New Orleans History -- Lake Pontchartrain
Saturday, August 19, 2017
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1934 Lodge No. 30 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Approve the Idea of a Truck Parade for Mardi Gras



As early as the 19th century, people decorated carriages, wagons, milk carts and other rolling stock, donned costumes, and with liquid refreshments and food to sustain them for the day headed for the crowded streets to join fellow revelers.

The year 1933 was a bleak one for the citizens of New Orleans. Like most Americans, New Orleanians were suffering from the effects of the Great Depression, which followed the stock market crash of 1929. So the approach of Mardi Gras that year filled the city with great anticipation. Perhaps it would get people’s minds off the unpleasant conditions, if only for a day.

Because of the economic situation, Momus and Proteus were forced to cancel their parades, but Rex was scheduled to roll as usual. However, as fate would have it, Rex had to be canceled because of rain, the only time in its illustrious history that the Rex parade has been canceled because of the weather.

A young man named Chris R. Valley, who belonged to the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Lodge No. 30, worked with other young members of the club until 4 o’clock on that Mardi Gras morning. They were getting their truck decorated for their traditional trek – roaming whatever streets they could find passable (trucks were not allowed on the parade routes), dancing in the streets, visiting friends and relatives, and ending up at one of several parks to eat, drink and generally have a good time.

When the early morning downpour that had forced Rex to cancel ended around noon, the 70 masked riders of the Elks group mounted their 40-foot trailer truck and took to the streets with a four-piece band. The theme of their decorations was “The White Indians.” Other groups who had spent a great deal of energy (and little money) readying their trucks did likewise. So, although the people of New Orleans failed to see a Rex parade in 1933, they did enjoy an array of colorfully decorated trucks with more costumed riders than they had ever seen in any Mardi Gras procession.

That Mardi Gras, Valley thought of Mildred Washburn, the editor of his school newspaper and a very imaginative lady who had previously organized truck parades for the students. These parades were successful, but she had never fulfilled her lifelong dream of sneaking a truck onto the parade route to follow Rex. Thus the idea of organizing all of the Elks trucks into one cohesive, fun-loving group was born. Here was a chance to fulfill Mildred Washburn’s dream for her.

Valley studied every aspect of such a revolutionary undertaking, and, after another dry run in 1934, he presented his idea to fellow Elks members. The date was Sept. 6, 1934. The Elks received and approved the idea of a truck parade with great enthusiasm. As quickly as they could arrange an appointment, Valley and a group of Elks went to City Hall and presented the idea to city officials, who were impressed enough to give Lodge No. 30 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks a permit to follow Rex down the traditional route on Mardi Gras 1935.

One of the many virtues of the Elks organization is charity; therefore, it was decided that the king and queen of the Elks truck parade would be selected from a local orphanage rather than from the membership. This would allow less-fortunate children to be royalty for a day.

The first truck parade was well-received by the 1935 Mardi Gras crowd and has grown every year since. It is now made up of 150 trucks with an average of 40 people per vehicle – a total of 6,000 enthusiastic masked riders throwing to an equally enthusiastic, appreciative crowd. There is a waiting list of prospective participants. In 1981, there were 181 trucks with an average of 40 people per vehicle – a total of 7,240 riders, but the city decided that a limit of 150 trucks in the Elks parade was enough.

The Crescent City truck ensemble follows the 150-truck Elks convoy, and it was considered unfair to Crescent City to add more and more trucks in front of it every year.

In the five official truck krewes combined, there are an estimated 18,000 costumed riders who know how to have a good time. All five award trophies for the best decorated trucks and, as special recognition, the winners are placed in the lead spot in the next parade. Other awards presented are for best headdress, best costume and most-unique theme.

The top winner in the Elks Krewe of Orleanians is presented the coveted Chris Valley grand-prize trophy, named in honor of the man who had the vision and the drive to put into motion a truck extravaganza that merits the title “world’s longest parade.”

Source: Buddy Stall at http://clarionherald.org/20000217/stall.htm