The parade of the Corps de Napoleon will roll for the last time in Jefferson Parish — and maybe anywhere — when it starts out along the Metairie route early Sunday evening, another casualty of the evolution of Mardi Gras in the 21st century.
Nicole Cosse, the daughter of Napoleon founder Irvy Cosse Jr., said parading in Jefferson Parish has become increasingly untenable over the last dozen or so years, and that the krewe decided last year that 2018 would be its last time in the parish.
Cosse said Napoleon would like to roll in New Orleans, but the overtures it has made to the city in recent years have yet to pan out.
Irvy Cosse, who founded Napoleon in 1980 when he moved the Krewe of Hestia to Jefferson Parish, died Jan. 12, so friends and family will be carrying almost four decades of tradition on the 25-float procession's final ride.
Cosse said a variety of factors have made it increasingly difficult to parade in Jefferson Parish, where the parades have dwindled from about two dozen in the 1990s down to about 10 as many have called it quits or moved to the coveted Uptown route in New Orleans.
Cosse said there has been pressure on Napoleon to roll on Family Gras weekend, which was last weekend, even though out-of-town riders would rather be here on Mardi Gras weekend.
She said krewes have been rushed along routes on nights where parades have been stacked one after the other, leaving paraders with surplus throws they didn’t have time to give out. Also, it has also become common for the king’s and queen’s toasts to be cut short in the name of keeping things moving.
Cosse said Napoleon, which was always a night parade and features lighted floats, has been pushed earlier and earlier and now rolls before dark.
Another major issue has been the skyrocketing cost of reviewing stand rentals. Cosse said the stands — which are erected and run under a contract with the parish — were always available for krewes and their volunteers and supporters, but they have become difficult to get. She said they have quadrupled in cost and are being snapped up by companies able to pay much more.
“When they realized how much they could get from the corporate sponsors, they decided they would try to squeeze us out,” she said.
Cosse said changes the state made to its rules governing bingo fundraisers have hurt as well. While she understands the intention of cracking down on fraud, she said, the new rules have made the bingo events less effective.
There’s more paperwork to fill out, kids can no longer sell the paper bingo sheets, volunteers can no longer be compensated with things like crawfish boils, and it’s all become difficult to pull off, Cosse said.
“It just came to where it wasn’t fun anymore,” she said. “It was just more work every time.”
Even if Napoleon is allowed to parade in New Orleans, the question of who will run things is up in the air now that Irvy Cosse is gone.
His wife, Barbie Cosse, said that Irvy chose the name Napoleon for the parade after his friends joked that he shared the French emperor's penchant for ambition and grandeur.
On Sunday, she will give a tribute to her late husband and his labor of love in her final speech.
She does not yet know what she’s going to say.
“It’s going to come from the heart,” she said. “He lived for Mardi Gras.”