When Kids Are Kings
- story by Karen Fineran, photos by Ellis Anderson
Marching to a Different Drummer
Carnival and Creativity go hand-in-hand - especially in these five very different sorts of Mardi Gras parades. They're all within easy driving distance from the Mississippi coast and make for a fun-filled day trip!
- story by Karen Fineran
The Spectacular Mardi Gras Mind of Carter Church
A small Mardi Gras museum in the historic Bay St. Louis depot features samplings of the extraordinary costumes designed by the iconic Carter Church. Celebrate Nereids 50th anniversary by visiting!
- by Rebecca Orfila, photos by Ellis Anderson
Ornate satin gowns, capes and breeches, headdresses, and beads are de rigueur at balls and on floats. During our recent visit to the Mardi Gras Museum, Susan Duffy, the Depot’s concierge, explained that a queen’s costume can take as many as 400 hours to create. Each crystal jewel is individually pasted onto the gowns and other pieces of the royal ensemble.
The dresses are special creations, fitted to each individual participant. Both royals wear high collars - iced with sparkling silver decorations, crystals jewels, and flowing with white or dyed ostrich feathers. The high collars are a modern design, typical for contemporary queens and kings.
The Nereids Kings’ and attending dukes’ costumes are equally elaborate and consist of tunics, short capes, and knee-length breeches. The King’s crown is smaller than the Queen’s and is decorated with the special motif of the year - and white ostrich feathers.
The other costumes in the collection were also created by Carter Church. After a brief period of rest following Mardi Gras, Church begins to design ceremonial regalia for the next Carnival season. Krewes in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama reach out to him for their costuming needs.
In most cases, the theme for the next year is determined by a krewe; then, it becomes Church’s duty to create sparkling ceremonial clothing to illustrate the chosen motif. Fanciful designs, such as an alligator and swamp scene on a queen’s gown or Aztec-themed costumes intertwined with satin snakes are typical of Church’s detailed designs.
Church’s original design drawings are situated in front of each display at the Mardi Gras Museum. His drawings are beautiful in their own right. His many years of experience have gained him noteworthy acclaim in the fashion industry.
In a small exhibit slightly off the main hall of the museum is the costume Carter Church wore as King of Nereids in 2013. Church said that serving as King of a the famous all-women krewe was the highlight of his life.
Also included in the display is a Queen’s collar in the Medici style. The late 16th Century fashion consists of a rigid fan worn upright behind the head of a female wearer, not the large, towering form seen in modern queens’ regalia. The Medici style collar is decorated with crystals and silver decorations.
Costs for such finery can vary from nominal amounts to thousands of dollars. In the case of Kings and Queens of some krewes, the costumes will be worn the following year during the presentation ceremonies at the balls when the previous year’s royalty is presented to the new King and Queen.
One of the museums’ volunteers is Martha Franks, who has a special connection to it. Mrs. Franks is Carter Church’s sister. When the number of visitors rises during the busy seasons at the museum, or the staff is otherwise occupied, Mrs. Franks gracefully steps in and guides the guests through the display. According to Duffy, she is well versed on the royal wear and the creation of each special costume.
The museum’s collection of elaborate costumes dotted with crystals and feathers give out-of-town visitors an up-close view of the Mardi Gras celebration. According to Duffy, approximately 800 to 1,000 people stop by the Depot each month. Each visitor is welcomed with his or her own set of Mardi Gras beads.
The Mission-style train depot is also home to the Hancock County Tourism Development Bureau, headed by Myrna Green. The historic building was restored after Hurricane Katrina. The depot and the grounds surrounding it are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and it is a Mississippi Landmark Property.
The museum is located at 1928 Depot Way in Bay St. Louis and is open every day of the year except Sundays, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. The second floor of the Depot is home to the nationally acclaimed folk artist Alice Moseley's museum.
"Mardi Blah" turns "Mardi Rah!" for two transplants who discover the joys of carnival season on the coast.
- story by Ana Balka
“Omaha versus North Dakota,” my husband said. “So we’ll move this weekend, and be out of here before everything goes crazy.”
“Ah huh,” said the man. His flummoxed expression remained as he shook the ice in his glass, took a sip and turned his attention back to the game.
“It’s a shame you’ll miss Mardi Gras,” the woman said. “Won’t it be awfully cold there?” Her bewilderment followed us as we waved and went into our gate a couple of doors down.
It was January of 2013, and after an overseas move, my husband and I had been staying temporarily in the French Quarter while we looked for something more permanent in the area. And we’d found it on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
So we were moving out of the condo that weekend. The following week, on the Friday preceding Mardi Gras, we had tickets for the aforementioned hockey game in my home state of Nebraska. Our neighbors must have been visualizing the meme that shows a woman flashing her chest to a herd of cows over the caption “Mardi Gras in Nebraska.”
We knew what a cool opportunity it was to live in the French Quarter even for a short time. That said, we weren’t always in tune with the way things are done around here. Not that I’m a stranger to parties or parades, but as far as making a big deal of things, the closest we had to Mardi Gras where I grew up (besides, duh, Cornhusker games) was the world-famous Czech festival in Wilber, which (as I am certain you know) is the Czech Capital of the USA. King cake? No, man. Kolaches. Delicious, delicious kolaches.
Steven is from the Netherlands, and he has home movies of his mother and sisters whooping it up in bizarre (and kind of scary) masks for vastenavond — Carnival — sometime in the mid-’70s. Neither Steven nor his dad appears in these videos. They were likely at home doing something reasonable, like reading.
So in January 2013, while all of our friends were sketching, stitching, bedazzling, be-feathering, and fur-lining ingenious outfits for not just Mardi Gras but also Lundi Gras and the Saturday before and the eve prior to that, we may have mumbled a “bah humbug” or two at the idea of the noise, the crowds, the costumes, the marching bands and — don’t hate — the parades. We had Mardi Blah.
Still, the spirit of the season caught me during the run-up. There was the ethereal procession of knights and angels in the dim light of the Jeanne d’Arc parade. Our friends in the microkrewe ‘tit Rəx made detailed and hilarious Barbie-doll-sized social statements for their 28-shoebox-float parade. Our condo was on the parade route for the Mystic Krewe of Barkus. Who can remain a wet blanket when hundreds of dogs in sunglasses and tutus are grinning and wagging past your house? If you’re raising your hand, perhaps we need to station you on the route for Krewe du Vieux and see if what rolls past makes you swell with a bit more enthusiasm.
Our Mardi Gras celebrations since we moved to the Bay have been appealingly up-close and personal. We braved the 2014 cold snap for the Mystic Krewe of Seahorse’s parade, where we cheered Keith and Susan of the Ugly Pirate as they sailed by in their pirate-mobile, waved and yelled as friends passed in bead-festooned golf carts, and marveled at the cold-weather commitment that the ladies of the Raw Oyster Marching Club displayed in their frilly pirate damsel outfits.
Last year I inched closer to the spirit of things. It wasn’t exactly a costume, but at least I took the time to put on a furry green coat, and I dressed the Mardi dog in a nice sweater before joining the pack of revelers who were whooping it up on the front lawn of the French Potager with owner Martha Whitney Butler.
“The first year I went to Mardi Gras,” says Butler, who grew up in a non-coastal Alabama town with no Mardi Gras tradition, “I felt like I was one of the only people who wasn’t in costume. After, I was like, [forget] this, because the only people not in costume were tourists. Every year, I would add a little more ‘umph’ to my costume.”
It’s quite possible that I’ll do the same and find myself adding a bit more umph to my Mardi Gras outlook each year. Don’t get me wrong; I’m quite fine with maintaining a less-than-rabid level of holiday spirit. But the idea of a collective letting-down of the hair before a period of spiritual self-discipline has merit regardless of one’s beliefs, and as I’ve said in this column before, the Gulf Coast has a way of drawing you in, sometimes despite yourself.
2/6 - Friday
2/8 - Sunday
2/10 - Tuesday
2/14 - Saturday
2/14 - Saturday
2/16 - Monday, Lundi Gras
2/17 - Tuesday, Mardi Gras
2/21 - Saturday