A Mardi Gras tradition rises from the ashes of a 7 alarm fire

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NEW ORLEANS — Nobody watching knew for certain how it was going to happen or if it would resemble its past.  But they were cheering for the two groups involved.

One group was the Rex Organization, one of New Orleans most loved, storied, and successful Mardi Gras krewes. The other was one of the city’s most successful and social families, the Graces and the Montgomeries which were connected by marriage.

“The tradition of the Rex parade stopping at this site and toasting the families has been uninterrupted since 1907,” said Robert Boh, a member of the Rex krewe.

Boh wore a fake mustache and beard to accompany his royal costume.   On this Mardi Gras Day, he was Rex, the King of Carnival.  He was perched atop his royal float, making his way down Saint Charles Avenue, and preparing to deliver that toast that was a 100+ year tradition.

Ahead of Boh on the route, the Montgomery-Grace family was gathered at their Garden Distict mansion, the scene of the historic toast.  But this year would be different.

Two weeks earlier, a fire tour through the family’s home. Only the shell remained, and it would have made for a frightening backdrop for the toast had it not been for the banner that read, “We are ready for Ash Wednesday!”

Not only was the family able to bring some levity to the situation, they also wanted to show their gratitude to the firefighters who worked for hours to try to bring the flames under control.  So on this Mardi Gras Day, as a crowd of costumed strangers gathered to see how the toast would go down, some family members wore fire fighter gear!

"We really were indebted to the fire department and first responders, and I thought it's only appropriate that I dress up," Christopher Montgomery told WGNO while wearing the gear he borrowed from a New Orleans firefighter.

And there was another issue. The families chalice which had been used in toasts dating back to the very first one in 1907 was believed to be lost in the fire.  The house remained two unstable and dangerous for family members to venture too far inside to search for the family treasure.

But the family was able to locate a nearly perfect replica of the chalice.   And it helped allow the toast happened much as it had over the previous century and brought a cheer across the crowd.

To see the highlights of the event, click on the video button at the top of this page.

Christopher Montgomery wears borrowed NOFD gear on Mardi Gras morning while standing next to William Grace who was Rex in 2002.

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