DIGITAL COLLECTION NOTE
Photos in this collection serve as digital surrogates to protect fragile, fading photos in the Charles V. Booth Collection (MSS 292) at the Earl K. Long Library at the University of New Orelans. Only photos from "Series III Visual Materials, Subseries III.1 Photographs of trucks" are included. Due to potential copyright restrictions, these scans must be viewed on campus.
The first organized Mardi Gras truck parade in New Orleans followed Rex down Canal Street on March 5, 1935, when fifty-six different groups riding on decorated trucks banded together to form the Elks Krewe of Orleanians. Many of the participants were members of fraternities, sororities, neighborhood social clubs, and schools. In addition to the Elks trucks, numerous other decorated trucks were sponsored by independent carnival clubs, for a total of nearly one hundred vehicles in the first truck parade.
In New Orleans, street celebrations have commemorated Mardi Gras at least since February 24, 1857, when the Mistick Krewe of Comus held its inaugural parade. The routes of the major parades included St. Charles Avenue, Canal Street, Royal Street, and other principal streets in downtown New Orleans and the French Quarter. After World War I, some maskers, who had theretofore celebrated as they walked and danced through the streets, formed groups to ride on home-decorated trucks of various description. The parade routes were heavily policed, however, and the trucks were not permitted to parade on major streets. As time passed, the number of trucks and the quality of their decoration increased, and something of a competition burgeoned among the truck groups. By the late 1920s and early 1930s, decorations were becoming increasingly elaborate.
After riding on a decorated truck sponsored by the local Lodge #30 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks in 1933, Chris R. Valley conceived the idea of organizing the independent trucks into a parade which would follow Rex on the established parade route. On September 6, 1934, an Elks Carnival Committee was formed within the lodge, with Valley as its chairman. On January 18, 1935, the group began publicizing the plan in the newspaper. Given impetus by local columnists such as Mel Washburn and F. Edward Hebert, by the Elks committee, and by the general enthusiasm for Carnival, the idea caught on, and the Elks Krewe of Orleanians was born. Valley, who remained active with the group for thirty years, gathered many of the materials in the collection.
As time passed, the Elks Krewe of Orleanians grew, generally sponsoring forty-five to one hundred trucks annually from 1935 to 1955, one hundred fifty trucks through 1965, one hundred eighty trucks through 1971, and one hundred fifty trucks since 1971. In 1946, Russell Calonge formed the Krewe of Crescent City, a parade of fifty to seventy-five trucks which follows the Elks Krewe of Orleanians. Two additional truck parades began in the mid-1970s to follow the Krewe of Argus parade in Metairie, Louisiana (Jefferson Parish): the Krewe of Jefferson, founded by William H. Aitken, and the Elks Krewe of Jeffersonians, sponsored by B.P.O.E. Lodge #30. Together they contribute some one hundred trucks, and the Elks Krewe of Gretna on the West Bank provides about sixty-five more. Another dozen or so trucks follow the Krewe of St. Bernard parade in St. Bernard Parish. Each truck is sponsored by an individual carnival club consisting of ten to fifteen families. On average, forty persons ride on each truck.
Maskers riding on trucks are known for the generosity with which they toss favors, known as “throws,” into the crowds of spectators. This custom began during the earliest Mardi Gras celebrations with the throwing of foodstuffs, candies, and cookies, and evolved into today’s assortment of beads, plastic toys and cups, and doubloons. The last of these, a 1½”, lightweight aluminum medallion, was originated by H. Alvin Sharpe. First used by Rex in 1960, doubloons had spread by 1963 to the truck parades. The first truck doubloon was a ceramic disc distributed by the Verbenas Carnival Club, followed in 1964 by a wooden nickel thrown by the Trabs Carnival Club. Beginning in 1965, truck doubloons proliferated so rapidly that by 1969, some one hundred seventeen trucks out of a total of two hundred seventy in Greater New Orleans were throwing their own truck doubloons. By 1969, however, interest in truck doubloons was diminishing. During their glory years, however, some two hundred twenty carnival clubs were responsible for the minting of three thousand different medallions, for a total of more than twenty-five million truck doubloons.
The collection was donated to the Earl K. Long Library by Charles V. Booth (b. 1923), a collector of Mardi Gras, truck, and doubloon history.
Booth, Charles V. “50th Anniversary Elk’s Truck Parade.” 1983.
Booth, Charles V. “Truck Doubloons.” 1988.