Carnival has always been a part of Louisiana’s culture. In the early 19th century, Carnival was celebrated by maskers on foot and in carriages. But by the 1850s, the popularity of Mardi Gras celebrations was in decline, due to the wild and often violent nature of the parades. In 1857, six influential New Orleans businessmen met in secret to form the first Mardi Gras krewe – the Mystic Krewe of Comus. That year, instead of leaving Mardi Gras to the rowdy and disorganized gangs of maskers, Comus instituted the first parade as current Carnival-goers would recognize it, taking the theme "The Demon Actors in Milton's Paradise Lost." Since then, New Orleans Mardi Gras festivities have become central to the city’s identity. Many krewes have prospered over the years, from the famous, old-line krewes like Rex, Momus, and Proteus, to the newer and very popular Bacchus and Endymion. The Louisiana Research Collection’s Carnival Collection is one of the most extensive collections of Carnival artifacts and ephemera in the world, and preserves the history of several hundred of New Orleans’s Carnival krewes.
Perhaps most notable among our Carnival collection are the more than five thousand original designs for Carnival floats and costumes we preserve. Many of these are from the “Golden Age” of Carnival and feature the work of noted designers such as Jennie Wilde, B. A. Wikstrom, and Charles Briton. LaRC also preserves the works of more contemporary designers, including Patricia Hardin, Olga Peters, and designer and noted Carnival historian Henri Schindler.