A duke rides in a convertible. (Infrogmation photo)
A number of parades extend the length of their celebration by using “Maid/Duke floats” which are smaller than the average krewe float. The queen and maids of Hermes don’t parade, but the dukes do. In the 1970s and 1980s, the krewe’s dukes rode in convertibles.
Hermes 2007: Float, “Apocalypse of Ragnorak” (Infrogmation photo)
Now in its 80th year, the krewe still parades on the Friday before Mardi Gras, on the Uptown route. The krewe holds its formal bal masque the night before the parade. The king and his court are presented to the guests, and a festive supper dance is held after the ball. On the street, the Hermes parade is followed by the Krewe d’Etat.
Walking to the parade
In addition to the float parade on Friday night, Hermes continues a long-standing tradition of a “walking parade” in the French Quarter. Carnival organizations have long been restricted from bringing their floats into the Quarter, mainly for fire safety and traffic control reasons. Mindful of their roots, however, Hermes members, dressed in business suits with krewe-logo ties, gather on Royal Street and march through the Quarter, throwing beads and doubloons. They then make their way to the parade’s Uptown staging area for the ride.
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Twelfth Night Reveling!
Invitation to the 1884 bal masque of the Twelfth Night Revelers. (Public domain image courtesy the Louisiana State Museum)
Twelfth Night Reveling!
It’s Carnival Time! We’re starting off the season talking about Twelfth Night, the Feast of the Epiphany, King’s Day. There are three segments to this week’s pod. In the first segment, we discuss the history of Twelfth Night, from its pre-Christian origins to how we celebrate Epiphany in the modern world.
Our second segment is about the part of King’s Day that matters most, King Cake. The tradition of the king cake goes back centuries. Celtic peoples practiced the notion of the “sacred king”. The village or tribe would choose one of their own, a man, to be the sacred king. He would be sacrificed. The sacred king’s blood would flow into the land, an offering to the gods to ensure a good harvest.
When Christianity came to Europe, the concept of human sacrifice as stopped. The “sacred king” became a “Lord of Misrule” who led the celebrations. The selection process for both roles was basically the same. The women of the village would bake bread or a cake, and put a bean into the cake. When the cake was cut up and served, the man who got the bean became the sacred king. In Christian times, the tale was changed, so that the bean represented the Christ child. That’s where the modern concept of “getting the baby” originated.
The modern, commercial king cake came about in the 1930s. Haydel’s Bakery began to include a porcelain “baby” in each cake in the 1960s. The baby became plastic not soon after that.
Buying King Cakes
You can buy Dong Phuong king cakes at the bakery, or at Pizza NOLA in Lakeview
Twelfth Night Reveling in New Orleans
The Twelfth Night room at Antoine’s Restaurant in the French Quarter
Our third segment walks through Carnival celebrations in early New Orleans, to the first parade, Comus, in 1857. Parading on January 6th began in 1870, with the Twelfth Night Revelers. The krewe paraded in the streets until 1878. After that, they limited their celebration to just a bal masque. Tonight, there will be three parades: The Phunny Phorty Phellows, the Société Des Champs Elysée, and the Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc.
Float design from Krewe of Proteus 1889 parade. Theme: The Hindoo Heavens. (Howard-Tilton Memorial Library. Louisiana Research Collection)
Happy Proteus Monday! While the rest of us think of today as “Lundi Gras”, the staff at Antoine’s Restaurant in the French Quarter tip their hats to Proteus, the “old-line” Carnival krewe that rolls on the day before Mardi Gras. Proteus was the only one of the old-line krewes to return to the streets after the “Mardi Gras Ordinance” kerfluffle in 1993. Proteus uses smaller, old-style floats that are essentially decorated wooden wagons.
This is a concept sketch for a float from the 1899 ride of Proteus. The route in those days was through the French Quarter, ending up at the Old Opera House, where the krewe would dismount and hold their bal masque. Proteus’ ball, like the other “society/debutante” affairs is a private function, but they’ll throw their signature seashorse throws tonight for us all!
Costume design from Krewe of Proteus 1899 parade. Theme: E. Pluribus Unum.
They just don’t do krewe costumes like they used to. Krewes like Proteus used to parade, then go straight to their ball (in 1899, that would have been held at the French Opera House). The maskers wore their costumes for the tableau on the floats.
Costume drawing, watercolor on board, Krewe of Venus, costume for float no. 14, “Battle of Waterloo–English” not signed by the artist, dated 1954 on reverse
In 1954, the Krewe of Venus’ theme was “Battle of Waterloo”. While the uniform isn’t quite historically accurate, it’s an awesome costume.
John Mendes photo – Maskers in the 800 block of Canal, 4-Mar-1919
There were no parades for Carnival, 1919. World War I ended on November 11, 1918, so the krewes did not plan to parade in 1919. The happy circumstance of the war ending brought out maskers and revelers, though. This John Mendes photo shows an interesting group of maskers and others in the 800 block of Canal Street.
A couple of items of note here:
The streetcar is a “Palace” car, from American Car Company. The “Palace” cars were generally considered to be the most comfortable that ran in New Orleans, including the arch roofs. The operating company in 1919 was New Orleans Railway and Light. It would be four years before the big purchase of arch-roofs from Perley Thomas.
There is a “ghost ad” for “Trianon” on the building behind the streetcar. The actual name of the palace in Versailles, France, where a number of treaties were negotiated over time, is “La Grand Trianon”. The treaty that formally ended WWI wasn’t signed until June 4, 1920. Interesting coincidence.
If anyone know what the product/place “Trianon” referenced here would be, let me know. Here’s a zoom of the ad:
Zoom of Mendes photo from 4-Mar-1919, showing “Trianon” ad.
Parades resumed the following year, 1920.