Rex royalty took an extended pause in front of the charred carcass of a St. Charles Avenue mansion Tuesday, carrying on a tradition that began in 1907 at a house that looms large in krewe and Mardi Gras history.
Billy Grace and his wife Anne Grace stood on risers with friends and family, some wearing firefighter costumes, along with New Orleans Fire Department personnel themselves, as the parade approached for the King of Carnival’s traditional toast.
In the backdrop was the burned out shell of the Montgomery-Grace house, home to five Rex kings.
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Only two weeks ago, a 7-alarm fire destroyed most of the mansion, along with a trove of krewe memorabilia. Among the items presumed burned was the silver chalice with antlers that had been used since 1907 for the toast.
Hardy Fowler, who was Rex in 2012, offered up a similar looking vessel, including antlers, that served the purpose Tuesday, said George Montgomery, Anne Grace’s nephew.
Robert Boh, this year’s Rex, took a hearty glug and raised it out to the cheering crowd. He then spoke at length with Billy Grace, who by then had thrown a firefighter’s coat over his gray tuxedo and climbed up on the king’s float.
Mardi Gras revelers found an opportunity for a witty pun in the wake of a fire at the titled "Rex House" at 2525 St. Charles Ave in New Orleans.
The party around the house had been well underway by then. Billy Grace was nursing a milk punch in a plastic cup, while Anne Grace said she was sticking with whiskey sours.
“I’m feeling terrific,” said Anne Grace, bedecked in purple, green and gold from the top of her head on down. “It’s overwhelmingly humbling. The Rex Organization has been so magnanimous.”
Before the toast, Rex royalty hung a 1907 Rex flag over the sidewalk on St. Charles Avenue, a gift to the family, which lost several flags among still untold items, including cherished photographs, that burned up in the fire.
The fire, which appears to have started in the basement, took much of a day to contain, and a faint whiff of charred wood still drifted over the crowded street.
Along the sidewalk, attached to the front of the risers, was a sign reading, “We’re ready for Ash Wednesday!”
“You gotta have a sense of humor,” Billy Grace said. “Everybody’s still partying. When it’s all of our friends and guests are here, it’s great.”