New Orleans History -- Lake Pontchartrain
Monday, June 26, 2017
Search this site.View the site map.
 
 

1857 Comus, the god of revelry, became the first New Orleans Mardi Gras parade

Comus, the god of revelry, became the first New Orleans Mardi Gras parade with a theme, floats bearing masked riders, parade route and a list of members who participated, on Feb. 24, 1857. The parade came about in a sense because of misfortune, or, better yet, misconduct.

The year before, citizen revelry was once again getting out of hand on Mardi Gras day. Shortly after the Louisiana Purchase, city officials canceled all Mardi Gras balls from 1805 through 1823 and masking from 1806 through 1827 as result of the unruliness.

But as luck would have it, misfortune would lead to good fortune. City fathers were happy to learn that six men now living in the city and who once belonged to a New Year’s Eve parade group in Mobile were going to organize a parade group here.

The six men prepared a list of prominent leaders in the city’s American uptown section. A short time later, the group met in a room above the Gem Saloon in the 100 block of Royal Street. None of the men was of local heritage.

This select group nominated 83 people to take part in a proposed Mardi Gras pageant.

The next order of business was to choose a name. The Greek name Komos was suggested by Dr. John H. Pope, an authority on Greek and Roman mythology. He informed the members that Komos, the god of revelry, would suit their cause admirably.

Someone suggested that the Greek name be given an Anglo twist; why not, he said, spell it Comus and, at the same time, present a semblance of Greek influence by calling the group “Krewe” instead of “Crew?” Hence was born the name Krewe of Comus.

Committee chairmen for costumes, floats, flambeaux, music and ball arrangements were appointed; all committees were filled without delay. A committee was dispatched to Mobile to arrange for the use of two of the Cowbellion de Rakin and all of its flambeaux. The request was graciously granted.

After dark on Mardi Gras evening, Feb. 24, 1857, curious people began to fill the streets. The skeptics remained in the comfort of their homes. And at exactly 8 o’clock on the corner of Julia and Magazine streets, Comus came to life.

Within moments, the sky was glowing as if the entire city had been ignited. One person in the crowd was quoted as saying, “It was as though they came from within the bowels of the Earth, for one minute they were not there, and the next, floats, flambeaux and maskers were just everywhere.”

Upon seeing the glow, people were drawn from their homes to the parade like moths to a flame.

The first Comus parade and ball made the following contributions: The organizers coined the word krewe; it organized the first secret Mardi Gras society and was first to choose a mythical name. It held the first organized Mardi Gras themed parade in the U.S. (Mobile did not have a Mardi Gras parade until 1867).

It brought law and order back to the New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration, thereby saving it from possible extinction.

Source: Buddy Stall at http://clarionherald.org/20010215/stall.htm