The Majesty of Monarchs
At the outset of the Grand Ball of Rex, which was held the evening of Shrove Tuesday in the Grand Ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel, in the 148th year of the reign of Rex, King of Carnival, the Marine Corps Band New Orleans played “You Are My Sunshine.” How fitting that was for a plethora of reasons, one of them being the day itself, Mardi Gras. The sun shone brilliantly for a good portion of the day, when paradegoers reveled. That night, lunar levity took over and the Rex Organization, 1872, and the Mistick Krewe of Comus, 1857, commanded Carnival attention at separate balls, respectively, in the Sheraton and the Marriott Hotel, before coming together for the fabled Meeting of the Courts at the latter location.
Both balls basked in the joys of Helios, the Greeks’ sun god. The handsome Rex fold-out invitation, in shades of indigo, gold and yellow, depicted on the back a glorious rendition of the sun, with multiple rays, and the wording “Visions of the Sun.” That was the title of the earlier parade of more than two dozen beautiful floats. For the Comus invitation, all was light and avian airy. As created by Patricia Hardin, it showed a series of birds. Some were nesting, some still and some skyborne, all in a sense, paying homage to the brightness of day.
Reigning at Rex was a “vision of the son.” His majesty was Mr. Robert Sandoz Boh, whose late father, Robert “Bob” Henry Boh, wore the crown in 1998 with Sidonie Swoop Villere as his queen. His mother, Katherine Sandoz (Mrs. Robert H.) Boh, was told about her son’s great honor in fall 2018, “on his 60th birthday.” Reigning with Robert of 2019 was Miss Kristina Britt Johnsen, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Erik Lee Johnsen. Her grandfather, Eric Frithjof Johnsen, was the monarch of 1991, and her grandmother, Edna Lee (later Johnsen), was asked to be a court maid in 1951. The ball was not held because of a “natural emergency,” but according to a duke of that year, Dr. Kenneth Saer (father of the 1981 queen, as Miss Phyllis Cowser Saer), “We had a small reception. Ann Simpson (later Mrs. C.C. Clifton) was the queen.”
Additional members of queen Britt’s family to have figured in the Rex entourages were aunts and sisters Karen (a presented debutante in 1975) and Anne Johnsen (a maid in 1979), who now answer to Mmes. Baldwin and Bailey; and cousins Caroline Lee Johnson and Katherine Elise Johnsen, court maids in 2014 and 2016. A step-grandmother of monarch Britt, Dolly Ann Souchon (later Mrs. Erik F. Johnsen), ruled in 1949.
Processing on the white-canvas floor of the Rex ballroom as court maids and their dukes were Misses and Messrs. Heidi Frances Hayne (the Nereus queen) and Miles Gregorio Zervigon; Ann Claire Kallenborn (the Oberon queen) and Charles Davis Friend; Adele Bright Petagna (whose mother, Elinor Bright, reigned with Rex in 1983) and Joseph Dwight LeBlanc IV; Lilia Elise Kuhn and John Davidson Bailey (son of the 1985 queen as Mary Stewart Smallpage); Grace Allen Gambel (the Atlanteans queen and niece of the 1988 Rex monarch Deborah Ashbrooke Tullis) and Cameron Brooks Emory; Ellen Heidingsfelder Silvia (the Proteus queen) and William David Sumrall IV; Emerson Normand Carville and Hugh Bramhall Reily (grandson of Rex of 1982 William Boatner Reily III); and Emmaline Blanc Monroe Kelly and John Taylor Charbonnet (grandson of Rex John Denechaud Charbonnet of 1988). Further Rex connections, several royal, are connected with the above maids and dukes.
The pages, who delighted in their parade ride on the king’s float of and with Rex, were Masters James Joseph Reiss IV and Henry Lawes Cook. During the course of the formalities, Maj. Gen. Burke W. Whitman, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, was presented a Rex decoration.
Debutantes of the recent season presented to the court were Misses Kennedy Kathleen Cameron, Caroline Louise Chunn (the Mystery queen), Anna Massey Demmas (the Osiris queen), Laine Roth Kehoe, Elizabeth Lynn Lunn, Isabelle Rawson Mathes (step-granddaughter of Rex 2003 Richard West Freeman Jr., who escorted her), Corinne Renee Moffett and Olivia Claire O’Keefe. Mr. William “Bill” Langenstein III, father of the 2015 monarch, Charlotte Lane Langenstein, escorted the debutantes to their fathers, who then processed with them. Yet another highlight of the ball was the presentation of the 50-year queen, Henrietta Creevy Clay, who was accompanied by her sister, Ellenor Roger Clay (the Twelfth Night queen of 1965).
All recalled that the golden bench throne of 2018 was occupied by Rex Lynes “Poco” R. Sloss and Sarah Jane Holbrook Freeman, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Louis McDaniel Freeman Jr. Mr. Sloss, father of the 2013 queen, Nina O’Brien Sloss, was the 2019 ball chairman with Mr. St. Denis J. Villere III as the assistant. Thirty Rex members — many of them former royalty — figured on the committee, that also included as ex-officio Mr. James J. Reiss III, father of the above same-name page.
After the presentation of Creevy Clay, the grand march of the members of Rex, the members’ dance and general dancing ensued. The music was by select members of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. A brace of heralds then announced the arrival of the captain of the Mistick Krewe of Comus, whose identity is not revealed. Representative of the oldest Carnival krewe, he invited Rex and his court to come to his, in time-honored tradition. After reading the scroll of invitation with queen Britt, Rex Robert accepted. “If Ever I Cease to Love” was then played. The evening also marked a bit of Rex history with the leadership of a new captain.
Meanwhile at the Comus ball, all eyes were riveted on her majesty Lucie Sandoz Lanier, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Munson Lanier Jr., and immediate successor of Miss Anne Summers White, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Forrest White Jr. Comus, the king, also was not identified, but he was congratulated in recent months as the father of a queen of a Carnival court.
Maids of honor to queen Lucie were Misses Hanton Quarles Agnew, McAlister Wynn Brewer, Emily Kaleianuenue Caindec (whose mother, as Carolyn Crusel, reigned as the Comus monarch in 1986), Elizabeth McKenzie Cummins, Althea Gibert Kingsmill, Lindsey Andrews Page, Julia Margaret Plauché (the Twelfth Night queen) and Olivia Knight Worley. Four pages attended dutifully to the royal pair: Masters Jackson Westfeldt Windmeyer Fitzpatrick, Thompson Pierce Schmidt, Litchfield Clark Barba and Albert Peyton Bush V, whose “V (five)” is also significant because he was born on May 5. They have lots of Carnival connections. Making the musical one at the ball was the Jimmy Maxwell Orchestra.
Earlier in the day, the Rex court and its VIPs assembled at the Hotel InterContinental, where they were hailed, and the queen toasted by his majesty Rex. Prior stops included Gallier Hall, where Mayor LaToya Cantrell addressed the monarch, and before that at the Morris-Downman (now Montgomery-Grace) house for the traditional toast. Interestingly, Rex of 2019 and of 1907, the above Mr. Dowman, have the same first name: Robert.
King Robert stopped, as does Rex annually, in front of the Pickwick Club, where the Comus queen and court were assembled, all outfitted in smart suits. There, club President Edwin A. Ellinghausen III greeted the royal float “on behalf of Mr. Pickwick” and the subsequent “Visions of the Sun” floats at 2:30 p.m., saying “We are honored by your stop.” On a personal note, Mr. Ellinghausen acknowledged a long friendship with Rex Robert, one that was echoed by the king, who then hailed queen Lucie with whom he shared a throne eight hours later. “May we never cease to love,” remarked Mr. Ellinghausen after the Champagne toasts (but not for the “noble pages) and before calling for “Hail Rex!” three times. Those on the club’s balcony and many onlookers in the street joined in the joyful salutation.
At the bal masqué of Comus, and in the double grand march, guests were able to admire the royal gowns of the two queens, both created by Suzanne St. Paul. The royal dress of the queen of Carnival had a luminous trumpet silhouette with chevron detailing that paid sartorial homage to the gown worn in 1949 by Miss Souchon. Golden shadow Swarovski crystals and bugle beads defined the linear pattern of the French lace, while intricate beadwork adorned the grid, leaf and scroll accents. Platinum Italian double silk satin layered with silver metallic netting was used for the gown of the Comus queen. A heavily encrusted plume pattern applique sculpted the bodice and trailed over the lattice pattern underlay and was accented with Swarovski crystals and iridescent bugle beads. Each royal’s raiment was completed by the organization’s traditional Medici collar, mantle, and crown and scepter.
Royal mothers Kristi Johnsen and Reecee Lanier appeared in ballgowns of jewel colors, respectively of emerald green and an aquamarine-tone blue. Ann Boh, wife of Rex, wore a gown of a swirling, paisley-based pattern of bronze and black.
At the invitation of “Their Majesties, The Queen of Carnival and The Queen of Comus,” a joint-supper followed the meeting of the courts and the always-thrilling sweep of three scepters and the Comus cup when the four monarchs assemble on the throne for the Carnival closure. The supper’s venue was the Napoleon Ballroom of the Sheraton, back across Canal Street from the Marriott. The late-night breakfast fare, flowers by Meade Wenzel and music by Jubilation! were among the features. Of course, dancing figured in for the fun finale.
In 2020, new queens and kings will command attention starting Jan. 6 and concluding Feb. 25. Within that period, scores of monarchs will be recognized and the powers of merriment and mystique will be re-created in dozens of royal roles, as it was for Rex Robert, Comus and queens Britt and Lucie. All hail!