Not surprisingly, the city’s Carnival celebration has changed many times through the years. While Mardi Gras in New Orleans has never been stronger, baby boomers lament the loss of some traditions — things that “ain’t dere no more.”
Here are 10 traditions that have vanished in recent years:
- For 100 years, one of Carnival’s most photographed ceremonies occurred on Canal Street as Rex toasted the queen of Carnival, who sat with her court on the balcony of the Boston Club’s green canopied reviewing stands. The tradition ended in 1992.
- Several parades feature band contests, but from 1963 to 1985, the most famous — the Greatest Bands in Dixie contest — was held as part of the Mid-City parade. Each band performed a three-minute routine before the judges’ reviewing stands at Jefferson Davis Parkway and Canal Street. The winning bands were then presented their trophies by the mayor at Gallier Hall.
- In the 1960s, legendary broadcaster Mel Leavitt provided parade commentary from the Royal Street balcony of WDSU-TV, which filmed the nighttime parades for delayed broadcast at 10:30 p.m.
- Before the advent of generic floats, the daily newspapers (New Orleans had three until 1958) would run stories listing the title of every float. For those who paid attention, this made parade viewing more educational and enjoyable.
- When the city’s Municipal Auditorium was designed in 1929, special consideration was given to making it Carnival ball-friendly. In 1968, some 72 balls were presented there. The building was transformed into a temporary casino run by Harrah’s from 1994 until 1997. Carnival balls returned in 1998, with the number of events increasing every year until Hurricane Katrina. Since then, the building has remained shuttered.
- In the 1950s and ’60s, Canal Street was awash in color each Carnival season. Light poles were decorated with painted wooden figurines. Major department stores such as Maison Blanche and D.H. Holmes decorated their storefronts as lavishly as they did for Christmas. That is no longer the practice.
- Starting in 1857, most major parades not only passed in front of Gallier Hall (the old City Hall) but also stopped there to be toasted by the mayor or other city officials. These were very dignified affairs, and those fortunate enough to be in attendance dressed formally. Starting in the 1980s, however, picnic attire became the norm.
- Shifting populations and the gradual move toward standardized parade routes have robbed the city of one of its most cherished customs, the neighborhood parade. Okeanos once rolled on St. Claude Avenue, Carrollton on Oak Street and Carrollton Avenue, Endymion in Gentilly, Pontchartrain by the lake, Alla on Opelousas Avenue, Zeus on Metairie Road and Mid-City in Mid-City. No more.
- In 1973, a nearly century-old tradition ended when Mardi Gras parades were banned from the French Quarter. For those who watched or participated in them, the parades in the Quarter will always be special.
- Comus paraded from 1857 to 1991. Comus riders never threw much, but it didn’t matter. The city’s oldest krewe presented the final parade each year, providing closure for the Carnival season.
With its ancient floats that wobbled down St. Charles Avenue, Comus embodied old-world Carnival, with its emphasis on elegance rather than extravagance.