The house may have burned, but the tradition has not.
Rex organization officials announced Thursday they will continue the "beautiful tradition" of stopping at a historic New Orleans home for a Mardi Gras morning toast, despite the massive fire Wednesday that destroyed the St. Charles Avenue building and also the "loving cup" used in the ceremony.
“I imagine it’ll probably be a more emotional event than usual," said James Reiss, a krewe official. He did not elaborate on how the toast might play out differently from in past years, given the state of the home.
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"We don't know yet. Something will happen," Reiss said. "Our intention right now is that everything done in past years will be done this year."
The fire at 2525 St. Charles was declared under control at 1:45 p.m. Wednesday, about six hours after dozens of firefighters began arriving at the scene. However, firefighters were still pouring water on hotspots within the home Thursday. The cause of the blaze remains under investigation.
Rex's decision to stick with tradition comes less than two weeks before Mardi Gras, and as final preparations for Carnival's biggest two weekends of parades were in full swing.
On Thursday, Mayor LaToya Cantrell held a second news conference on Carnival where she urged residents and tourists to stay safe. Some parades in the New Orleans area announced shifts in their start times or changed days due to potentially inclement weather this weekend. And Zulu's blackface tradition was called into question by a contingent of activists during a small protest Thursday evening.
Surrounded by flashing red lights and choking gray smoke, Christopher Montgomery stared blankly into the flames shooting out of the St. Charle…
The cause of the fire at the mansion often known as "The Rex House" remained under investigation Thursday.
New Orleans Fire Department officials said they expected to maintain a presence at the scene of the conflagration for another day or two.
The ornate mansion, designed in the Queen Anne style, was built sometime before 1865 and is known for the many kings of Carnival — at least five — who lived there. Reiss said the home's residents have had close ties to several other krewes as well.
It has been an important stop in Rex's parade since 1907, the first year in an unbroken tradition of Carnival kings stopping at the house to toast its residents during the Rex parade.
“If those traditions were to go away and fade as well, that would only add to the tragedy,” Reiss said.
But whatever form the traditional toast takes, it won't include the "loving cup" that has been used for decades.
Reiss said the cup, made of silver and adorned with antlers for handles, is believed to have been destroyed in the blaze along with myriad Mardi Gras memorabilia, including flags of several krewes. He said Rex may present the family with replacement flags during this year's stop.
Reiss said everything in the house is presumed to have been destroyed. "This is surely a loss for all of New Orleans," but more so for the family that called the mansion home for more than a century, he said.
"We would assume some one-of-a-kind pieces" were destroyed in the blaze, said Mardi Gras historian Arthur Hardy, who attended Thursday's news conference with Rex officials at the krewe's den on South Claiborne Avenue.
Only the shell of the home was left when the fire was declared under control. Parts of the mansion had collapsed, and bits of it fell off intermittently as the day wore on, prompting Fire Superintendent Tim McConnell to describe the home as "a catastrophic loss."
McConnell said his agency and seven alarms' worth of personnel prevented the flames from spreading to a neighboring, five-story apartment building, which nonetheless took damage from smoke that could be seen and smelled for miles.
The family that has owned the home for 113 years said they hope to salvage what is left. “I’m convinced that we’re ... going to repair and build," Christopher Montgomery said. "We'll get it under control and we'll just evaluate and start over."
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