New Orleans History -- Lake Pontchartrain
Monday, July 15, 2024
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1870 Twelfth Night Revelers - 2nd N.O. Carnival Krewe

Comus, New Orleans’ first Mardi Gras krewe, was so successful with its parade and ball that a group of enthusiastic, Carnival-struck Orleanians decided it was time to increase the enjoyment of the celebration by forming a second Carnival krewe. The name chosen was Twelfth Night Revelers, representing 12 days after Christmas (also known as Little Christmas), Jan. 6, the official starting day of the Carnival season.

Just as Comus added new wrinkles to the Mardi Gras festivities, the new krewe had a few innovations of its own to add. On the evening of Jan. 6, 1870, the Twelfth Night Revelers opened the Carnival season with a nine-float parade that was equal in splendor and pageantry to the previous Comus parades. Following the nine floats, many maskers followed on foot, dressed in the colorful costumes of Europe, Asia, Africa and America.

After the parade, a ball was held at the world-famous French Opera House on Bourbon Street. The leader of the Twelfth Night Revelers, called the Lord of Misrule, reigned over the ball. After the two tableaux were completed, the Lord of Misrule led the court members in a grand march, followed by four court fools carrying an immense king cake.

The grand march, the first of the new wrinkles planned by the new krewe (and copied by almost all krewes that followed), met with tremendous success. Everyone in the packed opera house waited with great anticipation to see what other surprise the Lord of Misrule had up his royal sleeve.

Up until this time in Carnival and Mardi Gras history, there had never been a queen of the celebration. In fact, prior to this time, all parades, balls and tableaux were planned and staged by men. Women did not participate in any fashion until after the tableaux when ladies were summoned from the audience to take part in the dancing.

And now the great surprise of the evening was about to be unveiled. The first queen in the history of the New Orleans Carnival was about to be chosen, crowned and put upon a pedestal to be admired. The huge king cake was brought out for all to witness the proceedings. When the cake was prepared, a golden bean had been placed inside. The court fools were to slice generous servings of the cake and pass them to the ladies, who waited patiently.

However, all did not go as planned; the court fools lived up to their roles. No doubt, because of their overindulgence in liquid refreshments to prepare them for the merriment of the evening, they did not politely pass the slices according to plan, but, instead, dropped them in the laps of the stunned recipients. In fact, some cake was even thrown at the ladies by the more intoxicated jesters.

The ladies of the court were, to say the least, appalled at the proceedings and rightfully so. In protest, the lady who did receive the slice with the bean swallowed it, and the evening ended without a queen being crowned.

It was not until the following year, 1871, when the court fools were better behaved, that a queen, Mrs. Emma Butler, was crowned when she found the golden bean in her slice of cake.

Selection of a queen at the Twelfth Night Revelers Ball through the use of the king cake is still practiced today. In place of a real cake, a huge artificial cake with little drawers is used. One drawer holds a golden bean and the balance, silver beans. The lady selecting the drawer with the golden bean is crowned queen and those choosing drawers containing silver beans are the maids.

Source: Buddy Stall at