Okay it’s Mardi Gras. But what exactly is Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras translates from the French as Fat Tuesday. Why Fat Tuesday? The Lenten season, or the Easter season, always begins on a Wednesday. The date varies from year to year, based on the date of Easter. Since the 40- day Lenten season is a more somber time and a time of fasting, Fat Tuesday is the last chance before Lent to, kick up your heels and kick out the jams. In other words, party like crazy.
Why is New Orleans the home of Mardi Gras?
The French began celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans 200 years ago. In 1857 the first krewe (or club) was organized, the Mystic Krewe of Comus. Over the years, more and more krewes were formed. In addition to the extravagant floats and parades, krewes also traditionally held masked balls. Mystery has always surrounded the krewes, whose membership is kept secret, which explains the masked balls and masked parades.
In New Orleans, parades and celebrations begin several weeks prior to Mardi Gras Day. From the very beginning, Mardi Gras was a fun event, that poked fun at political happenings. Over the years, the parades have become more and more satirical, especially the rather lo-fi French Quarter parade of the Krewe de Vieux.
Mardi Gras in Fayetteville
In Northwest Arkansas the Demented Krewe of Dickson, has evolved from a small foot parade on Mardi Gras night, to now include a Saturday afternoon parade, complete with float and bead throwing, and a Mardi Gras night on Dickson Street, with crowds so large that the street is closed to traffic.
The Demented Krewe of Dickson officially came into being in 1992 when the krewe crowned their first king and queen, Bill and Betty Harrison, who used their new found power to christen an ATM.
But the Mardi Gras spirit had invaded Northwest Arkansas a few years earlier. About 20 years ago, when the Restaurant on the Corner was at the northeast corner of Dickson and Rollston Streets and was “the” place to hangout, the ROTC wait staff began dressing in costume and parading the street.
As interest in Mardi Gras grew, the krewe began planning more ways to involve the public, started buying beads to throw and named their own royal court, which is headed by a new king and queen every year. The identity of the king and queen are kept secret until the Mardi Gras night coronation. The established court and some of the krewe founders are: Grand and Most Mystical Poobah, Bob Moers; Demented Grand Duke, Ralph Odom; Demented Duchess, Dixie Rhyne; Duchess of Gold, Trina Harrison; Duchess of Pearls, Suzanne Ray; and Royal Authenticator and Keeper of the Kreed, Jean Button.
One year, Button’s aunt, Coleen Salley, of New Orleans, who was the queen of New Orleans’ Krewe de Vieux in 2004, came to Fayetteville to be part of the Demented Krewe of Dickson’s foot parade in the early days.
In the early days, the krewe kept to the sidewalk as they moved from club to club. In recent years, the crowds have become so large that Dickson Street is closed to traffic as hundreds join the foot parade as the krewe tosses beads to the crowds on the sidewalk. This year, there will be a first, a wedding will take place on Dickson Street as part of the Mardi Gras night festivities.
Another of the Krewe’s later additions is the Saturday, family friendly parade. The parade features floats and marching clubs and travels Dickson Street and Block Avenue to the Fayetteville Square where hundreds wait for “the throws,” — the plastic Mardi Gras beads. Joining the Demented Krewe of Dickson are sub krewes, The Krewe of Olympia, which is well known for their extravagant floats and costumes, the Krewe of Barkus, the Krewe of Awkward Mobility, Krewe of Rue, Krewe U, Mojo Krewe, and Krewe Copeland. This year’s parade Grand Marshall is Fayetteville writer and speaker, Grady Jim Robinson.
Previous Mardi Gras Kings and Queens are:
1992 Bill and Betty Harrison
1993 Raymond O. W. Jones, Jr. and Dixie Rhyne
1994 Craig Mauritson and Cindi Story
1995 Ralph Odom and Carol Reed
1996 Mary Hinton and Bruce Walker
1997 Bob Moers and Phyllis Chenowith
1998 Steve and Kay Phillips
1999 Harold and Stacey Wieties
2000 Neil Williamson and Maura Meyers
2001 Nick Kumpe and Suzanne Ray
2002 Evan Howell and Jean Button
2003 Nancy Couch and Don McCollough
2004 Dan Kerlin and Anita LeFlett
2005 Chaddie Kumpe and Charlie Platt
2006 Bu and Margie Waggoner
2007 Susan Porter and Jim Key
MARDI GRAS PARADE
Family friendly “Parade of Fools” Mardi Gras parade at 2 p.m. Saturday in Fayetteville. Floats, marching groups, costumed characters and beads for parade goers. Parade starts on Dickson Street at University Avenue and travels Dickson Street to Block Avenue to the Fayetteville Square where there will be more festivities. fayettevillemardigras.com
MARDI GRAS ON DICKSON STREET
Demented Krewe of Dickson Mardi Gras on Dickson Street for adults begins at 6:30 p.m. with a Cajun dinner at Jose’s, 324 W. Dickson St., on Tuesday, Mardi Gras Day. Dinner is first-come-first –served and everyone and is open to the public. After the dinner, at around 7:45 p.m., the coronation of the new king and queen will take place outdoors at Jose’s Streetside, at around. After the coronation, the krewe will parade Dickson Street tossing beads and parading with the Billy Zydeco Mardi Gras Band. Dickson Street will be closed to traffic during the parade.
MARDI GRAS IN EUREKA SPRINGS
Last year, Eureka Springs birthed the Krewe of Krazo. This year the krewe is sponsoring several activities. There will be coronation ceremony at 7 p.m. today at the Crescent Hotel with music by the Jazz Mafia. Friday at 8 p.m. there will be Masquerade Ball at the Basin Park Hotel Ballroom with music by B&B. Saturday at 2 p.m. there will be a parade through downtown that ends at the Art Colony for a costume contest and activities. On Tuesday, Mardi Gras Day the club crawl will begin at 3:30 p.m. at the Pied Piper, and visit downtown clubs, ending at Chelsea’s for live music.