NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA-- In the 1700's Mardi Gras appeared on New Orleans, Louisiana land. Over the years, it grew into the largest Carnival celebration in the northern hemisphere, rivaling the flash and fare of Rio De Janiero. While, countless cities all over the globe celebrate Carnival, to quote Bob Dylan: “There are a lot of places I like, but I like New Orleans better.”
During the largest party in New Orleans, the city swells with over three times it's population. With all the confection (king cake, pralines, beignets), glittering beads, glistening libations and beautiful stories of Mardi Gras Indians, Zulu Coconuts and brass bands enriching the souls of the hoards that align the streets; there is a lot that encompasses Mardi Gras. The Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Culture presents Mardi Gras in all it's glory, in a ten thousand square-foot building on Conti street at the back of the French Quarter.
The museum is presented by an expert historian and showman, museum founder Carl Mack. "I came to New Orleans in 1984 to play music at the World's Fair. I was known as the Xylophone Man because I was strolling around and playing my music. After the fair closed, I became a street performer," says Mack.
At the dawn of our lives, our parents encourage us that we can become anything we want to be in this world and the city of New Orleans takes that mantra literally during Mardi Gras with the assistance of costumes. This tradition, like all of New Orleans' magic predates the United States. "This was a celebration that went on in the dead of winter in Europe. The nobility would hear all of the fun the peasants were having down in the village and they started to conceal their identity. They put on a mask and a costume and went sneaking around with the peasants and so that is how this whole thing got started," says Mack.
The museum experience is not typical. It is very interactive and visitors can step into the shoes of carnival revelers at any time of the year, by going in a room full of costumes and trying on different looks for themselves. As festival fever consumes the masses, Carnival all over the world is simply a way to loose ones's self in frivolity before you submit to the stringent parameters of the Catholic lenten season. Carl Mack knows his history well, animatedly saying, "the word carne... you've seen it on a menu. It means meat. The word Val means to go, like in Italian and French! It literally means meat to go and farewell to flesh. That is Carnival! New Orleans has one of the the largest Carnivals in the world. Ours is free and out on the streets for everybody to see.
The Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Culture is open daily from 10am to 5pm.