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May 22, 2023

Mardi Gras Maskers on the Streets of New Orleans in 1919

Though the end of the war brought about a joyous time, the winter of 1918 was marked by the spread of Spanish influenza. Much like today, newspapers reported daily case counts. From October 1918 to April 1919, New Orleans experienced over 54,000 cases of the Spanish flu, with nearly 3,500 deaths. The war may have ended, but New Orleans, along with the rest of the world, was still reeling from a deadly pandemic that would plague the city for two years. Although the Spanish flu wasn’t enough to cancel Mardi Gras on its own, it came at a time when the city was still recovering financially from the war.  

So once again, parades and balls for the upcoming Carnival season were canceled. But this did not stop some New Orleanians from taking to the streets wearing masks and costumes on Mardi Gras Day. Although retail stores remained open for “business as usual,” Mayor Behrman announced that individuals could celebrate Mardi Gras if they pleased.

Smaller Carnival organizations, such as the Jefferson City Buzzards, the Easy Riders, the Magazine Market Swells, and the Mysterious Babies were among those that held impromptu street parades. The Loyal Order of Moose even held a masquerade ball Mardi Gras night. Photographer John Tibule Mendes documented the day in photographs, capturing costumed revelers on Canal Street as they commemorated the holiday amid a normal workday. 

On Mardi Gras Day in 1919, Rex did not parade because of the recently ended war. Instead, many people held their own, impromptu celebrations and roamed the streets in costume, 800-block of Canal St.

Six Mardi Gras maskers on Canal St. Official Carnival activities were suspended by the City in 1918 and 1919 following World War I, although many New Orleanians roamed the streets in costume and held impromptu celebrations.

Group of maskers on Canal and Camp Street on Mardi Gras, March 4, 1919.

Mardi Gras maskers on Canal Street, New Orleans, 1919.

A female impersonator on Mardi Gras, March 4, 1919.

(Photos by John Tibule Mendes/ The Historic New Orleans Collection)


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