ERROL LABORDE’S COMMENTARY: A MISTICK GATHERING
Their names will forever be lost in the secret annals of the New Orleans Carnival but their deed should be remembered. Saturday a week ago, Feb. 24, 2007, five masked people, reportedly of mixed gender, gathered at the corner of Magazine and Julia Streets to celebrate a significant anniversary in the evolution of our Mardi Gras celebration.
One hundred and fifty years earlier on that date the Mistick Krewe of Comus began its first parade from that corner. Comus would set the template from which the New Orleans Mardi Gras would evolve.
By 8:30 the maskers had set up a folding card table which would be topped by an ice chest preserving three bottle of champagne. The masks that concealed the five’s identity were of the type worn by Comus maskers during their ball, though no explanation was offered as to how the masks were secured for this event.
Champagne was flowing into the goblets by 8:45 in preparation for the official toasting which would take place a 9, the hour that the initial march was to begin.
Most of the young men who formed the first Comus procession lived or worked within the neighborhood of the parade’s origin. The very building alongside which the maskers toasted now houses a law office; a century and half earlier it had been the site of a cigar factory. Many of the structures that stand today stood then to echo the sounds of Carnival’s birth.
When the awaited hour arrived one of the maskers read a passage from Perry Young whose 1931 book told of the first movements:
“At 9’Clock, or thereabout, the glare of torchlights shattered the darkness of Magazine and Julia Streets, bands burst into symphony, and the Mistick Krewe stood revealed– a company of demons, rich and realistic; moving in a procession that seemed to blaze from some secret chamber of the earth.”
After the reading, the five maskers offered their official toast followed by an impromptu single file march half way down Julia and back, then more champagne,
Except for a van full of meter maids circling like vultures looking for a vehicle on which to attach a parking ticket no one paid much attention to the revelers. Beautiful people dressed elegantly for an event at the nearby Contemporary Art Center walked by as though five masked people drinking champagne in the warehouse district on the Saturday after Mardi Gras was normal. Finally one woman who approached to wait for a bus could not ignore event. Her drawl, however, revealed her as someone not from here and certainly not aware of the city’s idiosyncrasies.
Carnival’s rulers are masters at concocting pageantry and mystique if not at calculating anniversaries. A year earlier, in 2006, Comus’ 150th had been celebrated in some quarters though that would NOT have marked a true anniversary but rather the 150th time that Comus would have paraded had it paraded uninterrupted through the decades which it has not. The Laws of Math however confirm that 150 years after 1857 is 2007. Obedient to such laws the five makers honored Comus and his legacy.
Their mission done the maskers folded the coffee table, lifted the ice chest and walked away. Left alone on the corner was the woman still awaiting the bus and the meter maids who were finding little prey. By 9:30 on this most special of evenings the night had returned to normal The earth’s secret chamber was once again closed.
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