The practice has evolved into an art form of sorts and has become an integral part of Mardi Gras.
In 1827, slaves carried wooden torches wrapped with pine-tar rags to illuminate the nighttime Mistick Krewe of Comus. They were called “Flam-beau” meaning “torch” in French. The torch carriers marched in front of the floats and parade-goers threw coins on the ground for the flambeaux. Later, after the Civil War, free men of color carried the torches.In the late 19th century, pine-tar rags were re-placed with vapor-burning lamps that reflect on a metal backsplash.
The same set up is still used today, though Endymion and Bacchus started using propane tanks rather than kerosene or oil to fuel the flames about 40 years ago.Today, parade-goers are more likely to hand flambeaux dollar bills than throwing coins on the ground. Flambeaux can earn $500 or more a night from such tips.Bacchus, Proteus, Endymion, Orpheus, Chaos, Krewe d’Etat and Muses are a few of the parades that typically use flambeaux.