2016 Sunset Report

OLG & DCRT Strategic Plan
2020-21 through 2024-25


Did you know?
The Exhibit History Balls Parades Masks Courir du
Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras Balls

Splendid regalia, elegant gowns and stylish mementos depict a more exclusive realm of Carnival: balls. Today's balls vary in scope, extravagance and level of formality but many still feature vestiges of the earliest celebrations, inspired by Creole bals du roi (king parties). Celebrated on Twelflth Night (the January 6 holy day commemorating the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus) bals du roi featured a special cake containing a hidden bean or nut. Since 1871 the Twelfth Night Revelers have followed the same ritual: the woman receiving the bean is named queen while the krewe's male potentate, the Lord of Misrule, is designated beforehand.

Although masquerade balls were popular during the colonial period, it was not until the latter half of the nineteenth century that krewes began developing the elaborate protocols and theatrical touches, such as tableaux, that attest to New Orleans' symbiotic relationship with theater and dance.

Lest balls be considered the exclusive domain of the socially prominent, the exhibit describes a broad range of festivities dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. The popularity of risque´ masquerades, also known as French balls, is shown in documents such as a colorful invitation to the ribald fete "Two Well Known Gentlemen." Social events associated with specific groups also emerged at this time. Inspired by the leap year party concept, women began organizing evening events; in 1896 a socially prominent group formed Les Mysterieuses, the first large-scale women's krewe. The late nineteenth century also witnessed the first African-American organization. The most prestigious of these, formed in 1895, continues to this day albeit now splintered into two groups, the Young Men's Illinois Club and the Original Illinois Club. Today's gay balls, illustrated in the fanstastic costumes associated with them, prove diversity plays and enduring role in Carnival organizations.