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Capturing Carnival

Images of Carnival History

In 1904 these maskers in grotesque costumes pose in front of the Elks Monument that was once in the middle of Elk Place across from the Elks Club. Since ’12 the statue has been the club’s tomb in Greenwood Cemetery. Fancy Carnival costumes weren’t the norm in ’04, as most maskers put something together from old clothing. With the addition of a mask or face paint, a strange and startling impression might be achieved.


The calendar between Twelfth Night on Jan. 6 and the merriment of Mardi Gras is, for a large portion of New Orleans, nothing less than the most enjoyable and exciting – as well as disruptive – time of year. For many, no other holiday or festival compares. If the Christmas season consumes several months, Carnival, for some people planning for next year’s, can take up an entire year. There are childhood and adult memories of Mardi Gras that live forever for people who have experienced this special brand of Crescent City revelry. There are individuals who recall Mardi Gras dates, what they did then, the weather at the time, what throws were popular and other Carnival specifics more readily than for any other annual event. Books are devoted to the particulars of past Carnivals from parade and ball dates to themes and weather conditions.

A selection of vintage photographs from The Historic New Orleans Collection can help bring back some of those memories and provide views of Carnivals from the long past that few, if any, of us remember, as well as show us how the Mardi Gras season has evolved.

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