Tens of thousands gather to celebrate Mardi Gras in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS — Tens of thousands of revelers thronged Mardi Gras festivities, many yelling “throw me something, Mister!” in the universal call to float riders who tossed them coveted beads and trinkets on Tuesday’s raucous finale to Carnival season in New Orleans.

The 300th anniversary of this Louisiana port city featured prominently in Fat Tuesday’s festivities as costumed tourists and locals alike packed parade routes under mostly blue skies and balmy temperatures. Merrymakers also jammed French Quarter bars and narrow streets to party with abandon.

New Orleans’ oldest parading Carnival group, Rex, celebrated the tricentennial with 21 of its 28 floats commemorating the city’s history starting with those who lived in the area before Europeans settled it in 1718 to the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Other floats included one for St. Louis Cathedral, the descendant of a church built the year of the city’s founding, and the yellow fever, which killed more than 41,000 people between 1815 and 1905.

Rex and Zulu are the two major parades in New Orleans on Fat Tuesday, a state holiday. And families jam the sidewalks and camp out in the broad medians to watch with small children often perched in wooden seats atop ladders near the front.

Although many people associate Mardi Gras with women flashing their breasts for plastic bead necklaces, that bawdiness occurs mostly in the French Quarter, often from Bourbon Street balconies.

Neighbors Christine Stephens and Tracy Thomas said they stay on the traditional parade route, outside the French Quarter.

“Mardi Gras should be for everyone from 8 months to 88 years old,” Stephens said as crowds turned out in temperatures warming to the 70s (20s Celsius) in this south Louisiana city aside the Mississippi River.

By early Tuesday afternoon, the French Quarter’s most famous street, Bourbon Street, and parallel Royal Street were crowded with costumed tourists and locals, many of them stopping each other for photographs. One group dressed as pink flamingos. Two men, both dressed as President Donald Trump, greeted each other in the crowd.

Other costumes included Mr. and Mrs. Potato-Head, Pac Man and Mrs. Pac Man and an angel of death with black wings and halo.

The only bare chests seen were men’s, including a group with grass skirts over their blue Jean shorts.

The holiday climaxes a two-week Carnival season, which draws about 1 million visitors and pumps about $840 million into the city’s economy, according to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. It also means two weeks of 12-hour, no-vacation shifts for the city’s police, who are reinforced by 165 state troopers and officers and deputies from half a dozen nearby areas.

Neighborhood organizations are among the first groups out on Mardi Gras. There’s St. Anne’s parade, an eclectic walking parade and the North Side Skull and Bone Gang, which wakes people up and tells children to behave.

The Half-Fast Walking Club, organized by the late clarinetist Pete Fountain, rolls and strolls to the Quarter from the Commander’s Palace restaurant.

Then comes the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, a historically African-American group that parades in blackface and grass skirts. After Zulu comes Rex which is followed by two “truck parades” with floats built on flatbed trailers and decorated by the families, neighborhood groups and other organizations riding in them.

The family party along the parade routes generally ends after the parades, but the French Quarter’s rowdier Mardi Gras continues until midnight, when a wedge of mounted New Orleans police officers clears the streets.

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