Posts tagged Flambeaux

What is the Real Spirit of Mardi Gras?

Robert Tallant on Left With Friends    photo courtesy New Orleans Public Library

Robert Tallant on Left With Friends photo courtesy New Orleans Public Library

Robert Tallant, the New Orleans author, said it all- Mardi Gras is a spirit…an immortal one…as immortal as man’s ability to make believe, to escape the dreariness of the everyday life that is most men’s portion, to have fun, laugh and to play…Mardi Gras is very old, but it is also very young. It belongs to the past, yet also to the present and the future. The face it wears is not necessarily its last. It will exist in other forms, in other times, in other places. It would be wonderful if the clown in the grinning mask should appear on all the Main Streets of the world, if the blazing flambeaux and the rocking floats there could be a season or at least a day devoted to Laughter.

More on Robert Tallant photography here @ nutriasdotorg.

Mardi Gras Revelers, New Orleans, 1905

New Orleans Mardi Gras Revelers, 1905

Robert Tallant Photo of Mardi Gras Truck Maskers

Robert Tallant Photo of Mardi Gras Truck Maskers Courtesy New Orleans Public Library

A Group Of Maskers on Canal Street During Carnival New Orleans Postcard, 1914

A Group Of Maskers on Canal Street During Carnival New Orleans Postcard, 1914

The color photo above and the 1905 trio of Mardi Gras costumers above are from Tidbits, Trinkets and Images.

1930s Rex Parade from WPA Archives

1930s Rex Parade from WPA Archives


What Happened to Sparta??


Sparta Crest in Tiles at Mardi Gras Fountain

Saw Sparta last night on St. Charles Avenue. It was a cold and windy night, and I was counting on warming myself up at the Lighting of  the Flambeaux  that DIDN’T take place last night.

Flambeaux Lighting 2009 photo by neworleansmusicman

Where were the flambeaux? Where was the lighting?

What’s up with Sparta? Inquiring Mardi Gras Bloggers want to know….

After the first few traditional floats, such as the Captain’s Float, the floats were attractive  but they didn’t have the usual old time look and there were fewer bands. The whole parade passed in well under one hour, which is remarkably fast for any parade down St. Charles Avenue, even Sparta, which always hurtles down the Avenue.

Here’s a passage from the official web site for the Knights of Sparta

A spectacular signature float, a mule-drawn king’s float, traditional flambeaux, and mounted officers are just a few of the wonderful features of the Knights of Sparta street parade each year.

Photo by David Gladow

Alice in Wonderland Float, Knights of Sparta 2010



flambeaux lighting 2009

Illumination, so important to every night parade, has undergone many changes since Comus first introduced torches in their 1857 parade.  Today, fiber optics, neon, and powerful Las Vegas style ‘running lights’ are growing increasing sophisticated but the old fiery flambeaux, with their golden glow, are much more appealing. Flambeaux means ‘torch’ in French.

The Richardson family first built and used flambeaux in New Orleans over one hundred years ago, although no patent was obtained until the 1930s. Momus was the first krewe to use the new flambeau in the 1870s, but they never owned their own- just rented them from other krewes.

Prior to the Richardson’s flambeaux, the krewes used hand torches, made from pine tar rags on wooden staves. Comus and Proteus first purchased the all metal flambeaux. Each club bought 400 devices, an order that has sufficed to this day. The two share a den, so all the flambeaux are now stored together. The earliest flambeau carriers were slaves and free men of color. The parade spectators would throw coins to the carriers, a tradition that continues today.

Bacchus innovated a new version of the flambeaux operating on natural gas. They burn cleaner and the units don’t suffer from the leakage problem the older liquid fuel models have. Endymion has become a big user of these newer flambeaux.

Barry Donahue is a flambeaux coordinator who hires torch carriers to help light parade routs for 3 Carnival krewes. “I need about 200 people and I’m just one (recruiter).”

Donahue, who says he has been organizing flambeaux crews for more than 20 years, said roughly half of his original labor crew has not returned since Hurricane Katrina flooded the city in 2005.

He has placed help wanted ads for “$$flambeaux carriers$$” in the Times-Picayune newspaper for at least a week with his phone number (504) 250-4462.

“In the past 6 or 7 years, we have been getting some college students,” he said. “It would be a great thing for a fraternity.”

Flambeaux organizers are not alone in the hunt for itinerant workers during the 12-day Carnival season.

Cascade Stables at Audubon Park has been advertising for “horse walkers” for several Carnival parades. See their Web site at Efforts to reach a spokesperson by phone were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Donahue says he pays flambeaux carriers about $55 per parade. However, the traditional “tips” thrown by parade spectators can swell a carrier’s pockets by an additional $300 to $600 a night, he said.

Many scoop up wads of cash.

“They don’t bother with coins anymore,” Donahue says of the itinerant workers.

Wearing a white, hooded cloak known as a “domino,” the flambeau carrier holds a rack of fuel and flame overhead like a flagpole — aided by a special belt.

A little showmanship often means more tips. So parade-goers are likely to see flambeaux carriers spinning their flaming cargo overhead, especially if there is a marching band nearby.

2009 New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade Rankings



1. Muses had the best throws by a mile. No other krewe is anywhere close to catching Muses. I’m recording short videos for the blog of two of the throws- the round mirrored medallion with the multi-colored light show and the ‘fan’ with the Muses light show. Here’s a listing from the New Orleans freecycle group that I received yesterday:
seek to borrow -Muses Light-up rings
Our dance group needs about 15 of the rings that were thrown at the Muses Parade for props. We will return them. We need them by Wednesday. Thanks.
. Muses throws have become part of a dance performance. The hand decorated shoe has moved up in stature as a throw and now rivals the Zulu coconut, although I haven’t heard about Obama receiving a Muses shoe like he received a coconut and met with the King and Queen of Zulu! Muses dancing groups are second to none, except for possibly the Krewe du Vieux, who parade outside the formal 10 day Parade Season recognized by these rankings. Muses is big on satire, and their bands, floats krewe member’s generosity are good enough to swing this all-female krewe, only 8 years old, to the NUMBER ONE RANKING!


2. D’Etat earns the number 2 ranking for several reasons, including their top throw- a 360 degree 3-D full color cup, using lenticular technology. I didn’t see anything like this anywhere else during the Carnival season during the parades. I know the Giacona Company in Jefferson sells a cup like this. D’Etat out-promoted other krewes, with two different fliers on the parade route. D’Etat was built by Royal Artists, the preferred historic paper mache experts. Royal’s floats wobble and shimmy, creating movement in the paper mache props. Their satire was effective, even if most of the satirical krewes poked fun at many of the same entities- the economy, city council, mayor, etc.
2009 d'Etat float


3. Endymion is the people’s choice for best parade every year, since they have the biggest crowd without fail. Endymion has more riders on the biggest floats and more throws (volume) with the biggest float props. Endymion has St. Augustine High School Band leading off, and that is surely the mark of band excellence. Endymion on an average year is still almost the best parade in Carnival. They use the propane flambeaux, which burn at a lower temperature than the kerosene models, and therefore don’t produce the same high intensity light that the historic models achieve. Historically, the flambeaux illuminate the night parade, and the smoke from the flambeaux adds to the parade’s mystique. The propane flambeaux burn cleanly, so the smoke was lacking.


4. Bacchus is the original Super Krewe, and they had all the pieces- the icon floats, the huge membership, lots of throws, and numerous notable bands. Throwing beads at the Kongs is the only time NOPD allows throwing at the floats. The Bacchasaurus, Bacchawhoppa, and Bacchagator never disappoint the crowd. St. Augustine led off Bacchus, that helps raise a rating. The Bacchus crowd along St. Charles Avenue a few blocks from Napoleon seemed very well behaved and not as big as I remembered, and Bacchus closes out a big second Sunday of parades. Okeanos, Mid-City and Thoth all preceded Bacchus on Sunday.


5. Rex is the King of Carnival, and they are a perennial top 5 parade. But rarely are they as low as 5, and there is a reason the School of Design (Rex’s organization) in 2009 gets that rating. They ran out of bands! The entire second half of the parade didn’t have the requisite one float/one band ratio, but 2-3 floats/band! To huge Rex fans like myself, this is embarrassing. I never imagined Rex with so few bands.
Rex is a Blaine Kern production, and the floats looked divine as they should in the sun. Rex is the only Super Krewe to use wooden wagon chassis and wheels. This limits the size of their floats to historic dimensions. Rex didn’t disappoint with the heavier 50th Anniversary doubloon. Thoth also threw a heavier weight doubloon. Rex was the first krewe to throw doubloons 50 years ago after Alvin Sharpe approached the krewe.
They were very selective with the large plush boeuf gras, and a little less so with the smaller boeuf gras. They had a host of different medallion beads, all of them purple, green and gold. Rex stayed with their old medallion longer than any other krewe. Rex didn’t have a light up medallion bead, as Proteus had. In the recent past I caught a plush green crown from Rex, but that throw wasn’t evident this year.

Mardi Gras Glossary


1873 Boeuf Gras engravingANODIZED  A method of coating a plain aluminum doubloon with a color by dipping the doubloon in an electrolyte bath.

BEIGNET  A square, fritter-like doughnut without a hole, fried in hot oil.

BOEUF GRAS  “Fattened ox” in French. the Boeuf Gras symbolizes the last meat eaten before the start of Lent.

CARNIVAL  The season of merrymaking beginning twelve days after Christmas and ending with Ash Wednesday.

CAFE AU LAIT  Coffee prepared with one half hot milk.

DEN  A warehouse used to store and build parade floats.

DOUBLOON  A type of throw, an aluminum coin with the emblem of the issuing organization embossed on one side and the theme of the parade on the order. 2009 is the 50th anniversary of the Mardi Gras Doubloon, invented by Alvin Sharpe.

FLAMBEAU  The traditional device for illuminating Carnival parades, a metal torch fules with naphtha (a petroleum product).  Plural- Flambeaux.

KING CAKE   A doughnut shaped cake decorated with purple, green and gold icing and/or colored sugar.  King Cakes are a major food tradition of Carnival in New Orleans.

KREWE  A Universal term for Carnival organizations, coined by Comus in 1857.

MARDI GRAS  French for Fat Tuesday, also known as Shrove Tuesday.  The culminating day of the Carnival festivities.

MEDALLION  A type of throw, a necklace with a pendant bearing a Krewe’s emblem.

NEUTRAL GROUND  The dividing strip of ground, usually planted, between the two sides of a large street.

PARISH  the Louisiana term for county.

THROW  Any trinket tossed from a Carnival parade float to spectators, the most common being plastic beads and plastic cups. Stuffed items are very popular- stuffed animals, swords, figures, etc.

VIEUX CARRE  French for “Old Square”, the French Quarter.

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