Misrule Reigns in New Orleans

ursula lecoeur

The Mardi Gras season is in full swing in New Orleans this week. With each passing day, the crowds grow larger, the parade routes longer and the floats more elaborate until the festivities  culminate on Mardi Gras, Tuesday, March 4.

On that day, from dawn until midnight, natives take to the streets dressed in costumes depicting celebrities (Molly Cyrus and Justin Bieber will be favorites this year), cartoon characters (Mickey Mouse, Sponge Bob Square Pants, a few Cinderellas and Snow Whites), religious figures (Pope Francis will be hot), and politicians (Obama, and Ted Cruz, no doubt). Plenty of inanimate objects mingle in the crowd, too. A family of M&Ms boards a streetcar, a man covered from head to toe in a patchwork of orange New Orleans parking tickets strolls along St. Charles Avenue.

Always, particularly in the French Quarter, there are those whose costumes stretch the limits of decency. Do 20 strands of beads around the neck a modest blouse make?

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Here’s a cartoon and report from The Mascot, a local New Orleans newspaper, on March 9, 1888:

“Before the day had advanced drunken masqueraders were numerous and made themselves repugnant to people who lined the banquettes to view the parade of Rex. …

“There was a degree of immodesty exhibited by nearly all the female masqueraders seen on the streets. It seemed that nearly every woman in town who has a nice shape or uniformly nice limbs was out displaying her attractive qualities, and in many cases their conduct was disgraceful. The particular case which suggested this article and the cartoon was at the corner of Canal and Bourbon streets. …

“The crowd of women … came rushing up to the above corner regardless of the pleasure or convenience of others and pushing right and left made a general disturbance. When remonstrated by the police they only became furious and elevated their voices to such a tone that they were placed under arrest.

“At this juncture the scene became disgusting. The women rolled around on the banquette with clothes uplifted and scratching and biting the officers. Finally the belligerent females were overpowered and waltzed to jail.”

Photo of cartoon and text from The Mascot courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org. Photographed by Infrogmation from microfilm, New Orleans Public Library.