Beauty and the Beast float from 1873 Comus ParadeThink Krewe du Vieux or Krewe d’Etat are the most satirical?  How about Muses and Momus?  Consider these New Orleans parades from long ago.

Two 1870s parades are famous for the controversy they created concerning the big issue of the day, Reconstruction.

The 1873 Comus procession titled “The Missing Links to Darwin’s Origin of the Species” and the 1877 Momus parade named “Hades – A Dream of Momus” ridiculed the carpetbaggers  who ravaged the war torn South in the decade following the Civil War.

New Orleans was a troubled city during the Reconstruction era, and by 1873 on Carnival Krewe had enough. The members of Comus, behind the relative security of their masks, decided to let their feelings known. The 1873 Comus procession was noteworthy for a second reason – it was the first constructed entirely in New Orleans, all others having been at least partially built in France.

But it is the satirical aspects of this Comus parade that are best remembered. Comus ended the tradition of political neutrality with a flourish, depicting the carpetbaggers and Republicans as pests and misfits. President Grant was  a boll Weevil. The stir created by the parade was immense, locals loving it and carpetbaggers hating it equally as much.

One year later, in 1974, a major riot occurred on Canal Street between the Metropolitan Police, run by the carpetbaggers, and the White League, the organization of the badgered citizens of New Orleans. The major Carnival parades were cancelled as a result. When 1876 rolled around, the city was again in a desperate condition due to the contested state and federal elections that year.

The two Presidential candidates, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, were quarreling over the Presidency and an electoral commission was formed to settle the question. The Louisiana electoral vote was about to go to Hayes, giving the election to the Republican candidate by one vote.

On the state side of the election, two gubernatorial candidates had a similar feud going on. S. B. Packard, the Republican carpetbagger, had the might of the Federal armed forces behind his effort while Francis T. Nicholls, the Democrat, had the support of the populace- he was the a Confederate war hero, having given his left arm in one battle and his left foot in another.

Obviously prepared for the official outcry, Momus paraded on February 8, 1877. They were hours overdue because the floats proved too big for the den doors. When the obstructing wall was finally ripped out, it was 10 pm. The crowd was waiting.

The people’s response was immediate- they loved it! The floats satirized and ridiculed the carpetbagger chiefs and Republican officeholders from the local to the national level, including President Grant.  Each float recreated Hades, the abode of the dead, the gloomy subterranean home of departed spirits. The float riders depict the scalawags (white Southern Reconstructionists who acted as Republicans) and other regional and national Republicans as every manner of odd creature imaginable.

With the ensuing Republican outcry rising, and retaliation from Washington a possibility, Nicholls, who had been hoping for official recognition of his victory from the Federal Government, decided to act fast. He wired an apology to the nation’s capital, even though he was a strong supporter of Carnival.  Nicholls was afraid that the new President, Hayes, would dash his hopes of keeping the Governorship of  Louisiana. Nicholls ended up as Governor, but Momus didn’t utilize satire again until the one hundredth anniversary of this memorable procession.  Their return to satirizing local politics and trends was welcome, and they continue to do so.