The Krewe of Hermes originated in the early twentieth century, stemming from the desire to bring festivities in a time where the United States was going through hardships. The formation of this krewe helped to shape the Mardi Gras we now know, with this Krewe being one of the first to begin having the parade on a Friday rather than on Tuesday. This extension helped expand the Carnival and make it almost a week-long celebration. Ever since its first debut in 1937, this Krewe has held up long-standing traditions well into the twenty-first century and continues to be a festivity celebrated by many. Today, this krewe continues to be one of the most widely appreciated and fan favorites among many.
While this specific krewe was formed with hopeful intentions to help lift spirits during the midst of the Great Depression, it was met with certain challenges in the years following, specifically with how the war helped shape the Carnival. Firstly, with the start of World War II, carnival season was put on pause as supplies needed to run many of the parades needed to be rationed for the war. This meant, until further notice, most of the parades would be canceled. Many krewes, including the Krewe of Hermes, were temporarily disbanded in order to focus on the war. Unlike the Krewe of Venus, which was one of the first majority women krewes, this Krewe was predominantly controlled by men, so festivities would have to be postponed until they returned.
Once the war had ended however, things did not go instantly back to normal. Many were prepared for the war to have made big changes to the Carnival season, even writing specific articles detailing how this year would be a big change for many. The Times- Picayune detailed how the return of Mardi Gras will be a new experience for many because of how the war had stalled the celebration, stating that “perhaps 50,000 people in New Orleans who have never seen a Mardi Gras celebration.”1 This year was particularly different due to the flambeaux strike of 1946. Without the use of flambeaux carriers, the parades would hardly be able to be seen and much of the parade would have to be primarily in the dark, which is exactly what had happened. Because of wage disputes, many flambeaux carriers refused to participate in the parades, leaving major krewes like Momus and Comus (literally) in the dark.
Hermes was no exception to this, however they did have a major advantage in relation to other krewes. Hermes had, in years prior, used attached lighting rather than flambeaux carriers to help light the parade. This differed from other past traditions and, as New Orleans States had put it: “It had been a departure from traditional flambeaux, but it also had been effective and pretty.”2
On Friday evening, March 3, 1946, “thousands” gathered to see the first Hermes parade to roll since the war. The parade had reached City Hall and the Queen of the Hermes ball, Irma Mary Oser, was greeted with a toast from the King.
It had been five long and bitter years since they had seen a Carnival king drink a toast to his queen, and the crown cheered, cameras clicked, and the flash-bulbs threw a moment of brilliant light over the spectacle.3
”“Hermes Offers Rich Spectacle.”
The Times-Picayune, March 2, 1946
People were ecstatic that Carnival season was back, and after so many hardships from the war, people were just glad to have something to celebrate.
As of today, this krewe is still a widespread favorite among many, and continues to help kickstart the Mardi Gras season. Being a mystic krewe, many of its nearly 650 members are kept secret, especially the King. They are still currently going strong with their longtime tradition of their Walking Parade which help kick start the festivities early and get more people involved within Mardi Gras traditions. Sticking true to their original traditions, the Krewe of Hermes was meant to inspire and bring some fun in a time of despair within the United States, and after World War II, it set out and did the exact thing it was created to do. Many people used this time to escape from hardships that the war had caused families, and having this celebration was something that many New Orleans had been looking forward to for years. This can still be held up today, in times of hopelessness that we see in 2020, people can use Mardi Gras as a way to hope for better times in the coming years, rather than just focusing on the hopelessness of the present.
Written By: IGBOASCA
Originally Published: December 10th, 2020 || Last Updated: February 23rd, 2020
A part of Doc Studio’s History of the New Orleans Landscape Collection
- “Mardi Gras, 1946, Will Be a New Experince for Many Folks.” Times-Picayune, March 3, 1946
- “The Carnival Labor Dispute.” New Orleans States, March 4, 1946.
- “Hermes Offers Rich Spectacle.” The Times-Picayune, March 2, 1946
- “Call Volunteers to Carry Torches.” New Orleans States. March 2, 1946. America’s News – Historical and Current.
- “Picture of Queen of the Ball of Hermes.” Times-Picayune. March 10, 1946. America’s News – Historical and Current.