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When Thoth Reigns
Uptown’s special parade
There is an urban myth that a family who owned a building on Magazine Street for many years, finally decided to sell. They sold it, but only with a clause in the deed: The new owners had to allow them porch and yard access on the Sunday before Mardi Gras every year.
Some people just never want to miss their yearly dose of Thoth!
Thoth’s Sunday Uptown parade route was designed to pass by as many institutions as possible – hospitals, orphanages, homes for the elderly. The first parade was in 1947, and Arthur Kelly, Thoth’s publicity director, announced in The New Orleans States Jan. 12, 1948, that “the route had been fixed with the single purpose of bringing Mardi Gras festivity to those who are unable to get out and meet it.”
In its early years, the parade started on Washington Avenue at Prytania Street, turned on Jefferson Avenue, then to Magazine Street, to Henry Clay Avenue, to Tchoupitoulas Street, turning onto State Street and then down Prytania back to Washington.
Today’s route starts at State and Tchoupitoulas streets, goes to Henry Clay, to Magazine, to Napoleon Avenue, to St. Charles Avenue, to Canal Street, to University Place and then back down Canal to Tchoupitoulas to Poydras to Convention Center Boulevard to end.
Thoth’s route still passes institutions, including Children’s Hospital and Poydras Home. That idea of treating shut-ins to Mardi Gras was even followed by residents of the parade’s Uptown neighborhood.
Edward Ireland remembered his great aunt Lucie Dolhonde, who lived on Webster Street, taking him as a child to the corner of Magazine to see the Thoth parade. “Then we would walk over to the DePaul Mental Hospital so I could put my little beads and trinkets past the fence,” he says. “There were other children doing the same thing.”
The brick fence along Henry Clay Avenue that used to enclose DePaul’s bears numerous Thoth souvenirs. Linda Barrett recalls waking up in the morning at her Henry Clay home and “the high school bands would always be standing along the fence waiting for Thoth to start.”
“The kids would carve their initials in the bricks,” Barrett says. “It’s a little memento of all the band members who waited so long.”
The 2013 King of Thoth (or “Pharaoh” as he’s called in the organization), Frank Guastella, says one of his favorite Thoth activities is, “the walk we do on the Wednesday before Mardi Gras.” The krewe pays a special visit to institutions along their route. “We bring Mardi Gras to them before the parade,” he says.
His visit as Pharaoh to Children’s Hospital was especially meaningful. “The year after I was a page in Thoth for the first time I spent six and a half weeks in that hospital with pneumonia,” Guastella says. With several family Thoth members, Guastella was a page in 1980 and ’84, when his two sisters were maids in Thoth, and he joined the Krewe in ’91 at 15.
Gary Genco ruled as Pharaoh of Thoth in 1998. Genco had moved to New Orleans from his hometown of Bogalusa in ’84. His first New Orleans parade experience was as a member of the Krewe of Endymion. After that, he was introduced to Thoth’s captain by a mutual friend in Bogalusa, the longtime captain of that city’s Krewe of MCCA.
“When I first moved here I didn’t know anyone. I met people through Mardi Gras,” Genco says. “Thoth really turned out to be like a family, I met friends I would never have met if I hadn’t joined Thoth.”
But Genco did have a childhood experience of Carnival. “When we were little, my parents couldn’t get off from work to bring us to New Orleans for Mardi Gras except for Sunday. We would pick up Buck’s Famous Fried Chicken in the French Quarter and then see the Thoth parade from Canal Street,” Genco says.
During his parade ride as Pharaoh, “when we turned the corner on to Canal Street, that memory just came and flooded me with emotion.”
When he managed to save only his Thoth scepter and crown from Hurricane Katrina, Genco was devastated at the loss of his costume.
“Then I realized, it’s the memories you have in your heart that count.”