Mardi Gras Floats
Mardi Gras Krewes’ Greatest Display of Style, Spectacle, and Design
Mardi Gras Float in Houma, Louisiana
Fighting against the six-deep crowd, hand raised in the air you yell, “Throw Me Something Mister.” Suddenly a costumed face atop the giant green, purple, and gold dragon spots you and flings a thin string of plastic beads your way. You press forward, leap into the air, and wrestle the monetarily worthless trinket from the crowd’s clutches. That’s Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras floats are a place for krewe members to ride during the annual parades as they throw beads, cups, and other items by the tens of thousands. These complex creations are without a doubt the most visible marker of major Mardi Gras celebrations, regardless of where those celebrations take place.
The History of Mardi Gras Floats
Early Mardi Gras floats were horse drawn carts and wagons which began to appear in and around the mid-1800s. These crude early floats were often accompanied by young slaves, and free men of color (known as flambeaux carriers) who carried torches to light the way for floats and bands during Mardi Gras night parades.
Over the years, horses were replaced with trucks and semi tractor-trailers, as bigger and bigger wagons were needed to accommodate the elaborate designs, sizable krewes, and their cargos. Today, krewes express their pride in community, and celebrate their accomplishments, through Mardi Gras floats with elaborate themed designs costing thousands of dollars and hundreds of man-hours to produce.
What’s On a Mardi Gras Float
In addition to a dozen krewe members or more, bathrooms, food, and drink, the costumes, beads, and other throws on any given Mardi Gras float are measured in tons and not pounds. Accordingly the floats must be built to safely support and transport all this weight as the krewe members scramble about the float tossing beads strings and generally whipping the crowd into a frenzy.
While many krewes choose a new theme and redesign their floats every year, some floats are classics and perennial crowd pleasers that get reused each and every year after a bit of rehab, rejuvenation, and the occasional major overhaul.
Mardi Gras Float Design – Mardi Gras Dens
At float creation/design studios and storage/maintenance facilities (often referred to as “dens”) such as Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World in New Orleans, floats are stored through the off season, and then, months before Mardi Gras rolls around, they undergo an intensive process of refurbishment, and redesign. Each krewe chooses their annual Mardi Gras theme and their floats are redesigned, painted, and upgraded to reflect that theme and put them in prime condition in time for Carnival parading season.
The process of cleaning, painting, and refurbishing a float for Mardi Gras can take months, and costs thousands of dollars to present the level of detail that krewes pride themselves on. The props and set pieces that fill a typical Mardi Gras float are painstakingly sculpted from foam, plywood, plastic, and other materials. Though most spectators only see them for a few moments, top design houses take the time to paint a sparkle in the eye of a princess, or copy the exact design of a football player’s tattoo.
The folks at Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World like to say that hey are New Orleans’ biggest recyclers. Each year they work with krewes to update, clean up, and reuse nearly every float in their warehouses. And many of the pieces and parts of floats that are not being reused get disassembled and put to use on other floats that are still being used in parades.
In addition to building, storing, and refitting floats throughout the year, Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World serves as a kind of Mardi Gras float museum, showcasing many of the classic floats from days gone by, as well as today’s favorites. Visitors to Mardi Gras World get an up close and personal look at floats like the New Orleans Krewe of Orpheus’ Smokey Mary Train, Trojan Horse, and the 139-foot Leviathan.From their role in some of the earliest Carnival celebrations, to their place in today’s festivities, the colorful floats designed and presented by local krewes are Mardi Gras’ most visible symbol. From the Gulf Coast to St. Louis, and even out in San Diego, Mardi Gras floats are a source of civic and organizational pride, a source of millions of souvenirs every year, and a visual representation of the free-spirited reverie of Mardi Gras and the season of Carnival.