A Carnival CompendiumArthur Hardy’s first “Mardi Gras Guide,” published in 1977.

courtesy of Arthur Hardy.

Towards the end of winter, our eyes are drawn to the shiny purple, gold and green colors symbolizing the upcoming Carnival season. One item that has been helping spread the gospel of the season is “Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide,” which is filled with maps, photographs, articles, schedules, fun quizzes and background information on New Orleanians’ favorite time of the year.

Hardy has been publishing the guide since 1977. “When I was a child, there were 10 parades, and everyone knew where and when they would be. But by the mid-‘70s, there were about 55 parades and you had to look in the newspaper every morning to find out about them.” He remains modest about the guide: “The idea seemed pretty simple,” he says.

When Mardi Gras is over, many of us recover for a few days and then wait impatiently for next year’s Carnival to roll around. But Hardy works on the guide for a large part of the year, especially kicking it up a notch after Labor Day.

“It is basically a six-month gig,” he says. Hardy has no in-house staff for the guide; he says he hires, “freelance writers and photographers which works really well for me, being a seasonal publication.”

Like Mardi Gras itself, the publication has evolved over the years. Originally it was a “digest size, in black and white, with no ads.” Today, it is full magazine size, bursting with bright colors. It also features various Mardi Gras themed advertisements. He notes that each year, around 90,000 copies are sold. In its first year, he printed 5,000 copies, sold 1,500 and “burned the rest of them … but I really wish I hadn’t!” says the man who owns an extensive collection of Mardi Gras paraphernalia that consists of mostly things from the 1800s.

This year’s issue has a Carnival quiz that is “silly, but a whole lot of fun,” Hardy says. It also highlights the anniversaries of the Krewes of Pegasus, Zeus and Alla. And, Hardy has an important message to those who may not be familiar with the holiday: “One of our feature stories is about Mardi Gras as a family destination. This is not ‘Girls Gone Wild.’ This is for families and kids.”

What’s his favorite aspect of the holiday? “I like it all. But to me the best part is the people: the people on the floats and the people on the streets.

I love the whole environment—I become a child again,” Hardy says.