Carnival history has been made in the final year of several decades, starting in 1699 when the French Canadian explorer Iberville christened Point du Mardi Gras on a dot of land on the Mississippi River 60 miles south of where New Orleans would be founded nineteen years later.
In 1899 an incredible cold front hit the South. The temperature dipped to 7 degrees on Valentine’s Day (also Mardi Gras), and large blocks of ice floated on the river past Canal Street on Fat Tuesday. Proteus postponed its Monday night parade to the first Friday in Lent. It was written that Rex paraded with a frozen mustache.
The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club claims 1909 as the year of its first parade. Zulu made history in 1949 when it invited hometown hero Louis Armstrong to reign as its king. His appearance earned him the cover of Time magazine.
The French Opera House on Bourbon Street was built in 1859. It was the center of New Orleans Creole culture and home for scores of Carnival balls, including Comus and Proteus.
An early morning fire on Dec. 4, 1919, destroyed the Greek Revival structure. Writer Lyle Saxon lamented its loss in a front-page story in The Times-Picayune: “There is a pall over the city; eyes are filled with tears and hearts are heavy. The heart of the old French Quarter has stopped beating.”
The Krewe of Iris saw its ball broadcast for the first time in 1949 on the state’s first TV station, WDSU. The women of Iris presented their first parade in 1959, using floats borrowed from the Knights of Babylon.
That same year, the Rex organization reintroduced, in papier-mâché form, the boeuf gras, or fatted ox — ancient symbol of the last meat eaten before the Lenten fast.
In 1969 the most innovative krewe of the century was founded with the birth of Bacchus, which would change Carnival forever. Bacchus introduced the concept of a celebrity monarch and an open ball where the general public, including visitors, had access.
That year was also the first in which Zulu was granted a parade permit to appear on Canal Street.
When union members of the New Orleans Police Department threatened to strike in 1979, parading krewe captains united with Mayor Dutch Morial and decided to cancel all Mardi Gras parades in Orleans Parish. Twelve krewes rescheduled their parades in other parishes; others canceled their processions entirely that year.
In 1999, to celebrate the tricentennial of the designation of Point du Mardi Gras, a delegation from Rex and other krewes traveled downriver to erect a commemorative plaque on the spot.
Email Arthur Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org.