The Carnival celebration in New Orleans has of late years surpassed, in extent and grandeur, all
similar events occurring either in Europe or this country. Beside it the carnivals of the Corso of
Rome and the canals of Venice are tame affairs, lacking the exquisite order and organization with
which the Americans have endowed it. Though frequently described in letters and by the public
press, it yet has to be seen to be appreciated, and few enjoy that privilege once without
thereafter making an annual pilgrimage to the Crescent City during its festive season.

Few understand the admirable and thorough system of organization, through which alone such
grand successes can be achieved—a system as complete in its little way as that of an army or an
established government.

In fact, it does embrace a phantom government, ruled over by the mythical Rex, whose reign is
absolute for twenty-four hours, during which his flag is alone permitted to fly, and whose edicts
are as implicitly obeyed as were those of an Alexander or a Nero. The central power is contributed
to and supported by several secret sooieties, each independent within itself, but all co-operating
to a single end. Outside of Rex's court there are other and some older secret associations, such
as the Mistick Krewe, the Twelfth Night Revelers, the Knights of Momus, etc. Each of these has its
own distinct gala night devoted to its street procession and its tableau balls.

~ ~ ~

As the eventful day, or rather night, approaches nearer, everybody is at work—some preparing
the lights for the procession, some engaging horses, others drilling the torch bearers, who are
forced to discharge their duties with military precision; others arranging matters with the
authorities, so that the streets will be in order and all obstructions removed—all this being
accomplished with such thorough system and secrecy that not until the display is actually upon
the street, are the public aware of either its subject or where it will first appear.

A few days prior to the great event the boxes containing the costumes and other properties are
moved at dead of night to some building in the immediate vicinity of the yards where the floats
have been prepared. The front of this building, generally a warehouse, is kept closed and the
windows darkened. Temporary entrances are improvised by outting through the wall into
adjoining houses, so that it can be reached from two or three different streets by members of the
association, who alone are in the secret.

The processions usually move about 9 o'clock at night, but as early as 2 p.m., upon the appointed
day, the members commence straggling into the Den, all in full evening dress. This they remove
and deposit in their numbered boxes in place of the costume in which they array themselves.
About 7 o'clock in the evening, when all are dressed, the roll is called; the characters take their
places in line, and a final inspection takes place.

About this time a squad of police arrives upon the scene, and after clearing the street in front of
the building, cordon all the cross streets for four or five squares. Into the left of this reserve
space shortly file the torch-bearers under guidance of officers, who silently take up the places
along the curbs for the entire distance. In a few moments the floats follow and drive in regular
order up to the door of the warehouse. When the first arrives the hitherto sealed doors are
thrown open, and a long bridge is run out over the sidewalk. As the captain calls the numbers
each man steps out and takes his appointed place upon the floats, which are driven off
expeditiously until all are in line. The bands are then marched to position, and everything is in
order in a remarkably short space of time.

The proceedings, so far, have been conducted in utter darkness. The captain then rides rapidly
along the lines, and, finding everything in order, gives an appointed signal. In a moment all the
torches flash out into a blazing parallelogram of light, securely inclosing the procession, and
guarded outside at regular intervals by the police, who have quietly taken up position.

The procession marches rapidly until it reaches the nearest prominent thoroughfare, when the
bands strike up, the bombs explode, the rockets fly, and port fires of every oolor blaze brilliantly
along the line, over which hangs a heavy cloud of smoke, reflecting the many-hued tints of a
monstrous fantastically illuminated canopy, which lends an indescribable weirdness to the
unnatural, yet artistic scene.

After traversing the route appointed, which is generally short and hemmed in by throngs of
admiring and wonder-stricken people, the floats finally arrive at the stage-door of the Opera
House, where they unload their living freight, and drive rapidly away in the darkness.

Meanwhile the boxes containing the clothing of the members have been taken by express
wagons to the Opera House, and are all arranged in order in the dressing rooms.

The tableaux generally occupy the time up to 11 o'clock, after which the characters are permitted
to mingle with the guests upon the dancing floor, under no restrictions save that of keeping their
individuality unrevealed.

Precisely at 12 o'clock the captain's shrill whistle sounds, and from that moment they gradually
disappear, until long before the next hour strikes every one has vanished and the members are
mingling unnoticed among the guests, save where they are occassionally found explaining their
absence for the day to unsuspecting wives or daughters, with the most unconscionable excuses.

They have merely slipped into the dressing rooms, exchanged their costume for ordinary
everyday dress, and long before the ball closes in the wee small hours the express wagons have
carried the entire paraphernalia back to the den and packed it away securely. When the actor gets
up in the morning it is all over, as fleeting and illusive as the dreams from which he wakes.
Mardi Gras, 1885
Excerpted from the book, "Historical Sketch Book and Guide to New Orleans
and Environs," edited by Will Coleman, published in 1885.