The Independent Order of the Moon
The history of a former Carnival krewe
Invitation from the Independent Order of the Moon
The 2007 Rex Parade featured a float decorated with an arched-backed black cat, with an orange tom cat in bowler hat and various dogs cavorting. The float, titled “The Independent Order of the Moon” honored a past parading krewe that enlivened the 1880s by lampooning elected officials.
Humor has long been part of Carnival season, and two long ago krewes specialized in this approach. The Phunny Phorty Phellows (since revived into a streetcar riding krewe celebrating on Twelfth Night) and the shorter lived Independent Order of the Moon.
The I.O.O.M. first paraded in 1881, having “organized only about three weeks ago,” according to the Picayune, but presenting floats and marchers following Rex. “Pictures of the Town” was the theme, and the first float (no doubt honoring krewe members) was titled “The Grand Mogul and His Staff,” and included “the Critic who suggested the idea, the Wit who worked it out, and the Satirist who lent his aid.”
Behind the theme float were grouped marchers “wearing wide white pants, yellow ulsters (overcoats with a cape,) and tall beavers (top hats.)” These “high-toned gents from the moon” also carried canes.
Floats focused on other krewes: “Wrecks,” “Comb-Us,” “Momus,” and the “Phunny Phorty Phellows,” who are shown “going to their temperance ball” and, after the ball, “one of them is in the grasp of a policeman,” another is on the ground, and “a third is clinging to a lamppost.”
Behind the floats were a group of mules with riders, all roped together, and representing the city administration. One mule carried a costumed policeman with a sign “Police Department which lives on fines.” One mule with a fireman’s sign read “the Fire Department: it lives on promises.” One mules’ rider depicted “a typical hoodlum, loaded down with knives and pistols… and a sign which read ‘Paroled.’”
A mule with a rider in white was labeled “The Water Department, which spends its time in getting fat and grabbing for balance of salary.”
Attached by rope to all the mules was a figure labeled “The Poor Taxpayer,” and a final mule, with a shabby rider labeled “The City” was pulled in different directions by “the syndicate,” “the bondholders,” and the “tax resisters.”
The Mayor who bore the brunt of the krewe’s satire was Joseph Shakspeare (that’s right: only two E’s) who served from 1880-1882 and 1888-1892. He went in as a reform mayor, but his opponents (“The Ring”) controlled the city council. Shakspeare managed to reschedule city debt payments and privatized the Carrollton Street Railroad (the St. Charles streetcar line.) His efforts to curtail goats in city streets earned him an I.O.O.M. float depicting a goat pulling out a handkerchief from his pants.
When Shakspeare served his second term he electrified the streetcars, added electric streetlights, and set up a professional fire department. Unfortunately, his police chief, David Hennessy, was killed, supposedly by Italians. Eleven Italian immigrants were lynched, causing an international incident. Shakspeare ran for a third term and lost.
In addition to their zany parades, the I.O.O.M. held balls. In 1883, Representatives of the I.O.O.M. – “The Committee of Starlings,” along with their “Supreme High Chief Tohu” hand-delivered the two-foot square ball invitations.
But, before the decade was over, the krewe had ceased to exist.
After its 1881 start, the Independent Order of the Moon paraded in 1882: ”Moonlight, Mirth and Melody,” 1883:”Familiar Rhymes Liberally Interpreted,” 1884: “Vanity Fair,” 1886: “Twelfth Month’s Rations,” 1887: “The Yankee Nation,” and 1888: “Flights of Fancy.”
Then, the moon went out.