It’s Carnaval time! While the origins of Mardi Gras can be traced back to medieval Europe, New Orleans didn’t form their first official Krewe until 1856 with the Mistck Krewe of Comus. While Comus doesn’t roll today, it gave way to the Mardi Gras as we know it, with floats and throws and masked balls. With Mardi Gras Day quickly approaching (or not quickly enough!) we thought we’d reflect on how some of the krewes we know and love got their start.
1. Krewe of Bacchus
Bacchus was founded in 1968 by a group of New Orleans businessmen, but the story goes a bit deeper. In 1949, Owen Edward Brennan, Sr. (owner of the Absinthe House and founder of Brennan’s Restaurant) wanted to create a new Krewe, one that was more inclusive to tourists. Up until that point, Carnival Balls during Mardi Gras were closed to anyone outside of New Orleans’ society circles, and Brennan wanted to change that. Brennan staged two Bacchus balls, one in 1949 and then again in 1950. Fast forward to 1968, New Orleans needed a new spark for Mardi Gras. Brennan’s son, Owen "Pip" Brennan, Jr. held a meeting at Brennan’s Restaurant and what emerged was a reawakening of his father’s original vision: The Krewe of Bacchus! Bacchus rolled for the first time on February 16, 1969. The theme was "The Best Things In Life" and the King was celebrity Danny Kaye.
2. Krewe of Endymion
Founded in 1967, Endymion is one of three Super Krewes, and one of the largest of the 80+ parades during Mardi Gras. Its motto, "Throw Until It Hurts" defined their tradition of being extremely generous with its throws.
3. Krewe of Hermes
In the 1930’s, America was reeling from the effects of the Great Depression. A group of New Orleans businessmen wanted to find a way to lighten things up in the city. And what’s any New Orleanian’s answer to anything? Throw a party. The idea was to throw the parade on the Friday before Mardi Gras, so Carnival would be a longer, five-day celebration. Hermes made its first appearance in 1937, and is the oldest running night parade.
4. Krewe of Iris
Founded in 1917, the Krewe of Iris is the oldest all-female Carnival Krewe in New Orleans. The Mardi Gras Gods must have blessed this krewe, as they are one of the few (if not only) krewes who has never had to cancel their parade due to bad weather. Their signature throw is custom hand decorated sunglasses because the sun always shines on Iris!
5. Krewe of Mid-City
Founded in 1933, Mid-City is the 5th-oldest continuously parading organization in the New Orleans Mardi Gras season. Mid-City is known for having themes dedicated to children, making it a favorite parade for families to attend. The Krewe of Mid-City is the only parade that decorates its floats with brightly colored tinfoil, the same way it’s been done since 1933. Fun fact: in 1947 they were the first Krewe to use animation on their floats!
6. Krewe of Orpheus
One of the newer krewes to roll during Mardi Gras, Orpheus was founded in 1993 by Harry Connick Jr. Orpheus made history by being the first super krewe to include both men and women. Orpheus has several notable floats, including the Smoking Mary, a six unit float that looks like a steam locomotive.
7. Krewe of Proteus
Proteus is the second oldest parade, founded in 1882. Fun Fact: Their floats still use the original chassis from the 1880’s. Like many of the traditional krewes, the King of Proteus is never revealed to the public. Look for him on his giant seashell float.
8. Krewe of Tucks
Tucks began in 1969 by a group of Loyola University students. The Krewe got its name from Friar Tucks, a New Orleans pub where two college students decided to create their own krewe after unsuccessfully trying to become flambeaux carriers. Tucks is known for its satirical floats, including the King’s Throne, a giant toilet. The Krewe of Tucks motto is ‘Booze, Beer, Bourbon, Broads".
9. Krewe of Zulu
The Krewe of Zulu was organized by men from different clubs, mainly the Benevolent Aid Society, which was one of the first forms of insurance in the Black community. Another group was called the Tramps. The story goes that in 1909 they went to the Pythian Theater to see a musical comedy which included a skit called "There Never Was And Never Will Be A King Like Me" about the Zulu Tribe. After seeing the skit, they went back to their meeting place (a restaurant on Perdido Street) and emerged as Zulus. Their first appearance marching in Mardi Gras was in 1909, with William Story as King. Zulu has the most prized "throw" (they can’t throw them anymore) of all the parades: The Zulu Coconut. If you find yourself in possession of one of these rare gems, consider yourself very lucky!
10. Krewe of Thoth
Thoth was formed in 1947 with the intention to bring Mardi Gras to those that couldn’t get out to see it. The original parade route was specifically chosen so that it would pass in front of 14 institutions that care for people with disabilities and illnesses that weren’t able to attend other parades in the city. Even today, the parade has one of the most unique routes in the city, and continues to pass by some of those same institutions.
11. Krewe of Rex
The King of Carnival began in 1872 and is the oldest parading Krewe of Mardi Gras. Originally organized by New Orleans businessmen to honor Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia, who was visiting New Orleans. Rex is the origin of many Mardi Gras traditions, including the official Carnival colors of purple, green, and gold, as well as the collectible doubloons we all know so well. The Krewe of Rex’s official song is "If Ever I Cease to Love".