Louisiana State Museum

The New Orleans’ Rex Parade with 1898 Archived Film Viewing

09:00 June 20, 2022
By: Tatum Arbogast

Discover the History and Artistry of the Rex Parade

As we all know, New Orleans is a city that boasts a rich history, abundant culture, and an extraordinarily welcoming spirit. For each of these characteristics and more, locals and tourists, alike, always find their own reason for falling in love with the Crescent City. One beloved tradition that often seems to rise above the rest is our over-the-top Mardi Gras parades and festivities, all culminating in the extravagant celebration of the Rex Parade on Mardi Gras Day. On June 22, history buffs and lovers of New Orleans have an incredible opportunity to catch a glimpse of the history of the Rex Parade and what makes this city so unique. The Louisiana State Museum is hosting a viewing of a historic 1898 film clip of the Rex Parade, along with a panel of historians, archivists, and artists to share their take on the evolution of New Orleans' Mardi Gras from then until now. Mark your calendars and get ready to explore the ever-shifting culture and artistry of the city you love at the Presbytère on Jackson Square!

The Star of the Show: the 1898 Must-See Film Clip

In the realm of film historians, whispers about the 1898 film depicting New Orleans' Rex Parade have been circulating for years, but up till now, no one knew the exact whereabouts of the film's existence. Funnily enough, the recent discovery of the film happened almost half-way around the world, in the archives of the Dutch national film museum in Amsterdam: Eye Filmmuseum. On June 22, Will French, one of the lead Rex Historians, will be showing a two-minute clip of the incredibly rare footage. Not only is the film thought to be the oldest moving footage of Mardi Gras, but it may also be the oldest surviving film of the city of New Orleans.

The video was created by America's first production agency dedicated solely to the art of filmmaking, the American Mutoscope Company, founded in 1895. "It's not really a surprise that the first film footage ever shot in New Orleans would be of the Rex parade," says Will French about the archive. "After the Civil War, Rex, the King of Carnival, really captured the world's attention and helped to establish New Orleans as a tourist destination for visitors from near and far. The footage itself, though, is absolutely incredible."

Although, the film is silent, showcasing the humble beginnings of the film industry, the images depicted are surprisingly crisp, capturing the true spirit of Mardi Gras all those years ago. The 1898 parade, themed Harvest Queens, isn't so different from the extravagant celebrations we partake in today, with the film depicting a diverse troop of parade watchers, beautifully decorated floats, and costumed riders. Unlike our modern Mardi Gras parades, though, the film actually demonstrates one of the last times a live bull was a part of the Rex Parade, signifying the fattened ox.

Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser has nothing but good things to say about the historical piece. "This film takes us back in time to show us what Mardi Gras parades were like almost 125 years ago," he highlights. "Don't miss this chance to see it!"

About the Panel and the Current Exhibition Rex: The 150th Anniversary of the School of Design

Along with the iconic film showing, the event will feature a panel of guests, including historians, archivists, and artists that are experts in the field of New Orleans' parades and history. Leading the conversation, Rex Organization historian and archivist, Dr. Stephen Hales, will discuss the evolution of the Rex Parade with a special focus on history and traditions. By his side, key speakers will include Royal Artist float designers Caroline Thomas and Richard Valadie, along with Louisiana State Museum's Curator of Costumes, Textiles, and Carnival Collections Wayne Phillips. This discussion is sure to be packed full of engaging insight into the artistry and influence that has driven New Orleans' culture and traditions for centuries.

The event, as a whole, is presented in partnership with Louisiana Museum Foundation's current exhibition, Rex: The 150th Anniversary of the School of Design, which will be on display until December 11. If you can't make it to the film presentation and panel on June 22, make sure to at least get a taste at the exhibition. Otherwise, the event is free and open to the public, and the Louisiana State Museum would love to share New Orleans' rich cultural history with you! Attendees are encouraged to preregister, and you can learn more about the event here.

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