Carnival expert & WWL-TV's Morning Show factotum & correspondent since 1996. Appearing on TV every Twelfth Night & Mardi Gras, as well as parades all season.
938 days ago
RT: Our Carnival Heritage: Modern Carnival Begins #carnival2013#mardigras#nola#parade
THE GRANDEST PROCESSION
Comus reigned as the King of Carnival for another 3 years, until the start of the Civil War. All festivities were canceled during the war, which only served to make the natives hungrier for their annual celebration. When Comus returned to the streets of New Orleans in 1866, it was an enormous success and the perfect tonic for a war-torn area in desperate need of a boost. By this point, other krewes were beginning to form, contributing to the merriment. In 1870, the Twelfth Night Revelers appeared, and began the tradition of presenting a young maiden with a cake, inside of which was baked a gold bean...sort of. The first year, no one actually claimed to have gotten the bean! The following year, they solved the problem by keeping track of which piece of king cake had the gold bean inside.
1872 was a banner year for Mardi Gras, seeing the premieres of the Knights of Momus parade on New Year's Eve, and the visit of genuine royalty to New Orleans. Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff came to the city early in the year, an event that brought the debut parade of The School of Design, now known as The Rex Organization. It also brought a new legend to the celebrations.
The legend goes that the Grand Duke attended a performance of a popular entertainment called Bluebeard. In the show was a young lady named Lydia Thompson, whom the Grand Duke had met before his arrival in the city. In the show, she sang an unusual melody by entitled "If Ever I Cease to Love" that was assumed to be a favorite of the Duke's because of a rumored courtship between the Grand Duke and Miss Thompson. It was because of this unrequited love that "If Ever I Cease to Love" became the anthem of Carnival.
The truth is, however, somewhat less than romantic. The Grand Duke was smitten with an actress, but it was not Lydia Thompson. The actress in question was Lotta Crabtree, who is still remembered in the California gold rush area where she first found fame. Miss Crabtree was also performing in New Orleans at the time at the St. Charles Theatre. It is true that Miss Thompson's touring schedule and the Grand Duke's touring schedule had recently been identical, but this was merely coincidence. It is true that Miss Thompson was performing a version of "If Ever I Cease to Love" in the play "Bluebeard" at the Academy of Music (where the Hotel Intercontinental now stands) just up the street from Miss Crabtree's production. But this was not the first time New Orleans heard the song. The 1868 original, written by George Leybourne (of "The Girl on The Flying Trapeeze" fame) was being used by Miss Thompson's company, albeit with altered lyrics. In the days before musicians unions, songwriters had no protection from their songs being used and changed without their permission. Such was the case here. The song was already popular in New Orleans before Rex ever took to the streets: The School of Design simply made it a hometown favorite. If the Grand Duke Alexis and Miss Thompson did ever meet, it was brief.
However, the Grand Duke did leave behind a lasting tradition. Using his heraldic skills he chose three colors to represent Rex and consequently all of Mardi Gras. Purpure, vert, & or-purple, green, and gold! Purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.
The innovation of Rex reaffirmed the tourism possibilities for New Orleans, and opened the door for literally hundreds of future krewes to flourish and blossom. In 1882 the Krewe of Proteus appeared with a stylish parade based on Egyptian mythology. In 1890, the first walking club, the Jefferson City Buzzards began the walking club traditions we still see today. The Original Illinois Club started in 1894, the first African-American Mardi Gras organization. 1896 saw the debut of Les Mystereuses (now defunct), the first all-female krewe.