Though most Rex’s Queens have had elegant names that often reflect old-family connections, let it be noted that the very first Queen of Carnival was named Fanny.

Last year the Rex Organization celebrated the 125th anniversary of its first parade. This year, there is a second 125th to be noted, the anniversary of the first Rex ball and its Queen.

At that ball, the reigning Rex (E. B. Wheelock) selected a woman from the audience to be his queen. History, and the society notes, would record her as being Mrs. Walker Fearn. Her family name was Fanny Hewett. The debutante tradition had not begun yet, so the first queen was the only married woman to have sat on the throne.

Little has been known about that queen or her husband. Recent research, however, has shown the Fearns to be a couple that certainly reflected the elegance and the turmoil of the time. Just as the first Rex, Louis Solomon, was from Mobile, so would be the husband of the first queen. Walker Fearn, a lawyer who had served as a diplomat to Brussells during the James Buchanan administration, was well known in New Orleans. His mother was a prominent socialite in Mobile.

Less is known about Fanny Hewett other than that Fearn met her while serving in the military in Texas. Thus, the first Queen of Carnival was a war bride. That her reign was unexpected was made apparent by her one complaint about the honor, she hadn’t worn her best dress that evening.

As the debutante tradition became a part of Carnival balls, the nature of those who were honored changed. Rex’s queens would be unmarried, socially well connected, a junior in college, and clearly wearing their best dress, one created especially for the occasion. Months of preparation and partying go into the reign and the selection is hardly spontaneous. Some girls have been targeted to serve on a court of the future practically from birth.

It’s a lot of preparation for a one-day reign, although overlooked, even by the girls themselves, is that queens play a role that is lasting. Because they are far younger than their reigning Rex, queens often go back the furthest in terms of chronicling Carnival history. There are Queens of Carnival from the 1940s alive today who are a valuable link to that time.

Carnival is to be experienced in many ways with a range that includes dining form a Lucky Dog Cart or at the Queen’s Dinner. For Fanny Hewett Fearn it was a one-night shot at immortality. Hers was a Cinderella ride. Even a second best dress looks better when embellished by a crown.


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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.