Ed Muniz was pointing to some of the subtle points on the king’s float in Endymion, a parade not known for its subtlety. On the second unit of the tandem were two reproductions of urns once seen on the floats of Comus, the krewe that started the continuing parading tradition back in 1857. All New Orleans Carnival traditions began with Comus. Muniz professed that he appreciated the old style parades, but then, pointing to the LED-enhanced blinking Endymion floats that were on display in the convention center, he added, “this is the modern Mardi Gras.”
Modern Mardi Gras, as well as all Carnival, new and old, lost one of its greatest figures this past Saturday as Ed Muniz took his last bow because of a lingering illness. Fittingly, Saturday was his weekday as though he owned it. On that day each February, Endymion, his parade and Carnival’s biggest, spreads an urban festival along Canal Street and into the business district followed by a late night extravaganza at the Superdome. That event had been preceded weeks earlier by a king selection party big enough to fill a quadrant of the convention center or a moderate sized kingdom.
At that event, a crowd of around 2000, bedecked in black ties and evening dresses, carts sandwich trays to their table then dances the night away. According to Endymion tradition the king is picked by a lottery from among the members who bought a ticket for the draw. Later that evening Muniz would preside as the winning name was drawn. Much later in the evening, which lasted until two the next morning, the royalty was paraded around the floor.
Welcome to the modern Mardi Gras! It is represented visually in many ways such as by the title float which, instead of a painted sign revealing that year’s theme, has an electronic marquee, “just like Las Vegas” Muniz boasted.
Another float would have video capability that would allow those in the crowd to see themselves on the big screen.
Muniz was part of a genre of guys who were raised with New Orleans’ culture and tradition but who later moved to the suburbs, and who have tried to embellish the city’s influences. (Along the way he also became Mayor of Kenner and served on the Jefferson Parish council.) Near where the Endymion parade turns on to Canal Street is the Centanni home, once decorated annually with a display of Christmas lights and displays. Little Al Copeland, the fried chicken king-to-be, was among the city’s kids who each year would gawk at the decorations. He resolved to do that himself one day. Like Copeland, Muniz remembered the Carnival parades of his youth and wanted to bring something bigger and better to the city.
What he brought was more than a parade but a street festival. As someone who lives near the Endymion Canal Street route, I can attest that “Endymion Saturday” is like no other day of the year. The entire neighborhood is landlocked by traffic leaving those of us who are entrapped with few alternatives but to party. For a few hours of one day a year, old city streets are like what they used to be before air conditioners and television, when people walked those streets and mingled easily. Some neighbors who are only seen once a year appear on Endymion Saturday.
Financially, in New Orleans at least, both the traditional and the modern krewes have to adhere to the prohibition against commercialism in parades. In a world of corporate sponsorships there can be no Bud Lite Endymion parade. As for the traditional Carnival balls, they are private affairs by invitation only. There are no ticket sales. They exist in a noble but fading world in which the hosts pay their own way. Where the krewes that make money do so, it is self-generated from their events. Without being specific, Muniz, who was never known for shyness, conceded that Endymion makes a lot of money off of the Extravaganza. And where does it go? “I put it back into the parade,” he would say. One year he used extra profits to fund the creation of Carnival’s largest tandem, a series of floats commemorating the former Pontchartrain Beach Amusement park. Another year he upgraded the lighting. A year later he added more electronics.
Endymion has had its critics, many who say bigger isn’t better. Bigger, however, can generate more money and when the boss is as passionate and paternal as Muniz was, bigger means more ways to be more modern. Las Vegas may one day have to work hard to compete.
Ed Muniz grew up in the vicinity of the Fairgrounds racetrack where he heard some of the colorful names of the horses. He named the krewe after a running steed who was named after a mythological shepherd boy who was a symbol of youth. The krewe would never lose its youthful ambition. That’s because there was once a boy in Gentilly whose dream was Olympian in size.
Have something to add to this story, or want to send a comment to Errol? Email him at email@example.com. Note: All responses are subject to being published, as edited, in this article. Please include your name and location.
SOMETHING NEW: Listen to “Louisiana Insider,” a weekly podcast covering the people, places and culture of the state. LouisianaLife.com/LouisianaInsider, Apple Podcasts or Audible/Amazon Music.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 9:30 A.M. SUNDAYS.WYES-TV, CH. 12.