To hear his friends tell it, Gordon Herrin had talked about starting a Carnival marching krewe in Covington for years, but never got around to actually doing something about it.
So late in 2011 after the subject came up again, his buddy Steve Ahrons challenged him to put his money where he mouth was, proverbially speaking.
Together, they did.
As Herrin, Ahrons and a group of friends enjoyed drinks in the Seiler Bar in downtown Covington one December day, they “passed the hat around” and started collecting money to form the group that would become the St. John Fools of Misrule.
“And that’s not a figure of speech because it was a real hat,” Ahrons said. “There was $800 or so collected that night. It happened fast, because we marched three weeks later.”
This year will mark the seventh time the St. John Fools of Misrule will take to the streets of Covington to ring in the Carnival season, which officially begins Jan. 6. And though the Fools bill themselves as a “Twelfth Night Marching Club,” this will be the first time the 175 men in the club will actually be able to march on Jan. 6.
“We’ve always marched on the Saturday most closely following Twelfth Night,” said Herrin, who is the club captain. “And Twelfth Night hasn’t fallen on a Saturday since we organized. So really, we’ve been waiting for this night for seven years. We can’t wait.”
The St. John Fools of Misrule take their name from the historic St. John District in Covington through which they march each year. And according to the club website, the “Foolish Tradition” itself comes from an ancient English custom whereby men “clamored along the evening streets creating unruliness with cowbells and whips while delivering jeers and spankings to those caught on the street unaware.”
Covington’s Fools won’t be as bawdy as they announce the beginning of Carnival, but there is plenty of fun to be had.
The Fools, and at least 175 women (the Jewels of Misrule,) will party at the Seiler Bar for a few hours before striking out at 6 p.m. They’ll head to the Covington Trailhead where the 2018 Lord of Misrule will be selected in traditional fashion — they’ll carve up a king cake and the person who has a lucky bean inside his piece is crowned Fool for the year.
The Lord will hop aboard a human-powered float (the only one in the procession,) as the march continues to Boston Street where the Fools will stop at watering holes and restaurants before tottering back to the Seiler.
The club’s motto is “Vivere Vitam Omnino” which loosely translates to “Live Life Completely,” and tradition is important to members. There are flambeaux, marchers wearing papier-mache skulls, live music and a club council with members who have cryptic nicknames like “Muckle John,” “McScribble” and “Black Rod.”
The club doesn’t have throws or an annual theme, but everyone must be masked (no exceptions). The group also wears extravagant medieval costumes, and there’s real effort put into each outfit.
“Honestly, we weren’t sure if we’d have to go around before each march and tell people their costumes weren’t good enough,” Ahrons said. “But we haven’t had to do anything. People really stepped up their game. It’s a spectacle.”
Herrin said bringing a quality marching club to the north shore was his ultimate goal.
“A lot of people don’t realize the importance of Jan. 6,” he said. “We wanted to do something to bring attention to that.”
The sixth day of January is called different things by different people (Twelfth Night, King’s Day, the Epiphany,) and depending on who you’re asking, it’s either the last of the Twelve Nights of Christmas or the first day of Carnival.
All the terms are correct, as was the notion that St. Tammany Parish needed a traditional Carnival group like the St. John Fools of Misrule to ring in south Louisiana’s biggest annual party. It’s a celebration that won’t end until Mardi Gras.
“In the rest of America, the gyms and the health clubs love New Year’s because people make resolutions for Jan. 1,” Ahrons said. “Here, people say ‘I’ll just slow down after Mardi Gras.’”
“Vivere Vitam Omnino,” indeed!