World War II and the Mardi Gras Themes of 1946

Mardi Gras 1946 was very unique. Unfolding on the precipice  of worldwide change that would shape the coming generations. It was also the first Mardi Gras to happen in five years1. With World War II over, hundreds of thousands of service people demobilized, including many who had left New Orleans years before. The city welcomed an influx of returning troops who had experienced the depths of hell and seen the enormity of human depravity on the warfront. Through this terror they were able to obtain victory and this was cause for celebration. On the home front, New Orleans had been rationing food and supplies. After several long years of war the people of New Orleans, and their guests, were ready for some celebration. 

Soldiers in New Orleans
New Orleans, Louisiana. Negro… March 1943. 1 negative : nitrate, 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches or smaller. New Orleans, Louisiana. Negro… Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC 20540.

The Mardi Gras krewes recognized  this sentiment and many decided to have themes that reflected the times. The first parade to roll, Krewe of Momus, chose the theme “Recollections of the Past.”2 This parade contained previous floats that Momus had used harkening back the previous parades. It served as a reminder of the past and a launchpad for the future. Other parades took more whimsical approaches. The Mystick Krewe of Comus’ theme was “Famous Gifts of Fact and Fancy”3 which included floats that represented stories found in history, mythology, poetry, fiction and the Bible. It could be construed that the Krewe of Comus took the end of the war as a gift. Krewe of Rex also used a similar mythological theme with “Myths of the Starry Hosts”4 which had floats representing popular Greek myths of heroism and love. This reflected the eras’ pride in having heroes like those from the myths and the longing for love after the hell that is war. The Krewes of Proteus and Hermes also took the poetry and myth route with the themes “Longfellow the Poet”5 with stories about war and new beginnings and “Prose and Poetry”6 which had floats representing stories about love and magic respectively. While most of the floats had happy meanings there were also some portraying the great mythical heroes. This allowed many of the krewes to pay tribute to those who had fought in the war.

Vachon, John. New Orleans, Louisiana. Line at a… March 1943. 1 negative : nitrate, 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches or smaller. New Orleans, Louisiana. Line at a… Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC 20540.

The krewes knew that there would be many soldiers as well as families of soldiers in the crowds watching the parades, and they wanted to pay tribute to their sacrifices. They did this by depicting the great struggles and victories of heroes like Odysseus and Perseus, which have  many parallels to the Second World War. In each, the heros started out on the bottom and gradually clawed their way to the top, just as the allies, unprepared for war in 1940, slowly grappled their way to victory. Both of these stories celebrate military victory. The krewes also noticed that many of the returning soldiers yearned to fall in love. The krewes alluded to the separation of couples brought by the war through literature and mythology.  Namely, one of the floats of Hermes was based on the famous love story of Romeo and Juliet. (Though presumably veterans might enjoy a happier ending!) This reflected the primary wish of the younger people of that generation: which was to settle down and have a normal life. 

Notes

1“Parade Tonight to Be First in Five Years,” Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), Feb. 28, 1946. 2“Thousands Hail Momus’ Return,” Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), Mar. 1, 1946.  3“Parade of Comus Ends Mardi Gras,” Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), Mar. 6, 1946. 4“Thousands of Revelers Hail the Return of Rex,” Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), Mar. 6, 1946. 5“Proteus Leads Glittering Parade as Crowds Cheer,” Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), Mar. 5, 1946. 6“Hermes Offers Rich Spectacle” Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA) Mar. 2, 1946.