“The largest annual event in New Orleans is a something which we arrived too late to sample–the Mardi-Gras festivities. I saw the procession of the Mystic Crew of Comus there, twenty-four years ago–with knights and nobles and so on, clothed in silken and golden Paris-made gorgeousnesses, planned and bought for that single night’s use; and in their train all manner of giants, dwarfs, monstrosities, and other diverting grotesquerie–a startling and wonderful sort of show, as it filed solemnly and silently down the street in the light of its smoking and flickering torches; but it is said that in these latter days the spectacle is mightily augmented, as to cost, splendor, and variety. There is a chief personage–‘Rex;’ and if I remember rightly, neither this king nor any of his great following of subordinates is known to any outsider. All these people are gentlemen of position and consequence; and it is a proud thing to belong to the organization; so the mystery in which they hide their personality is merely for romance’s sake, and not on account of the police.
“Mardi-Gras is of course a relic of the French and Spanish occupation; but I judge that the religious feature has been pretty well knocked out of it now. Sir Walter has got the advantage of the gentlemen of the cowl and rosary, and he will stay. His medieval business, supplemented by the monsters and the oddities, and the pleasant creatures from fairy-land, is finer to look at than the poor fantastic inventions and performances of the reveling rabble of the priest’s day, and serves quite as well, perhaps, to emphasize the day and admonish men that the grace-line between the worldly season and the holy one is reached. “
–Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)