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Mardi Gras Krewe of Orpheus
Krewe of Orpheus
Orpheus is the last parade before Mardi Gras day
Carnival season in New Orleans starts on Twelveth Night- a dozen nights after Christmas. It goes into full swing about a month before Mardi Gras, with the parades getting bigger and more elaborate by the day- and none more so than Orpheus, the very last parade before Fat Tuesday.
With nearly 40 massive floats decorated with literally millions of LEDs, Orpheus lights up the night for hours and then invites you to party the rest of the night away at the Orpheuscapade, one of the few Krewe balls open to the public!
Wanna go? Here's what you need to know:
Traditional Schedule: Lundi Gras night. 6pm following Proteus
Route: Modified Uptown. Lines up on Tchoupitoulas, continues on to Morial Convention Center for the post parade party
Themes: G rated, non political
Known for: Lots of huge flowers decorating the floats, famous Monarchs
Annual float favorites:
- Leviathan and Baby Leviathan:four cars long with a swinging,smoking dragon's head. The final car is a tiny baby version
- Smokey Mary: six car long locomotive with tens of thousands of led lights. Named after the train that ran between the city and Lake Pontchartrain
- The Dolly Trolley: Original carriage Barbara Streisand rode in for the movie "Hello Dolly."
See the Smokey Mary in action!
Orpheus is singer Harry Connick Jr's baby
Founded in 1993, Orpheus was the brainchild of Harry Connick Jr (the jazz singer), his father Harry Connick Sr (who combined his loves of music and the law by becoming the city's "Singing District Attorney) and stage producer Sidney Borey- three men who knew how to put on a show!
They decided they wanted to go big and founded a "Super Krewe"- a club meant to have a very large and inclusive membership. Orpheus opened enrollment to everyone, and were the first fully integrated Super Krewe, inviting women, men, and all races to join in the fun. The first year Orpheus rolled there were over 700 members, and it's only gotten bigger from there.
Harry Connick Jr still comes back every year to ride in his parade, keeping the celebrities company and showing them how it's done. 2013's superstars were Law & Order's Mariska Hargitay and Gary Sinese. People magazine caught this pic of Mariska taking a "selfie" with Harry Connick as they rode.
Parade NightClick thumbnail to view full-size
Do you have a favorite parade?
I have to admit to being biased- I love Orpheus! How about you?
Why choose the name Orpheus?
The mythological Orpheus was the son of a mortal Thracian prince and Calliope, one of the immortal Muses. Calliope was the Muse of epic poetry, and the kingdom of Thrace was renown for their music and art. Between blood and upbringing, Orpheus became the world's most skilled singer.
When the god Apollo gifted him with a lyre, Orpheus gained his godly powers. When playing the instrument every creature within hearing would stop and peacefully come to him, enraptured and unable to move until his song was through. While adventuring with Jason and the Argonauts, Orpheus played the lyre to fend off the treacherous Sirens and calmed a storm that threatened to capsize the ship. Ultimately Orpheus was able to charm the devil himself with his instrument, traveling into the underworld to rescue his wife Eurydice from Hades.
The founders felt that Thrace was an awful lot like New Orleans, and besides- who doesn't come running when they hear a parade on the march? Naming the club after Orpheus seemed like a perfect match.
The lyre is now the Krewe's emblem. They throw lyre shaped beads and it can be seen on the side of several of their floats.
Harry Connick Jr's Mardi Gras song
Super Krewe Orpheus is the third club with the name
In researching the history of the Krewe, I discovered that there was an earlier Krewe in New Orleans named Orpheus. It was a more traditional Krewe, full of high society, and all white. They posted photos of their royal court in the paper each year and had a grand ball, but never actually threw a parade.
There was no notice in the papers as to why or when, but this photo is from 1966, the last listed ball before they quietly dissolved.
Then, in 1987, a group of friends in Mandeville (a town on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain) got together and founded the Krewe of Orpheus with between 100 and 120 members. Their concept was 180 degrees from the original Krewe- they didn't want to have fancy parties or lots of expenses- they just wanted to get some friends together and have fun.
They still exist and changed their name to "The Original Krewe of Orpheus" when the New Orleans club was founded.
Unfortunately, the suburban krewes have been struggling, with many being forced to cancel their parades. Throwing a parade is immensely fun, but also expensive, and with the economic downturn, many members simply can't afford it. Sadly, the Original Orpheus is one of these, and they haven't been able to host a parade in the last two years. They hope to return for 2015.
Behind the scenes- getting ready and lining upClick thumbnail to view full-size
If you're visiting but the timing is off...
... there's always Mardi Gras World!
Carnival can be a crowded and expensive time of the year to visit. If you'd like to get the flavor of the parades at any time of year, Mardi Gras World is just outside of the French Quarter and offers free transportation to the studio where artists create the floats year round.
After the parades are over, the floats return to Mardi Gras World, where the temporary themes are stripped off in preparation for the next year, and the signature floats are checked for damage and repaired.
Several of those floats are on display and you can take your time to fully inspect their beauty and artistry- plus you can watch the artists at work!
It's a great place to visit, and I wholeheartedly recommend it as a destination. Plus, check the tourist guides at your hotel- they'll generally have coupons for several dollars off your visit. Cameras are welcome, and they'll even give you a slice of King Cake at the end.