The Woman He Loved joined the Duke of Windsor for Carnival in 1950.
Mardi Gras History: Rex, the Duke, and The Woman He Loved
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor bow to Rex, at the Rex ball, 21-February-1950. The ducal couple viewed the Rex parade from the stands at the Boston Club on Canal Street, then attended the ball at the Municipal Auditorium that evening. The Duke of Windsor was the former King of the UK, Edward VIII.
The Grand Duke Alexi Romanov was not the only “real” royal who attended Rex. Almost eighty years after Rex hosted the Grand Duke, they greeted another King. Well, a former King of England, that is. In 1950, His Royal Highness, Edward, Duke of Windsor, and his wife, Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, attended Carnival in New Orleans. Their visit culminated with the bal masque of Rex on Mardi Gras night.
The Duke and Duchess arrive at City Hall (now Gallier Hall) to meet with Mayor Morrison, February 20, 1950. Cole Coleman photo via the Howard-Tilton Library at Tulane
The story of how the man who was once Edward VIII came to bow to the King of Carnival, begins in 1934. Known as “David” to his family, the oldest son of King George V was quite the womanizer. He took up with a number of married women at his home near Windsor Castle. One of those women introduced David to a friend, Wallis Warfield Simpson. Wallis was in the process of divorcing her second husband at the time. So, her relationship with the then Prince of Wales was considered to be quite scandalous. His parents refused to receive his new mistress, seriously straining their relationship with the next king. George V died on January 20, 1936. David acceded to the throne as Edward VIII, and declared his intention to marry Wallis upon the finalization of her divorce.
Neither the government nor the Church of England wanted a woman who was twice-divorced and whose ex-husbands were still alive to become Queen Consort. David insisted he would marry Wallis, even if it meant giving up the throne. Give it up he did, on December 10, 1936. His brother, Albert, Duke of York (“Bertie” to the family), became George VI, and his daughter, now HM Queen Elizabeth II, became heiress presumptive.
Life after abdication
King George conferred the title of Duke of Windsor on his older brother. Wallis and David were married in 1937, and lived in France for a time. With the outbreak of World War II, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor moved to the Bahamas, settling in Paris after the war. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the couple were regularly traveled between Paris and New York, heading down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras in 1950.
Like many dignitaries visiting the city for Carnival, the Duke and Duchess were treated as VIPs, welcomed by the mayor and city government, and feted by New Orleans society. They attended parades at Gallier Hall (which was still City Hall then), and viewed Rex at the Boston Club on Canal Street.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor view the Rex Parade at the Boston Club, 21-February-1950
The bal masque of the Rex Organization is a very formal and traditional affair. The guests, in formal attire (evening gowns for the ladies, white tie and tails for the gentlemen) arrive in advance of the royal party. Promptly at 9 p.m., Rex and his queen enter the ballroom. David and The Woman He Loved, along with the dukes and maids, form up for a Grand March around the room. Rex and his queen are then seated on elaborate thrones, where they receive their guests. The maids (who are some of the season’s top debutantes) are presented, escorted by the krewe’s dukes. Unlike most Carnival organizations, the dukes of Rex wear white tie and tails rather than masking; the captain and three lieutenants are the only officers who mask for the ball.
With the court now formally presented to Rex, they take their places to either side of the royal couple, and their majesties’ distinguished guests are then presented. Naturally, the Duke and Duchess led those presentations in 1950. HRH and Wallis played their parts with grace and ease, bowing to the mock-royalty of Carnival as if they were at Buckingham Palace.
No doubt the Duke and the Woman He Loved accompanied Rex and his consort when they left ball at the invitation of Comus. The captain of the Mystic Krewe of Comus arrives at the Rex ball at 11:15 p.m. At the Comus, Rex and his queen, along with Comus and his queen, perform a Grand March around the Comus ballroom floor. The Captain of Comus presented the dignitaries all four of Carnival’s top royalty. This tradition of the “meeting of the courts” continues to this day. Comus (Carnival’s oldest organization) no longer parades on the streets of New Orleans.
Just before the bell tolls midnight, Rex, Comus, and their consorts bow to those in attendance at the Comus ball and take their leave. The captain of Comus bows. The stage hands draw the curtains. Mardi Gras is officially over. The celebrations continue into the wee hours. Private parties continue in various locations across the city.
HRH the Duke of Windsor lived a complicated and controversial life. His respect for the Carnival traditions of New Orleans earned him a permanent place in the collective heart of the city.
Happy Mardi Gras!
NOTE: I wrote this article in 2012 for GoNOLA.com. They lost the photos, so I’m re-posting it here.
The Mystic Club 1963 marked the forty-first tableau ball of the krewe.
Mystic Club 1963
Mrs. Morell Feltus Trimble reigned as Queen of Mystic Club 1963 ball. The Times-Picayune newspaper recognized the krewe annually by printing a photo of their queen on the Sunday before Mardi Gras. This tradition ran until the late 1960s, when the “superkrewes” of Bacchus and Endymion dominated the weekend Carnival coverage.
The Mystic Club presented their first tableau in 1922. One of the interesting aspects of the krewe is the composition of their court. The Queen and her ladies-in-waiting are married women. While the Mystic Club presents debutantes at their ball, those young ladies are not the feature of the evening. The evening is all about the glamorous costumes worn by the court.
Chinese New Year
Mystic Club 1963 recognized the Lunar New Year with a Chinese theme. At 9pm, a gong sounded three times. A spotlight illuminated the captain of the krewe. He appeared as a Mandarin lord, kowtowing in Chinese style to the krewe and guests. The captain introduced the king, queen, and court. After the court processed around the dance floor, they took seats on the dais.
The tableau balls of the “old-line” krewes are, for the most part, debutante cotillions. While each krewe chooses their own queen, the slate of ladies of the court remained essentially the same throughout the season. This T-P article reporting on the 2018 Mystic Club ball lists the overlap. So, a young lady may be merely a maid of the court in the Mystic Club, but she ruled as queen of one of the other balls.
Since the debutantes appeared at a number of balls, the young ladies usually attend wearing simple white evening gowns. The krewes adorn their queens with collars, scepters, and tiaras owned by the organization.
The Mystic Club throws this convention out the window. Asking a debutante family to pony up for fancy costumes for several events as she comes out to society is a stretch. The wives of the Mystic Club, on the other hand, had no such constraints. Mystic Club 1963 offered Mrs. Trimble the opportunity to dress in the elaborate costume of a Mandarin lady.
Rex Duke Costume 1877, for a military themed parade and ball.
Rex Duke Costume 1877
For the theme, “Military Progress of the World,” a Duke of the krewe wore this Teutonic Knight costume. Artist Charles Briton created these concepts.
Rex’s Sixth Parade
The School of Design, also known as the Rex Organization, presented its sixth parade in 1877. The krewe came a long way since the first time they took to the streets of New Orleans in 1872. That first year, Rex rode a horse. That changed in 1873, as the krewe built a float for the King of Carnival. Rex lore offers the tale of how the Grand Duke Alexis Romanov of Russia attended the first Rex parade. His presence lent an amount of gravitas to that parade which isn’t quite deserved. Rex built on the success of that first year.
By 1877, Rex advanced a step further. The first five parades featured “standard” floats. They made a fine parade, but the organization wanted to match the Mystick Krewe of Comus. The senior krewe’s parade matched the theme of their bal masque. Rex desired to also present a “rolling tableaux.” While the balls for these organizations were invitation-only, the stories played out along the parade route.
Carnival krewes boasted a monarch that led the parade. Rex and the Knights of Momus placed a krewe member at the head of the procession as king. Comus does not choose a king. Their monarch represents the demi-god himself. Either way, they had a guy on that first float, waving to the crowd.
Additionally, the krewes presented young ladies to polite society at their balls. Those debutantes required formal escorts at the ball. So, the krewes created Dukes. They elevated members to these positions, giving them fancier costumes than the average float-rider. Starting in 1877, Rex’s Dukes wore costumes matching the tableaux. That’s why a guy got to wear this great knight’s costume with a magnificent helmet and a big mace.
Rex changed the role of the Duke as the parade evolved. Rather than creating elaborate costumes for Dukes, the organization invited younger men to assume the role of escorts to the court. The Dukes now wear white tie and tails, formal attire matching the long, white dresses of the ladies.
Krewe of Proteus 1901, featured in the Daily Picayune.
Krewe of Proteus 1901
Broadside in the Daily Picayune, February 18, 1901, featuring the floats of the Krewe of Proteus. The Picayune regularly assembled the float design illustrations given to them by the krewes into pull-out sections for their readers. The theme that year was, “Al-Kyris the Magnificent.”
Fifth oldest krewe
The Krewe of Proteus is the fifth oldest Carnival organization in New Orleans (dates are of the years the krewes first paraded):
Mystick Krewe of Comus – 1858
Twelfth Night Revelers – 1870
Rex, King of Carnival – 1872
Knights of Momus – 1872
Krewe of Proteus – 1882
TNR did not return to the streets after 1870, choosing to only hold a ball. Comus, Momus and Proteus withdrew from parading after the passage of the “Mardi Gras Ordinance” in 1991. Proteus returned in 2005. So, given these changes, Proteus is the second-oldest organization (behind Rex) still parading.
“Al-Kyris the Magnificent” was the theme of the 1901 Proteus parade and ball. Al-Kyris is a location from Maria Corelli’s 1889 novel, Ardath. In the novel, an angel transports Corelli’s main character, Theos Alwyn, to the ancient city of Al-Kyris. The parade and the ball’s tableaux present Alwyn’s trip to the fantasy city.
Like several of the other “old-line” parades, the Krewe of Proteus used old cotton wagons from the 1870s-1880s. They chose not to expand their parade with larger, more modern floats. The krewe uses the same wagon platforms to this day. While these smaller floats limit the size of the parade, the krewe continues to make magnificent designs featuring fanciful themes.
In our recent long-form piece on Carnival, 1916, the Illinois Central Railroad brochure for their “Mid-Winter Excursion” says those coming to New Orleans for Mardi Gras that year get grandstand tickets for three parades. The Krewe of Proteus, rolling on Lundi Gras, then Rex, during the day on Mardi Gras, and Comus that night, were the three parades.
Mid-Winter Vacation 1916 was a perfect way to warm up.
Mardi Gras in 1916
Illinois Central to the Mardi Gras
Cover of the Third Annual Mid-Winter Vacation brochure from Illinois Central RR (courtesy LSU Libraries Mardi Gras Collection)
This is a long-form (3542 words) post telling the story of the “Mid-Winter Vacation” trips promoted by the Illinois Central Railroad in 1914-1916. The LSU Libraries Mardi Gras Collection has the brochure for the 1916 trip.
Mid-Winter Vacation 1916
Riding an Illinois Central club car.
There are many options when folks living in the Northern states desire an escape from the cold. In the 1910s, the Illinois Central Railroad (IC) tempted Chicagoans with not only an escape from the cold, but also an invitation to a citywide party in New Orleans. IC’s “Mid-Winter Vacation” excursions promised excitement, along with not having to wear long underwear.
In 1916, the IC promoted its third Mid-Winter excursion with a 26-page brochure. Imagine living in Chicago in November of 1916. You’re walking to and from the train that brought you to your downtown office from your home. The weather grows colder. You know by New Year’s, it’s going to be cold, windy, and snowy. As you walk along, from the station to the office, a poster calls to you from a travel office in a hotel. Families wearing spring attire gather at the rear end of trains that rescued you from the snow.
At the railroad office
On the way home, as you pass that travel office, you stop in, inquiring about the scene on that poster. A clerk cheerfully explains the Mid-Winter Vacation. They give you a copy of the excursion’s brochure. You bring it home to your wife. While she didn’t have to take the train into town, she’s still coming and going from the house in cold, also knowing the snow and slush will make her daily routing more challenging. Three months of this? By then, you’ll absolutely need a break.
Talk it over
Over dinner for the next couple of days, the weather becomes a major topic of conversation. You and your spouse think back to February’s cold and damp. On February 16, 1915, New Orleans temperatures were in the mid-50s for Mardi Gras. The mid-50s?! You could almost promenade in shorts in such weather!
Mardi Gras 1916 would be on March 7th. That extra three weeks meant that New Orleans would likely be even warmer. You sigh. Your spouse sighs. You start thinking, maybe this escape is necessary.
Why New Orleans?
Just why was the IC tempting you with a trip to New Orleans? The semi-tropical climate of New Orleans was the end point of several IC passenger routes, most notably, the Panama Limited. New Orleans was also the origin point for freight trains, hauling cotton and other raw goods north, to the factories of Chicagoland. Finished products returned South, filling the shelves of dry goods and other stores. One more train, maybe two if enough people booked, heading down to New Orleans, enticed folks to use passenger rail service at a time of year most people worried more about slipping on ice on the sidewalk.
As you glance out at the sidewalk in front of your Chicago home, you’re visualizing the ice and snow. New Orleans, with its “…renowned restaurants and its noted hotels” sounds better by the moment. The Carnival season is “Gorgeous, Spectacular, Entertaining, and Instructive.” (You’ve heard friends and colleagues discuss the “instructive” part, to be sure.
And, compared to Chicago, it would be warm, on March 7th.
While most of the excitement and pageantry of Mardi Gras happened in the evenings, New Orleans has much to offer. You’ll visit the old French and Spanish Quarter, bringing you back to a “Past Foreign Epoch,” a colonial time you didn’t read much about in school. The textbooks focused on the Thirteen Colonies. New Orleans was part of New Spain in 1776. The city evolved along a totally different path. It retained much of that magic, 140ish years later.
This sounds better and better as your daydreams carry you through work over the next week or so.
Consider the details
Uncertainties of Travel
Relaxing on the train.
Most of us are not frequent travelers. Even when we reach the status of “regular traveler,” it’s to specific destinations. The Chicagoan who travels to, say, Cincinnati to see family, or the New Orleanians who make the five-hour trek to Houston or the 8-hour run to Atlanta. Many of us have that one place we go to for work a couple of times a year. In the South, we see families dash down I-95 or across I-10 for regular adventures at Walt Disney World.
Regular travel is “safe.” Disney Vacation Club family knows exactly where they’re staying. Atlanta Falcons fans coming down to New Orleans for the annual NFL South derby stay with Saints-fan family willing to tolerate their presence. Regular routes that, for the planner in the group, put them on auto-pilot.
Looking out at that Mid-Winter poster in 1915 is something else altogether. The Chicagoan likely had never been to New Orleans. Yes, there were great restaurants and solid hotels. New Orleans was and is a port city, though, which conjures up, well, uncertainties. Who better to assist with alleviating those uncertainties than a transportation company that operates in the city daily?
So, what are the uncertainties that concern the less-than-frequent traveler?
Hotel at destination
Drawing Room in the sleeper car.
A quality passenger train is, essentially, an overnight hotel. The trip from Chicago to New Orleans was, at the time, twenty to twenty-three hours, essentially an overnight trip. Once the train arrived at Union Station (more on the station later), passengers disembarked and went on their way. The railroad pulled the train into a service yard, where the cars were cleaned, refreshed, linens changed in the sleeper cars, and dining cars re-supplied. Trains then returned to the station to head north with a new set of passengers. It’s not all that difficult to refresh and re-supply a train that doesn’t move for a few days. So, that takes care of where to stay.
Food – Two concerns here. Dining on a budget can be tricky. There are good places, there are places one could get food poisoning. Fine dining on a nightly basis isn’t cheap. While the dining car on a train offers a good supper and a good breakfast the next morning, that’s the expectation from most travelers. Most of the diner car staff on Pullman-staffed trains were solid cooks, supervised by chefs who could run their own back-of-house. It wasn’t Restaurant Antoine, which had been open seventy-six years by Carnival, 1916, but it worked.
Transportation at the destination
A regular urban commuter also has specific routes and routines. They take the train or subway to town and walk from there. Same for cities where buses are common. While buses and streetcars in a new location are fun, they can be confusing. That creates uncertainty. Taxis recommended by the railroad, along with local IC staff who can put you on the right streetcar, remove the concerns.
OK, the uncertainties have been addressed. Now, let’s talk money.
Can we afford it?
Schedule and fees
You took home the brochure, and your spouse confirmed the schedule. Yes, you can get someone to watch the kids for a few days. Yes, a March 4th departure and a March 8th return (arriving back to Chicago on the 10th) works. Now, let’s talk money.
The base fare for this journey is $64 per person. There are some additional fees, if you plan to stay on the train while it’s parked in New Orleans. Two people sharing a compartment or drawing-room at the destination adds $12.50 to the total. (Note that booking a private drawing-room rather than just a basic sleeping compartment will cost a bit more.) The IC advises that, “Experience has taught that the ideal accommodations to be a compartment or a drawing-room.”
Meals en route and return are included, but a la carte dining while in New Orleans is additional. So, if you head out into the city for a local meal, you’re not losing out on meals on the train.
This plan puts expenses per person at $76.50 per person. Adjusted for inflation, this comes out to $1835.87 per person in 2021 dollars. It’s pricey, but you can make it work.
Let’s go back to the railroad agent!
Dining to and in New Orleans
Meals in the Dining Car
Dining out in New Orleans may not have been the primary motivation for joining the Mid-Winter Vacation, but it certainly was an important one for many. Without cable TV and other video services, what the cold-weary Chicagoan knew about New Orleans cuisine came from their boss, maybe someone in their church parish, or their better-traveled cousin. Friends and family demonstrate their culinary knowledge by commenting that this appetizer or that soup you’re enjoying locally just can’t measure up to the ones they enjoyed on their trip to New Orleans. This builds the mystique that pushes you to buy the excursion package.
So, you did it. You went to the railroad office, or a travel bureau along your walk to the office. They explained all the details and fine print to you. After all, the IC rely on testimonials from previous excursion-goers. They don’t want the 1916 equivalent of a one-star Yelp review! You write the check, and bring all the paperwork home. Now for planning the fun!
Your boss, friend, and/or cousin may know a bit more about New Orleans than you, but their experiences are limited when compared to the railroad. While the staff in the local IC office may not know your destination well, the brochures run down the fine dining options. You can read about those places and lean on advice from the New Orleans staff upon arrival.
Your excursion brochure lists a number of restaurants:
de la Louisiane
Kolbs German Tavern
Begue’s Breakfast House
The Cave and Forest Grill at the Grunewald Hotel
The Italian Gardens at the St. Charles Hotel
Of these restaurants, la Louisiane, Antoine’s, and Galatoire’s remain open. Kolb’s German Tavern opened in 1899 and closed in 1994. Kolbs was in the 100 block of St. Charles Avenue. It offered a close-by alternative to the restaurant in the St. Charles Hotel, located in the 200 block.
There’s a note in the brochure on dining.
The party will undoubtedly be scattered throughout the day, and would prefer, not only to be free to eat when and where it might be most convenient, but to have the opportunity to experience the delights of dining in some of the famous New Orleans restaurants; for it is not only proverbial that in New Orleans they know ‘how to dine,’ but that the city is noted for its restaurants and cafes, many of them making specialties of certain dishes that cannot be duplicated in any other restaurant in the country.
This requires a bit of unpacking. One of the takeaways visitors to New Orleans bring home often involves their dining experiences. The names of restaurants such as “la Lou,” Antoine’s and Galatoire’s suggest they serve French cuisine. This is only partly correct. The French restaurants of New Orleans serve dishes with names that match Continental cuisine, but the recipes are quite different. We classify these restaurants as “Creole-French.” That’s because the Continental dishes which came over from France (often via Haiti) originally evolved over three hundred years. French families in New Orleans often used enslaved Africans as cooks in their households.
Restaurants employed free people of color in their kitchens. The black cooks in New Orleans contributed to the evolution in cuisine. They added seasonings that reflected their African roots and ancestry. They cooked food more suitable for the warm climate. At home, the family ate what cook prepared. In most cases, it turned out pretty good.
Extending this cooking style to restaurants made perfect sense. Local diners wanted food seasoned like they got at home. So, the French dishes one would expect in Chicago or New York were simply not the same in New Orleans. Restaurants in the rest of the country couldn’t duplicate these styles, because they didn’t have back of the house staff that descended from enslaved Africans and Afro-Caribbeans.
Your friend, brother-in-law, or boss constantly reminds everyone of this. Now you have to see for yourself. This is why the railroad doesn’t include meals in your Mid-Winter Vacation package.
It’s not just the Creole-French cuisine that receives a distinct New Orleans touch. The city boasted of a large German community, long before the Southern Rebellion. Given the turmoil in Europe after Bonaparte merged the remnants of the Holy Roman Empire into his Confederation of the Rhine, then the fallout from its collapse, many of German descent looked to America as a way out of chaos. Like the Irish, they came to Eastern cities. As opportunities in New York and Baltimore dwindled, these Germans stretched out, to Ohio and Chicago. They also boarded ships in the Eastern seaports and came to New Orleans. By the early 1900s, there were a number of German restaurants. Like the Creole-French restaurants, the German food of New Orleans picked up a bit of local flavor.
Creole-French cuisine in New Orleans, for all its romantic and foreign appeal, didn’t fit the plans of many from Chicago. Perhaps travelers were classic, Anglo-Irish meat-and-potatoes people. All that fancy food just didn’t work for them. Additionally, the cost of dining out stretched some travel budgets too far.
The railroad stood ready to help. The IC operated the train’s dining and club cars while in New Orleans. Prior travelers on these excursions particularly found the dining car convenient for breakfast. One could get ready, walk down to the dining car, have a proper meal, then get on with the day in New Orleans. Returning to the train yard for dinner was not too terribly inconvenient, particularly when one knew exactly what to expect from the kitchen.
Enjoying Mardi Gras 1916
Grandstand seats for the parades
Explaining Mardi Gras
It’s interesting that the brochure for the Mid-Winter Vacation did not actually explain what Mardi Gras is until its last pages. Such was the lure of the huge warm-up travelers experienced as they moved south. The promise of fine dining and enjoying arguably the most unique city in America were often enough to sign people up.
So, what’s this Mardi Gras thing?
Rex arrives on Lundi Gras
The brochure explained that the Carnival season begins on January 6th, with the tableaux and ball of the Twelfth Night Revelers. This krewe derives their name from the “Twelfth day of Christmas,” also known as “Little Christmas,” or the Feast of the Epiphany. In 1916, thirteen Carnival organizations presented tableaux balls from January 6th to March 1st.
The dates of these balls vary from year to year. The start of Carnival on January 6th is fixed, but Mardi Gras varies, depending on Easter. Easter is calculated as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. The Church observes the season of Lent, a period of fasting and penance, for forty days before Easter. If you calculate forty days before Easter (excluding Sundays), you get Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. So, the Carnival season ends on Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.
Since Easter Sunday, and consequently, Mardi Gras, does not have a fixed date, the length of the Carnival season varies. Carnival 1916 was longer than usual. The organizations holding balls could spread out a bit, not having to go night after night. Since most of the organizations were private social clubs, there wasn’t a lot of overlap in membership rolls.
To schedule the climax of the Carnival season, one calculated backwards from Mardi Gras. Carnival on March 7, 1916 meant the day before, Lundi Gras, was on March 6th. There were no parades or balls on the Saturday and Sunday prior to Mardi Gras. The first parade of the season was on Thursday, March 2nd, the Knights of Momus. There was also no parades or balls on Friday, March 3rd.
These empty dates filled in with activity as time went on. The Krewe of Hermes took to the streets for the first time in 1938, on the Friday before Mardi Gras. The Krewe of Endymion rolled its first parade in 1968, and the Krewe of Bacchus, in 1969. They rolled on Saturday and Sunday evenings. Various krewes held daytime parades over the weekend as well.
So, back to 1916. The Knights of Momus rolled on the evening of Thursday, March 2nd. The Mid-Winter Vacation excursion departed Chicago on Saturday, March 4th, arriving the next day. The lack of formal Carnival activity on the evening of Sunday, March 5th gave the visitors a chance to explore the city a bit on their own and enjoy New Orleans cuisine. Monday during the day provided time for tours and other activities.
The vacation package price included grandstand tickets for three parades. With an arrival on the Sunday before Mardi Gras, that meant visitors viewed the Krewe of Proteus on Monday evening, Rex during the day on Mardi Gras, and the Mystick Krewe of Comus on Mardi Gras night.
Monday offered day time pageantry as well, as Rex, King of Carnival, arrived along the New Orleans riverfront on Lundi Gras afternoon. The excursion brochure describes the ceremonies of 1915, in anticipation of the coming trip’s experiences will also be magnificent. The King of Carnival officially arrives in New Orleans aboard a riverboat, escorted by a number of warships of the United States Navy. In 1915, the largest warship in New Orleans for the celebration was a battleship, the USS Ohio.
Rex stepped off the riverboat to the fanfares of military bands. Military dignitaries saluted the monarch (who usually wore a mask, keeping his identity secret until the next day). The Mayor presented Rex with the keys to the city. Rex then boarded an elaborate carriage, leading a military parade. Sailors and Marines from the ships in port, as well as local Army and militia units, marched through the downtown streets. Military pomp and circumstance was much more formal than the cheers and applause of the masked revelers rolling through the city in the evening tableaux parades. After the military recognition, Rex faded into the shadows until the next day.
The streets cleared again, only to fill up after sunset, for the Krewe of Proteus. Proteus was the second street parade of the season, and drew large crowds, as the two-day celebration was well under way. Proteus, like most of the “old line” krewes, was punctual. Their parade began at 6:00pm, arriving at the French Opera House in time to begin their bal masque at 9:00pm. Those invited to the ball partied into the wee hours of the morning.
The Butterfly King
Tuesday morning dawned. The King of Carnival and members of his krewe rose early, to prepare for the day parade. The Rex parade stepped off at 10:00am, in Uptown New Orleans. The King of Carnival made it to City Hall (now Gallier Hall) on St. Charles Avenue, just before noon. Rex toasted the Mayor and other city officials, then rolled down to Canal Street. The king’s float pulled up to the Boston Club, in the 800 block of Canal Street, where Rex toasted his queen, her court, and his family. The parade meandered up Canal Street, turned towards the river, to the French Opera House, where it disbanded.
Mardi Gras afternoon was an exciting combination of music, dancing, eating, drinking, and, for some, perhaps a bit of romance! The street party, as well as private functions across the city, mellowed out a bit as sunset approached.
At 6:00pm, the oldest Carnival organization, the Mystick Krewe of Comus, left its float den Uptown, rolling through the streets. Comus (not a king, but a demi-god) also stopped at City Hall to recognize city government. They paraded to the Boston Club, where Comus toasted his queen and members of the organization. The krewe then retired to the French Opera House, where they presented their tableaux ball.
Rex and Comus both held their tableaux balls at the same time. Starting in 1882, at 11pm, the King of Carnival would bid farewell to those attending his ball, and walked over to the Comus ball. The senior monarch, Comus, greeted Rex and his Queen. They continued their festivities until the formal close of the Carnival season at midnight.
Travelers on the excursion enjoyed all of the excitement of Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday. Some likely retired back to their sleeping cars after public celebrations ended at midnight. Those with invitations to private parties remained out until the early hours of Ash Wednesday.
Everyone enjoyed a leisurely day on Ash Wednesday, as New Orleans returned to normal. The excursion left New Orleans Union Station at 10pm on March 8th, arriving in Vicksburg, Mississippi at 7am the next morning.
The stop at Vicksburg National Battlefield was interesting to those from Chicago and other Northern cities. Many units from the Chicago era during the Southern Rebellion were assigned to U.S. Grant’s western divisions. Many of the ancestors of members of the Mid-Winter Vacation gave their lives during the Siege of Vicksburg, 18-May to 4-July, 1863.
Leaving the South
After a couple of hours exploring the battlefield at Vicksburg, the train continued north, arriving in Chicago at 11am on Friday, March 10th.
The Friday morning arrival meant travelers had the rest of the day to return home and decompress from their adventure. By the following Monday morning, they were ready to regale colleagues and family with all the tales of that almost-foreign city to the South.
Krewe of Proteus 1895 presented the theme, “Asgard and the Gods.” Float 15 told the story of Ragnarok, the Last Battle. Be sure to tell your kids that this mythology didn’t start with the MCU!
Occasionally, krewes rise in popularity to the point where they place prospective members on a waiting list. After all, parades like Proteus 1895 lacked the giant floats of modern krewes. While Endymion rolls floats that hold 200 riders, the 19th century parades relied on mule power. Mules hauled a lot of cotton from riverboats docks to the pressing plants. They returned pressed cotton to the riverfront. Ocean-going ships transported the cargo up the East coast, or to Europe. They’re strong animals, but have their limits. So, a parade of fifteen to twenty floats required thirty to forty mules. Floats held eight to ten riders.
So, mule power forced krewes to limit membership. Additionally, Comus attracted men for both the fun of participating and the business connections. Men on the waiting list lost patience. Some organized new krewes. They formed new private clubs at the same time. Comus affiliated themselves with the Boston Club. Another group chartered the Pickwick Club. The name derives from the Dickens novel, The Pickwick Papers. They leased space for the club in a hotel at 800 Canal Street. The hotel adopted the club’s name. Proteus 1895 operated from the hotel. In 1897, retailer Leon Fellman needed a new location for his dry goods store. He lost his lease at 901 Canal. S.J. Schwarz expanded his store into Maison Blanche at that location. So, the owners of the Pickwick Hotel agreed to lease the building to Fellman. The Pickwick Club, and the Krewe of Proteus moved to the 1000 block. The club now owns the building at the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street.
Proteus 1895 float 15 presents the epic battle from Norse mythology. Carlotta Bonnecaze designed many of the floats for Proteus in the 1880s and 1890s. Her illustrations provided the artists and craftsmen hired by the krewe to turn a wagon into an epic scene.
The Howard-Tilton Library’s Carnival Collection archives many of the paintings and plans for the Krewe of Proteus.