Visitors often have a hard time believing that most of Mardi Gras is family-friendly, given its bawdy representation in the national media. But locals know the parade season is perfect for children.
And some children do more than watch parades from modified ladders placed on the neutral grounds; a lucky few get to participate. In addition to annually presenting the first preseason parade in Jefferson Parish, the Metairie-based Krewe of Little Rascals is, at age 32, the longest-running parade for children in the history of Carnival.
The first kids-only krewe debuted in 1934, when the Krewe of NOR (New Orleans Romance) presented its first of 10 parades.
Writing in 1952 in “New Orleans Masquerade,” Arthur Lacour said: “A krewe was organized consisting of pupils of the various public and parochial institutions, and plans were made for each school to fabricate and sponsor a miniature float for the parade on the Saturday afternoon before Shrove Tuesday. The initial appearance in 1934 of the diminutive cars enlivened by tastefully costumed girls and rosy-cheeked boys provided a most unique addition to the Carnival season.”
The NOR royalty were chosen by lottery. The mayor presented keys to the city to the king and queen each year as the parade stopped at Gallier Hall for a special toast.
By 1941, the procession had grown to 100 floats. World War II canceled all parades, but NOR returned for two final presentations in 1948 and 1949.
From 1968 to 1984, St. Bernard Parish led the way with kiddie krewes, starting with Sprites, which lasted for 10 years. The Krewe of Pan started in 1972 and paraded until 1978, when both it and Sprites disbanded. Three years later, the Krewe of Oz debuted in Chalmette and paraded for four years.
In New Orleans, kids from New Orleans and Mississippi paraded in Mid-City as the Krewe of NOLAMISS from 1972 to 1975.
Starting in the late 1950s, various Cub Scout troops began presenting neighborhood parades. Some, such as the Audubon District, minted their own doubloons. The Alice Birney School in Metairie became famous for its lavish, full-scale Mardi Gras balls. Scores of elementary schools continue to present miniparades around their schoolyards and in their surrounding neighborhoods.
A handful of organizations function solely to allow children and teenagers to participate in Mardi Gras balls. The most famous was founded in 1926: the coed Children’s Carnival Club of New Orleans, which still prospers today. The club was significant enough that for decades it held its events at the Municipal Auditorium. Among the club’s soon-to-be-famous kings was actor Bryan Batt, who reigned in 1977 with queen Elizabeth Klein.