Fat Tuesday flashback: Rare film shows Rex in 1898
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A rare film uncovered in 2022 is believed to be the oldest existing footage of New Orleans. And as luck would have it, the footage captures one of the city’s most iconic events -- Rex, the king of Carnival, and six floats parading through the Crescent City.
The roughly two-minute video looks a lot different than what you would expect at present-day Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Most notably, no throws are seen coming from the floats, with the riders largely just saluting and waving to the crowd. The parade’s onlookers are dressed much nicer and are also much calmer when compared to the raucous crowds that have become synonymous with Mardi Gras.
Another eye-catcher is the presence of a live ox on one of the parade’s floats. The ox was part of a Boeuf Gras, or fatted ox, tradition that was part of the early Rex parades. The ox was representative of the last meat to be eaten before the start of the Lenten season.
According to LSU, the footage was uncovered by Mackenzie Roberts Beasley, a 2018 graduate of the university’s School of Library and Information Science. Beasley, who works as an audiovisual archivist, was contacted by a family friend with Rex looking for help in locating the long-rumored footage. After an extensive search, Beasley’s big break finally came after a friend at Yale shared a login to an international film database. The film turned up nearly 5,000 miles away in the Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam.
“My educated guess: people would send films all across the world to see, but no one asked for them back. So, somebody who got it, was able to show it in a theater, and then somebody kept it. Most movie companies never thought they would ever have value again. They thought they would be one-hit wonders,” Beasley said. “But I think this film is really important for Louisiana’s identity. It’s really part of the culture. What you think of when you hear Louisiana? You think of Mardi Gras.”
Rex celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2022 and continues a long-standing tradition of being the second parade to roll on Fat Tuesday in New Orleans, following immediately behind the Krewe of Zulu.
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