Omnia Vanitas

My annual visit to New Orleans for Mardi Gras

Every year for the past five or six I have managed to get to a Mardi Gras parade if only in my imagination. In other years I’ve seen the elaborate and erudite pass-bys of the lofty and prestigious Krewes of Comus, Proteus and Rex but this year I thought I’d attend to a society that Henri Schindler in one of his several gorgeous books refers to as being amongst the Sociétés Perdues (Lost Societies). In fact so “lost” are the Mystik Merrie Bellions that I could only find one reference to them (the Schindler) and a Parade Bulletin from a single parade in 1884.

Many of these crews paraded and/or held tableaux balls for one or two years, others lasted several decades. The Disciples of Thespis, Phunny Phorty Phellows, the Mystic Krewe of Druids, and the Mystik Merrie Bellions all held parades with more satirical, less lofty themes than the big three. The Falstaffians, the Young Men’s Hebrew Association, the Krewe of Yami and the Krewe of Nippon all hosted elaborate balls at the French Opera House, the St Charles Theatre and the Athenaeum. Amongst the most elaborate were the Falsaffians and the Phunny Phorty Phellows but even then the themes and tableaux were often satires on local politics, fads and fashion foibles.

The Mystic Krewe of Druids followed the Rex Parade from 1922 to 1935. Unlike the older Krewe it was comprised of gentlemen of “moderate means” within the community. However their parades were as elaborate and beautifully designed as those of their “betters”.
Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas*

So elusive is information on the Mystik Merrie (Mystic Merry) Bellions that other than the theme and date of their 1884 parade little appears to be known. How long they paraded or if they ever held a ball are mysteries. Scheduled the same day as the traditional Rex Parade there is no indication as to what time it took place, or the route it followed. So the best I can do is to ask you to join me somewhere in New Orleans, at some time on Tuesday February 26, 1884 to witness the members of the Mystik Merrie Bellions take the micky out of the days’ fashions for both belles and belle-boys!

The parade can be viewed as an autoplay slide show or each float can be viewed singly. The top right icon will stop the auto-lay. Icons will only appear when the mouse is hovering over them.

Given that the Krewe would have been all male it can only be assumed that the gentlemen in their masks and female attired gave an added note of satire to the proceedings. Or perhaps many of the characters on the floats were papier-maché figures or paraders sporting “big heads”. More than one reporter over the years when parades were exclusively male mocked the appearance of bewhiskered men in masks portraying “beauties of the ages”.

Les Mystérieuses

Amongst the Sociétés Perdues Schindler lists the Mittens, the Mystic Maids, Empyreans, the Titanians, Les Pierrettes, and Les Mystérieuses – all female Krewes of the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was an active time for ladies’ social clubs many of which embraced the fight for suffrage. It was naturally to follow that they would challenge the status-quo of “men-only” Krewes. But as parades were a male purview until the Krewe of Venus paraded, to much derision, in 1941 their activities were limited to elaborate tableaux balls.

Les Mystèrieuses only hosted balls twice during their time: 1896 and 1900 – both leap years. The events were unusual gender benders for the time. They named a “King” and the dance cards were for gentlemen and masked ladies requested the “pleasure of this dance”.

Les Mystérieuses, the first female Krewe, hosted balls at the French Opera House twice, first in 1896 and again in 1900 – both leap years. According to tradition in those years women could make advances towards men that would be unacceptable at other times. That went as far as – gasp – proposing marriage.

Both balls were elaborate spectacles and the organizers took full advantage of the leap year tradition. There was a complete reversal of the typical practices of all-male Carnival clubs. The Queen, her court and the ladies present were masked and selected their King, Dukes and dance partners from the men gathered. The King and the Dukes were put on display in the proscenium box and the King’s name was publicized. The Queen’s identity identity remained a secret. The parterre boxes, usually graced with ladies, were filled with over a hundred men in full evening dress waiting to be “called-out” to dance by the masked ladies. Gentlemen were presented with the traditional dance card and bestowed with jewelled watch fobs as ball favours.

In reporting on the first ball the Daily Picayune society editor remarked, “It was good for the men. Now they’d get to see how it feels for a girl to sit and wait to be called-out for a dance.” The unidentified reporter went on to say, it was “most enjoyable to see the young and old beaux puzzled and baffled by bright eyes peeping out from silken masks.”

Many of the Krewes – male and female – disappeared after the Mardi Gras hiatus during the First World War.

Other Parades I’ve “Seen” and Enjoyed

Krewe of Rex 2019: Le Boeuf Gras
Krewe of Comus 1915: Tale from Chaucer
Krewe of Rex 1907: Classics of Childhood
Krewe of Proteus 1899: E Pluribus Unum
Krewe of Proteus 1896: Dumb Society
Krewe of Rex 1892: Symbolism of Colors
Krewe of Proteus 1884: The Aeneid

As always this post is dedicated to Cecilia, my own Carnival Queen!

The word for today is:
Krewe /ˈkrü/: [fabricated noun]
A private society or organization that stages a parade or other event for a carnival celebration. Krewes are associated especially with Mardi Gras in New Orleans where the word was coined by founders of Comus in December of 1856. It’s spelling is an attempt to simulate “Old English”.

This, That and The Other Thing

I’m sorry? You want me to go where? Back in there you say? Hmmm…..

First our weekly Nora report. There are only a few days left in Nora’s kennel rest and she has become more and more restless. The conversations have become heated (between her and I) about letting her out to join the family. And at times she brings out the big guns – her hunting howl. Anyone who has heard Nora’s hunting howl know that it can be piercing and there is one particular pitch that goes right to the nerve ends of the body. God only know what it does to any poor animal she might be tracking.

I mentioned how my dear Cecilia was the lucky recipient of one of the more treasured throws during this year’s Carnival season in New Orleans but sadly had not included pictures of her Krewe of the Muses shoe! Well Cecilia ain’t nothin’ if she ain’t a sharer. Those big celebrities with their Louboutin heels got nothing on her! Eat your heart out Emma Stone and company!

Cecilia’s catch from last year’s Krewe of the Muses Parade.

And just to prove that the Goddess of fortune smiles bright on her – here’s the one she got last year. Though if I know the lady the bespoke will have pride of place.

The Pancake Bakery – Pieter Aertsen 1560
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Our friend Cathleen sent a quick message on Tuesday afternoon inviting us over for a pancake dinner (not pictured above) which reminded me that in our family Mardi Gras was known as Pancake Tuesday. The official English title is Shrove Tuesday – the day when you go to confession to be shriven of your sins. The words “shirven” goes back to 10th century Old English “scrīfan” to prescribe. And it is a strange word that covers, you should excuse the expression, a multitude of sins: it can mean to hear confession, absolve and impose penance or to make confession, be absolved, and do penance. It all depends on who’s doing the “shroving”.

And why pancakes? It was a good, and tasty, way to use up the last of the winter provisions before the fasting that was to begin with Ash Wednesday and the forty days of Lent that followed.

Surprisingly none of us around the dinner table had been “shriven” but we did enjoy good old fashioned pancakes. However I’m not sure too many Medieval households would have had them topped with Cathleen’s wonderful pineapple preserves and coconut.

One of the reasons I have stayed clear of FaceBook over the six weeks is that I don’t want to get involved in all the political mudslinging that is going on. However, inevitably, the hydra of politics rears it’s ugly head in even the politest of conversations. As we scarfed down ate our pancakes, followed by orange segments in citrus syrup, the subject of events municipal, provincial and federal came up. One of the guest’s observed that people enter politics for one or two of three possible reasons: Glory, Greed, and Good. Sadly it would seem that in all three levels here in Canada the first two vastly outweigh the third.

And we will leave the last word on this Spring Forward exercise when Spring is still two weeks away to our Nick.

March 9 is Barbie Day – on this day in 1959 the first Barbie doll made it’s appearance. If that is not enough today is also Panic Day.

Le Boeuf Gras

In the past I’ve written about parades by various New Orleans Krewes in years long gone. This year I thought I’d join my beloved Cecilia this morning – in spirit at least – at one of the major parades of the season. Founded in 1872 the Krewe of Rex, officially the School of Design, has held more parades than any other organization. They are the origin of many Mardi Gras traditions, including the official Carnival colors of purple, green and gold, as well as the collectible doubloon coins (introduced by Rex in 1960). And at it’s founding the Krewe selected “If I Should Ever Cease to Love” as it’s anthem. The celebrated actress Lydia Thompson was performing the song in her musical hit Bluebeard that Carnival season. By coincidence Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia, an old, if brief, flame of the actress was in town and guest of honour at the Rex Ball. It is said that the tune was played to greet the Grand Duke and perhaps rekindle the flame. Even back in 1872 there was “fake news” – Lydexia did not become an item! But the song has honoured every Rex since then.

A few years back the Advocate revived the tradition of Parade Bulletins as both a peak at what was to come and souvenir of what had passed by so quickly on Canal Street. A left click will enlarge it for a closer look at Visions of the SunRex 2019.

This year’s theme for Rex is Visions of the Sun and ranges from Greece to Scandinavia to the Far East and beyond in a look at legends and myths of the sun – which hopefully is shining on the parade this morning. There are certain floats that have become traditional in every parade – A Streetcar Named Desire, The Butterfly King (a symbol of the Krewe for 130 years it joined the parade in 2012) and Le Boeuf Gras. Traditionally any Mardi Gras celebration would include the Fatted Ox. In medieval times – and possibly going back to pagan celebrations – a be-garlanded ox would be paraded through the streets as the symbol of the last meat before Lent. At the end of the day it would be slaughtered, roasted, and the meat distributed to the poor. Rex paraded a live bull – for several years an elderly stockyard mascot that would have made for some tough eating – from 1874 until 1901 when it was seen as not in keeping with the elegant floats and themes. The Bull was banned until in 1959 they announced the return of Le Boeuf Gras but this time in papier-mâché. A left click on the mighty beast and those who would make hamburger of him will take you to a slideshow of many of the floats that will follow him this year.

A left click will take you to a slideshow for a closer look at some of this year’s glorious floats.

The tradition of throws can be traced back to the second parade by the Twelfth Night Revellers in 1871. The range of throws covers a wide selection of memorable (and not so memorable) items the strangest of which has to be “moon pies” – though rolls of toilet paper embossed with a Krewe’s logo comes a very close second in a tied position with the customized toilet plungers. Cecilia sent me the link to an article tracing the history of these often bizarre souvenirs of Carnival.

In the same note she mentioned that she is now the proud possessor of a treasured “shoe” from the Krewe of the Muses. The shoes are individually made by members of the Krewe so guaranteed that Cecilia’s little red and black bespoke number is one of a kind.

As the police clear the streets at midnight tonight announcing that Carnival has ended I hope that Cecilia and all those who celebrated had a great season of feast, floats and fools. And one of these days I swear I’ll join them for real not just in words and pictures.

March 5th is Multiple Personality Day. A day to get in touch with yourselves.

I Love A Parade – IV

February 24, 1914 – New Orleans

During the Golden Age there was a set protocol to the order in which the rival Krewes paraded and held their tableaux balls.  Though some of the festivities began as early as 12th Night the four major Krewes saved their celebrations for the seven days prior to Ash Wednesday.   The Mardi Gras week began on the Thursday evening with the Knights of Momus parade and bal masque; Lunedi Gras evening it was the the turn of the Krewe of Proteus; Mardi Gras morning brought the Rex Parade; and that evening saw the last parade of Mardi Gras by Comus, the first Krewe to parade back in 1857.

In 1885 Comus decided not to parade.  For the next five years he did not make an appearance on the streets of New Orleans and Proteus appropriated the Mardi Gras evening.  When Comus resumed in 1890 the confrontation between the Captains of the two Krewes took place on Canal Street.  Though Comus won the night Proteus did insist on parading on Shrove Tuesday the following year and then went back to his traditional Monday night.

The 1890 parade – Paligenesis – was the only time that Comus used the designs of Bror Anders Wikstrom.  In 1891 the Krewe began a longtime association with one of the acknowledged greats of Mardi Gras design:  Virginia Wilkinson Wilde (1865-1913).  Jennie Wilde came from a distinguished Irish Catholic family of poets, artists, writers, and jurists.  Known as an illustrator, painter and poet, her murals adorned the interior of the long ago demolished Church of Notre Dame de Bon Secours on Jackson Avenue.  Her style was strongly influenced by the pomp and ceremony of her Catholic upbringing, and the Art Nouveau and Orientalism movements popular at the time.  Over the twenty-four years she was called upon by the Captain of Comus to design themes as diverse as Nippon, Land of the Rising Sun (1892), A Leaf from the Mahabrata (1903), Tennyson (1907), Familiar Quotations (1911), and Time’s Mysteries (1913)

vahtek-1905
The 1905 Carnival Edition for the Krewe of Momus parade – one of the most daring that Jennie Wilde created.  A click on the picture will take you to the Louisiana Digital Library image where you can zoom in for close ups on some of the gloriously exotic floats she designed for the scandalous Vahtek.

She also designed for the Krewe of Momus; one of her more daring themes was the 1905 Momus pageant based on Vathek, Ninth Caliph of the Abassides.  This wildly exotic and erotic fantasy had scandalized all England when William Beckford published it in 1786.  One has to wonder how much of her audience had ever heard of, let alone read, this rather obscure novel but it gave her great scope to combine her love of Art Nouveau and Orientalism.

Of all the Krewes Comus was the most secretive: membership and the identity of Comus and his Captain were closely guarded.  However unlike Charles Briton, Carlotta Bonnecaze, and Bror Anders Wikstrom whose Carnival histories were not revealed until long after their deaths, the name of Jennie Wilde was widely known and celebrated.  After her second parade in 1892 the Picayune carried a report of her being acknowledged at the Comus bal masque with the gift of a jewelled necklace and bejewelled cloak.  And on the occasion of the Comus Golden Anniversary celebration at the culmination of the Masque of Comus  parade and bal masque she was presented with a copy of Comus’ chalice in crystal with the date inlaid in silver.

Masque-of-Comus-2
To celebrate the Golden Anniversary of the Krewe of Comus Jennie Wilde went back to the roots of their name:  John Milton’s The Masque of Comus.

As the 1913 festivities came to an end Jennie Wilde presented her detailed drawings for the following year: twenty float designs, one hundred and nine parade costumes and innumerable accessory, mask, and ball paraphernalia.  The theme was to be Tales from Chaucer.  When she left on her vacation to England that summer neither she nor S. P. Walmsley, the legendary Captain of Comus, could foresee that it was to be the last pageant she would design for the Krewe.  She took ill in late summer and died in September at a convent in England.  When her last parade took to it’s time honoured path on February 24, 1919 she had been laid to rest in the family vault at Metairie Cemetery.

Flights-of-Fancy-1909.jpg
When the Krewe of Comus returned to parading in 1924 choose to recreated Jennie Wilde’s 1909 spectacle Flights of Fancy.  On it’s first appearance the parade had been spoiled by a violent thunder storm.  A click on the picture will take you to the Louisiana Digital Library image where you can zoom in for close ups of floats that were acknowledged as amongst the best she ever created.

However when they failed to find a suitable designer Walmsley turned to previous parades and recreated Wilde’s most beautiful designs.  When Comus, still under Walmsley’s charge,  returned to parade after a seven year hiatus in 1924 they recreated the designs from her 1909 Flights of Fancy.  The original parade had been hit by a wild thunderstorm and had been viewed by only a handful of people.  Comus paid her a final tribute with that parade twelve years after her death.

But let’s turn our thoughts to more pleasurable pursuits and go to our familiar balcony on Canal Street near St Charles.  It is a clear but cool evening and the first of the flambeaux carriers is coming into sight.  The mysterious Captain (though we few in the know realize that it is Walmsley) has blown his whistle and the parade is rolling our way.

As always Comus leads the tableaux* extending his cup of good cheer and pleasure to all and sundry.  It is a salute to both us and the pleasures of Mardi Gras.

The Banner float tells us that we will be witnessing Tales from Chaucer (though unfortunately the designs for Float #4 The Man of Law’s Tale and Float #8 Sir Thopas are missing from the incredible collection at Tullane University).  Now I must admit that my knowledge of the grand-daddy of English authors is pretty much restricted to his Canterbury Tales and just the Prologue at that.  But he was widely known for his translations and poetry beyond that seminal work of Middle English literature.  There is some controversy as to whither the fragments of The Romance of the Rose (Float #3) are rightly attributed to him but Wilde treats the subject like they should be.  The Book of the Duchess (Float #7) is said to be written in memory of Blanche of Lancaster at the request of her husband John of Gaunt.  The other floats in this section are amongst those tales told on the road to Canterbury by the Shipman (#5), the Prioress (#6), and the Monk (#9).

Many of the floats derive from the Canterbury Tales  but in some cases Jennie Wilde identified them by the tale rather than the teller.  In this segment the Frankeleyn or  common land owner (#10), the gap-toothed Wife of Bath (#11) , a Squire (#13) and the Nun’s Priest (Chanticleer #14) tell their Tales  and Chaucer musings poetical on fame (The House of Fame #12).

The Clerke then tells the tale of Griselda (#15), Chaucer himself relates the rambling story of Melibee (#16) and in his Book of Good Women the legend of Pyramus and Tisbe (#17), the Second Nun recounts the legend of St Cecilia* (#18) and Anelida (#18) one of Chaucer’s short poems is the penultimate float.

The final float celebrates one of Chaucer’s minor works:  Trouthe  – Ballade de bon conseyl (To Sir Philip de la Vache).  Each of the three stanzas and the Envoy of this short homiletic poem ends with the refrain:  And Trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede (And Truth shall delivery you, have no fear.)  As the parade draws to a close Jennie Wilde’s float paints a magnificent picture of the virtue of Truth.  And it is a stunning swan song for one of the legends of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Truth - 20
Truth – “And trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede”: Jennie Wilde’s final design for the Krewe of Comus

From our vantage point just as the parade turns on to Canal Street from St Charles we can see the grandstand in front of the Pickwick Club just a few blocks away.  Miss Mary Orme, who has been chosen Queen of Comus, and her four maids are awaiting Comus and his court to escort them to the ball.  All five ladies are daughters of prominent New Orleans families and are wearing evening gowns that indicate their fathers’ fortunes and the talents of their mothers’ French dress makers.  Miss Orme status as Queen of Comus is indicated by a crown, mantle, collar and jewellery that Jennie Wilde has created; while her maids wear short capes.

After Comus has saluted his Lady, he and his court will parade on foot through the French Quarter  The ladies will follow them in bedecked carriages into the heart of the French Quarter to Bourbon and Toulouse, and enter the French Opera House to begin the Comus Bal Masque. Fortunately we have our much prized invitation and a dance card so we can follow them and join in the dancing at the last grand event of Mardi Gras 1914.

1914-Invitation

Later in the evening the Meeting of the Courts, a custom that goes back to 1892, will take place.  Rex, his Queen and Court will arrive at the Opera House to pay their traditional respects to the the Court of Comus; greetings will be exchanged, presentations made, and the royal couples will promenade around the hall.  Soon the courts will depart and the Captain of Comus will bow to the assemblage and draw the curtain to announce that Mardi Gras for 1914 has ended.

Chalice-1914

*This series of Mardi Gras postings is dedicated to my own bright Cecilia who has the good fortune to live in the Crescent City and witness this year’s festivities at first hand.

As noted in previous weeks many of the images in the posts I am creating are from the exceptional Mardi Gras collection at Howard Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University and Louisiana Digital Library.   And a wealth of material on the history of Mardi Gras and its creators is available on the Internet as well as in the beautiful series of Mardi Gras Treasures books by Henri Schindler.

On this day in 1913: The 13th Dalai Lama proclaims Tibetan independence following a period of domination by Manchu Qing dynasty and initiated a period of almost four decades of independence.

I Love a Parade – III

February 13, 1899 – New Orleans

For more than 15 years Charles Briton had been largely responsible for many of the costumes, floats and trappings for Mardi Gras. However during his illness in 1884 he turned to fellow Swede Bror Anders Wikstrom for assistance. After a colourful life on the high seas, Wikstrom turned to art and on a visit to New Orleans in 1883 ran into his old friend Briton. On Briton’s death he became the designer of choice for the Comus, Momus and Rex Krewes. Though primarily an artist and teacher Wikstrom’s designs for carnival augmented his income generously and allowed him to live very comfortably and make frequent trips to Europe.

Mangrove Swamp Wikstrom 1902
Mangrove Swamp – 1902
Brors Anders Wikstrom was inspired by his time at sea and his surroundings in Louisiana.

Over the years he tackled a great variety of themes from the comic to the fantastical to the historical.  It was not until 1898 that he was to return to the Krewe of Proteus when he replaced the mysterious Carlotta Bonnecaze.  His first parade was A Trip to Wonderland which wasn’t about Alice’s adventures but rather took the watchers to the Milky Way, a Lovers’ Hammock,  A New Heaven and many other wonderous places.  He was to design twelve more parades for Proteus until his death in 1909.  As was normal he had submitted his designs for the 1910 Rex parade as Ash Wednesday 1909 was arriving.  He then headed off to New York to work on the design for forty floats to celebrate the anniversary of Henry Hudson’s “discovery” of the river that was named after him.  He had been unwell on his departure and his condition worsened.  He died in April, several days after he had completed the project.  His obituary lauded his accomplishments in setting up art schools and academies in his adopted home but made no mention of his work with the Mystic Krewes.  As with previous designers, including Briton and Bonnecaze, his identify was one of the secrets guarded by the Krewes.

Aid-110-115
The Aids were parade marshals who rode the length of the route on horseback.  For E Pluribus Unum in 1899 Wikstrom gave them the air of French cavaliers.

Though much ado is made of them, the persons chosen to represent Rex, Comus, Momus or Proteus had little to do other than preside over the festivities.  The real work of planning, coordinating, and overseeing went to the Captains of the Krewes and their Aids.  The Captain was the manager of the festivities and for many it was a year round job.  Themes were chosen; designs viewed, changed, rejected or approved; trips made to the costume houses of France drawings and measurement sheets in hand; fabrics and adornments selected; shipments arranged; float and big-head constructions overseen; invitations lists for the ball vetted; ball favours, dance cards and invitations; and the list goes on.  Until on the day of the Parade itself the masked – and unknown – Captain, mounted on horseback, led the parade through the streets of city.  And with him as parade marshals were five or six Aids who had assisted him throughout the year and now kept the parade in good running order.

After all the planning and preparation a smooth operation on the day itself was not always guaranteed.  In 1877 it was discovered that the floats that had been constructed for the infamous Hades, A Dream of Momus were too wide to go through doors of the “den” where they had been constructed.  The parade was delayed as a wall was knocked down.  In 1890 a battle broke out between the Captains of Comus and Proteus.  Comus had not paraded on Mardi Gras night for several years and Proteus had taken over their spot.  Comus returned that year and the two parades took off at the same time only to collide on Canal Street.  Heated words were exchanged and blows almost flew however the brother-in-law of the Comus Captain took the bridle of the Captain of Proteus’s horse and led him to one side allowing Comus to go through.  It was only after some persuading that Proteus returned to his original Lundi Gras place in the festivities.

Despite the weather the Rex Parade of 1899 made it’s way through the winter swept streets of New Orleans.  I’m sure Wikstrom had not envisioned his King of Carnival sitting on a snowy bed of roses!

But the biggest concern for any Captain was the weather.  Rain was always a major threat to the papier-maché floats and big heads.  But rain was not the problem during Mardi Gras week in 1899.  A blizzard swept out of the Rockies and deposited three inches of snow on an unprepared New Orleans.  A bitterly cold wind drove the temperatures to 28ºf during the day; though Rex did parade, atop a Wikstrom designed bed of roses, on Shrove Tuesday it was said His Majesty’s smile was more set by a frozen moustache than from any sense of bonhomie.

Rex may have decided to parade the evening before, when temperatures went to 7ºf, Proteus made the wise decision to stay indoors and delay the parade until two days later – Friday February 16th.  For the only time in Mardi Gras history a parade was held in the first days of Lent.  It was not a success as both carnival spirit and crowds had dispersed with the coming of Ash Wednesday.  And if truth be told Wikstrom’s designs – his second for Proteus – lacked the enchantment or whimsy of his best work.

So here it is February 16th and we’re back to our familiar spot on Canal Street – the weather is still not warm and frankly there’s a certain joie de vivre missing.  But let’s give the parade a passing glance and see what Mr Wikstrom has created.  Frankly it may be just a little to cold to watch the whole thing so we may just go indoors for a warming glass of hot punch and miss a few of the floats.

As always the parade was lead off by the Captain on horseback followed by Proteus accompanied by members of his court. (A left click will enlarge the designs for a closer look.)

In the aftermath of the Spanish-American War of 1898 patriotism was running high in the United States and Proteus choose to celebrate America with E Pluribus Unum, one of the mottoes on the Great Seal.   Though never codified by law it was the de facto motto of the U. S. until the change to a less secular wording in 1956.

Banner-car

Uncle Sam counting the stars was followed by floats representing the District of Columbia, seventeen states* (the Carolines shared a float) and Alaska which wasn’t even a territory at that time.  I have not been able to figure out what the exact criteria was for inclusion or the order in which the states were presented.  Each state was represented by its motto, shield and attributes of its history, industry, flora or fauna.

It is possible that the first state is Maine as a tribute to the sunken USS Maine that had served as a powerful propaganda tool in the Spanish-American War.  The ship had been in port during Mardi Gras 1897 and her officers and crew taken part in the festivities.  I’m a little at a loss to explain the rather Nordic dress of the participants as the Viking settlement theories were not put forth until the 1970s.

There is perhaps a bit of irony to the modern observer in both the State motto and the design of the float representing Pennsylvania. The wheat sheaves and the lumps of coal with the state moto: Both Can’t Survive.  Of course we have been told otherwise.

Though there may be witty asides at the expense of many of the States that are lost on us today there is no question about Massachusetts.  The Mayflower seems bound on a storm sea for a rather forbidding Plymouth Rock.  And the float is peopled by blue stockinged archetypal schoolmarms, academics, and slightly over-the-hill cupids.  Obviously Wikstrom did not hold the good citizens of Boston in the highest esteem.

Given the recent Gold Rush in the Klondike that had beckoned to more than one hopeful prospector from the South perhaps it was not so strange to include Alaska as One of the Many.

We really didn’t need a reminder of the cold from that last float – there’s still some snow on the ground.  We’ll have to be careful going over to the French Opera House, it’s a bit slippery underfoot – those cobble stones can be treacherous.  It does seem a bit anti-climactic going to a ball during Lent but we have the invitation and the dance card and it would be a shame to waste them.  Beside we spent a goodly amount on those costumes so ………

* The floats in order were: District of Columbia, Maine, Alabama, The Carolinas, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Florida, Louisiana, Rhode Island, California, Texas, and Alaska

On this day in 1951: The Canadian Army enters combat in the Korean War.