Come back, Comus

Six hours are left in Mardi Gras 2016. 

Sadly, Mardi Gras has been missing something since 1992, something which goes back to before the Civil War. 

It’s the Mistick Krewe of Comus, the first organization to organize a street parade in New Orleans.

Comus first paraded in 1857, four years before the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter. The Krewe was made up of Anglo-Saxon Protestants who had largely been excluded from Mardi Gras until then.

Since Carnvial is a Catholic tradition in Rio de Janeiro, it stands to reason that the Catholics started Mardi Gras in New Orleans. They celebrated Carnival with parties in the French Quarter, but never had anyone thought to organize a parade until Comus. 

Comus was interrupted by the Civil War, but returned during Reconstruction. 

In 1872, a new Krewe, Rex, formed. Rex would soon eclipse Comus and become the “King of Carnvial”. Proteus came along in 1882, and Mardi Gras as we knew it would blossom in the 20th Century.

Comus is one of the most secretive organizations on earth. Good luck trying to become a member. The Manning family has no chance to join. Drew Brees? Not a prayer. Bill Gates could not buy his way in. 

In 1991, an evil New Orleans city councilwoman named Dorothy Mae Taylor had to ruin Mardi Gras by demanding all Krewes open up their membership to all races and both genders. Not only dod Comus, Rex, Proteus and other Krewes protest loudly, but so did the African-American Krewe of Zulu, which did not want women in their club, either. 

In response to the ordinance, Comus and another old-line Krewe, the Knights of Momus, immediately canceled their 1992 parades and have not returned to the streets. Proteus held its 1992 parade, but canceled in 1993, and stayed out until 2000. Rex and Zulu continued to parade, opening up their ranks to men of other races, but never to women. 

The ordinance was eventually ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. District Court in New Orleans a violation of the right of free association. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the City of New Orleans’ request for a rehearing. The city decided not to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

I never went to Comus. I have heard horror stories about rampant crime along the parade route. But it should come back. It’s long overdue.

And Dorothy Mae Taylor, I hope you’re rotting in hell. Shame on you. 

About David

I am a sportswriter for a group of weekly newspapers in small towns across northern Kansas. I grew up in New Orleans, went to college at LSU and wandered in the wilderness until Hurricane Katrina finally put me on the path to my current job.

Posted on February 9, 2016, in History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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