Celebrate Mardi Gras in the (merry-go) round

By MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

If you can’t make it to NOLA to celebrate Fat Tuesday, grab your masks and head over to the New England Carousel Museum.

The fundraising Mardi Gras party, which will be held March 2 at the museum, 95 Riverside Ave., Bristol, is celebrating its 29th year.

The New Orleans-inspired event recently received some regional kudos when travel website, TravelSavvy.com, ranked the Bristol party as one of the best places to get your Mardi Gras mask on.

The website placed the party at number four in its “Top 8 Places to Celebrate Mardi Gras in New England” feature. The Bristol event was ranked up there with celebrations in Burlington, Vt. and Boston and ahead of a Mardi Gras-connected bar crawl in Hartford.

“If you find yourself up north as Fat Tuesday approaches (March 5 in 2019), there are plenty of places where you can feast on Cajun delights, snag some beads, sip intoxicating beverages, hear N’awlins jazz and celebrate a memorable Mardi Gras,” reported Travel Savvy.

In regard to the Carousel Museum’s bash, Travel Savvy said, “It’s a merry-go-round of Mardi Gras fun.”

The Carousel Museum’s party initially was launched at the behest of a museum board member, Joan Seguljic. At the time, the museum was a mere tenant on Riverside Avenue and Seguljic suggested joining up with the carousel restoration business to hold a fundraiser (with the hopes of making the building its own). The party also was seen as a way to get people out to chase the winter blues away.

The museum now owns it building, but the popular party still helps pay for many of the other expenses at the facility.

As time has gone on, costumes – in particular the traditional Mardi Gras mask have become more plentiful at the Connecticut event.

The ties between masquerade parties and Mardi Gras go back centuries.

In an article for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture titled, “Massacre, Mardi Gras, and Torture  in Early New Orleans,” writer Sophie White said, “The earliest known account of a Mardi Gras masquerade in New Orleans was produced by Marc-Antoine Caillot, a clerk for the Company of the Indies in Louisiana. The masquerade he described took place on Fat Monday in 1730, on the outskirts of the city at Bayou Saint Jean.”

In New Orleans, masks are required for the “krewes,” the secret societies who ride the various floats.

But, in earlier times, women weren’t allowed to wear masks or take part in Mardi Gras activities at all.

In her article, “Anything to Act Crazy: Cajun Women and Mardi Gras Disguise,” Carolyn E. Ware wrote in the American Journal of American Folklore, “One of the most significant changes in rural Cajun Mardi Gras celebrations is the presence of female maskers. Women once were limited to the sidelines… the ‘olden carnival was primarily for men and horses’ as its ‘impromptu wild ness … had no place for the ladies.’

Bu Ware wrote, “As women play an increasingly prominent part in many Cajun Mardi Gras runs, they bring their own styles of roleplaying and masking to the celebration. A handful of creative women have taken the lead in commodifying the rural tradition, making and marketing Mardi Gras suits and masks on a large scale… Women’s influence on Cajun Mardi Gras disguise has been especially pervasive; they often design and sew not only their own costumes but those of husbands and sons…Today, women make more masks for men than men do for women.”

The New England Carousel Museum will hold its 29th annual Mardi Gras party on Saturday, March 2 from 7:30 to midnight. The evening features music and dancing. There will be raffle and live entertainment that will include face painters, temporary tattoos, balloon twisting and magic,. There will be bourbon and wine tastings in the Speakeasy.

This is a BYOB event.

Attendees are encouraged to wear an optional mask or come in full costume. Masks are available to buy in the museum gift shop.

For more information, call Morgan Urgo at (860)585-5411 or email asstdirector@thecarouselmuseum.org

Maggie Wernicki of Southington poses inside the New England Carousel Museum’s ballroom in Bristol wearing a Mardi Gras mask. The museum is holding its annual fundraising party on March 2. In preparation for the party, the museum is selling masks such as this. (MIKE CHAIKEN PHOTO)

Leave a Reply