From Life on the Mississippi (1883):
The largest annual event in New Orleans is something which we arrived too late to sample--the Mardi-Gras festivities. I saw the procession of the Mystic Crew of Comus there, twenty-four years ago--with knights and nobles and so on, clothed in silken and golden Paris-made gorgeousnesses, planned and bought for that single night's use; and in their train all manner of giants, dwarfs, monstrosities, and other diverting grotesquerie--a startling and wonderful sort of show . . . There is a chief personage--"Rex;" and if I remember rightly, neither this king nor any of his great following of subordinates is known to any outsider. All these people are gentlemen of position and consequence; and it is a proud thing to belong to the organization; so the mystery in which they hide their personality is merely for romance's sake, and not on account of the police. ...
This Mardi-Gras pageant was the exclusive possession of New Orleans until recently. But now it has spread to Memphis and St. Louis and Baltimore. It has probably reached its limit. It is a thing which could hardly exist in the practical North; would certainly last but a very brief time; as brief a time as it would last in London. For the soul of it is the romantic, not the funny and the grotesque. Take away the romantic mysteries, the kings and knights and big-sounding titles, and Mardi-Gras would die, down there in the South . . .
So, to this weekend's revelers, in New Orleans, St. Louis, Memphis, Baltimore, and wherever--Happy Mardi Gras!
1. Legal Underground Podcast #48 (my return to New Orleans after Katrina)