New Orleans officials didn’t report any violence or other trouble during Tuesday’s parades.
Carnival 2015 was marred by a double homicide along the Uptown parade route Thursday during Muses, the deadliest parade shooting in decades.
But New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said the season was otherwise relatively peaceful, with authorities arresting 344 people along parade routes from Feb. 6 through the weekend, mostly for public intoxication and disturbing the peace. Of those 344, 32 were felony arrests.
Harrison applauded the work of his department and its partners, including a contingent of State Police sent to the city to help keep the peace during the city’s signature celebration.
“Our officers put in long hours over the past 12 days and did an outstanding job of ensuring the safety of our residents and visitors along the parade route and across the city,” Harrison said in a prepared statement.
Despite cold weather and the threat of rain, rays of sun broke through the clouds around midday Tuesday, rewarding revelers all over New Orleans and the region with a blast of brightness and a hint of warmth as they celebrated the final hours of Carnival.
Showers and shivers were a constant source of concern for tourists and locals alike. Unlike last year, the rain stayed away, but the low Tuesday morning at Louis Armstrong International Airport was 34 degrees — 12 degrees warmer than the coldest Mardi Gras on record, according to the National Weather Service.
That milestone occurred more than a century ago, in 1899. Right before 7 a.m. on Tuesday, it didn’t feel much warmer. As revelers rubbed the sleep from their eyes and started to hit the streets, the wind chill made temperatures outside feel like 24 degrees.
“Yeah, I’m freezing,” said Kim Jackson, 35, sipping a cocktail of New Amsterdam gin and coffee to stay warm while waiting for the Zulu procession to start.
Jackson had been hunkered down on the corner of Jackson and St. Charles avenues, just down the street from her childhood home, since 6 a.m. That early start gave her a jump on much of the crowd that gathers at the first corner that both Zulu and Rex roll by.
For Jackson, the cold was worth it — but only to see Zulu. She’s one of many fans obsessed with the krewe, a social aid and pleasure club that started more than 100 years ago when a group of laborers in a club called “The Tramps” got inspired by a musical comedy about the Zulu tribe of South Africa.
Or that’s how at least one story of Zulu’s origin has it.
As gusts of wind funneled down St. Charles Avenue along with the floats, Jackson wasn’t thinking about The Tramps or anything as high-minded as the history of a venerable parading organization.
She was thinking about coconuts, costumed riders, the bands and then her warm house.
“After Zulu come, I’m outta here,” Jackson laughed, bundling in her coat.
While Tuesday was likely the coldest Mardi Gras many locals remember, some out-of-towners from colder climes found it reasonably palatable.
Otto Kraus, 32, and Ashley Lobdell, 25, came from Alaska to see Carnival for a weekend.
Dressed as voodoo dolls, the pair hoped to catch a coconut, the coveted Zulu throw, although they said they weren’t holding their breath.
Though Kraus lives in Alaska now, he is originally from Belle Chasse. Standing at the corner of Jackson and St. Charles, he said, brought back a flood of memories.
“We used to catch Zulu when I was a kid and then go up and catch Rex,” Kraus said wistfully.
Further Uptown from where Zulu makes its way onto St. Charles Avenue, a sparser crowd gathered along the neutral ground near Fourth Street to enjoy the Rex parade.
Rex, also known as the School of Design, is one of Carnival’s oldest parading groups, having hosted an annual procession since 1872.
This year’s parade had the theme “Wars That Shaped Early America.”
Those who gathered to see Rex’s monarch Christian T. Brown — the official king of Mardi Gras — said they were diehard fans. Many had brought their whole families, and kids could be seen laughing, shouting, jumping for beads — and, at times, crying from being cold or overwhelmed — but they all had plenty of space.
It wasn’t a family event for all, however. Jeff Cappell, 34, a cartoonist originally from New York state, was drinking away his sorrows after recently becoming single over a Carnival-related disagreement.
“I broke up with my girlfriend because she doesn’t want anything to do with Mardi Gras,” Cappell said. “So I’m out having fun and getting very drunk in the process. I’m a free spirit right now.”
In the suburbs
Carnival traditions unfolded around the metropolitan area as well, mostly without incident. On the north shore, the Covington Lions Club hosted its annual procession, while Argus rolled down Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie.
Those events went off without a hitch, but the Elks truck parade in Metairie was marred by a couple of falls.
About 12:30 p.m., a 33-year-old Metairie man fell from Elks truck float No. 33 as it traveled in the 3400 block of Veterans, according to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office. About 15 minutes later, a 24-year-old Lacombe woman on Elks truck float No. 49 fell as it approached the intersection of Veterans and Edenborn Avenue.
Both riders were transported to the hospital. The man, who was initially reported to be “semi-conscious” by authorities, was upgraded to stable condition by Tuesday afternoon. The woman suffered apparently minor injuries and was expected to be released.
Costumes and processions
While St. Charles Avenue was thronged with those hoping to catch a couple of Carnival’s biggest parades, the city’s downtown neighborhoods played host to more informal, do-it-yourself processions throughout the morning.
Costume-clad individuals drank and sang as they roamed the streets of Faubourg Marigny and Bywater in search of the Society of St. Anne’s ever-elusive, ragtag celebration.
At the corner of Franklin and Royal streets, as bands passed, Wade Kodrin and Joe Paolucci manned homemade bar carts. Both are locals and have a Facebook group for their “Krewe de Bar.”
“Today is just a wonderful release for everyone,” said Kodrin, who lives down the block in an orange shotgun.
Paolucci, who lives in Gentilly, was dressed as “Capitalist Fidel Castro.” His camouflage-green fatigues were covered in patches touting multinational chains like Hilton and Taco Bell. With a long cigar in his mouth, and an equally long and bushy beard, his jacket looked more like something a NASCAR driver might wear.
Paolucci loves St. Anne and its local ethos. The main parades, he said, “are too many people standing on the sides. Down here, it’s all about everyone experiencing the day.”
‘They call me the great one’
Later in the afternoon, in Central City, a riot of feathers, colors, chants and calls brightened the corner of Second and Dryades streets as the Mardi Gras Indians played out a tradition that has its roots in the mid-19th century.
Donning intricate suits and headdresses depicting animals, Native Americans and wildlife battle scenes, the Creole Wild West Tribe marched to the headquarters of the Golden Eagles tribe. A call-and-response chant of “Creole Wild West! Creole Wild West! Creole Wild West! Creole Wild West!” echoed down Dryades Street as the oldest tribe still on the streets honored Native Americans.
They sang of how slaves found refuge with Indians as both groups sought freedom from their oppressors.
At the appointed locale, the two tribes danced, competing for recognition and showing off their handmade suits. The tradition repeats itself every year in that neighborhood.
“They call me the great one,” Spy Boy Lloyd said as he stood on the corner and took photographs with throngs of people, mostly locals, who had come to witness the tradition. He showed off his black-feathered suit, which was adorned with green, red, gold and blue beading.
“You ain’t never seen nothing like it,” he said proudly of his suit, which took all year to make, but would probably only be worn a couple of times after Tuesday.
As spectators watched, they called out to the tribes, marveling at the beauty and workmanship of the beaded suits.
“They’re gorgeous — it’s worth the time for sure,” said Donald Fisher, 47, who was born and raised Uptown. “They have their hearts sewn into it.”
Fisher’s sister, Donna Fisher, 45, added that the respect for the tradition is what brings her family there, year after year.
“It’s tradition, baby. You cannot lose your heritage,” she said. “If we lose this, we lose everything. We will be just like every other city.”