Mardi Gras photos from 1956: "Cowboy and Belle," by John Mizenko


mizenko-ham.jpgGalleria Mar Doré (disclosure: a project on which I'm an advisor) has just launched an online exhibition of rare vintage photos from Mardi Gras in New Orleans, taken in 1956 by an engineer who loved technology, photography, and the rich culture of midcentury Louisiana. His name was John Mizenko, and he was also an avid ham radio operator. That's him at left, with his radio gear. His call sign was W5KAC. His daughter Mar Doré found a box of these, like a time capsule, after he passed away.

"I discovered my father's slide collection tucked away in a cabinet inside metal slide trays loaded with carefully written notations," says Mar. "It was as though after all these years he'd left me a gift."

She had them digitally scanned at very high resolution, and is presenting them online and in limited-edition giclee prints (you can buy them for $339 each, and the printed versions truly are stunning). I've asked her for permission to display some of them here on Boing Boing during this holiday week. Maybe Mardi Gras and Christmas/Hannukah don't seem like they ought to go together, but hey, why not? Fun, food, loved ones, reckless abandon, music, lots of sparkly decorations: there's a lot in common.

Today, we'll start with the photo presented above: Children in Mardi Gras costume, 1956 New Orleans Mardi Gras. Cowboy costumes for "Carnival" were popular in the mid-fifties. After the jump, a scanned 1956 advertisement which ran in the Times-Picayune for this very costume, offered at the now-defunct Maison Blanche New Orleans department store.

Here's the online store where you can purchase reproductions. More about the exhibit here. Members of Mizenko's family have shared their rememberances of his life and work here.

Here is a snip from his daughter, Mar, who recovered the images and is presenting them (and offering prints):

My father's photographs of the Mardi Gras take me back to the New Orleans of my childhood. I've returned to New Orleans in order to explore the history of my father's photographs and the extraordinary places I visited with him as a child; my grandmothers house and my aunt's house on Joseph street, the horse races at the fairgrounds, beignets at Cafe Du Monde, oyster po′boys, and Magazine Street. I remember perching on a wood ladder when I was six, arms outstretched in eager anticipation, ready to catch my share of Mardi Gras loot. I am happy and proud to present this priceless collection of photographs by my father John Woodward Mizenko and the radiant memories they contain. His love for New Orleans is manifested in every frame. It has awakened me and brought me home. No wonder we loved him.



  1. Cowboy looks positively smitten.

    Discoveries like this are already so rare. I just can’t imagine feeling the same sense of romance when someone discovers their grandfather’s hard drive in the attic 50 years from now.

    1. You know, that is entirely possible. It would be neat to track down the people (or descendants of the people) in this photo, to find out.

  2. I was born in 1975, but have very fine memories of being on Napoleon and St. Charles with my family on Mardi Gras Day. My mama would make hot dogs with chili, cheese, and onions and wrap them in foil, and hours later as we waited for the truck parade to roll, we unravel the cold, shriveled cylinders and wolf them down. They were delicious! I still love eating hot dogs this way.

    We’d scramble around the neutral ground (the “median” to all you non-New Orleanians) clamoring for beads and plastic cups from folks on the floats. My dad would put mama on his shoulders to get a coconut from the black-faced Zulus (horribly racist, yes, but what did we know? And mom didn’t flash her you-know-whats). We’d chase the hot dogs with fruit punch and caramel popcorn and dance to the marching bands, especially Saint Aug.

    It was a wonderful time. I absolutely loved growing up in New Orleans and miss it terribly. These photos, even though they were before my time, are an absolute treasure, and make me long for home.

    1. “My dad would put mama on his shoulders to get a coconut from the black-faced Zulus (horribly racist, yes, but what did we know? And mom didn’t flash her you-know-whats).”

      I’m not sure it’s fair to call a black krewe racist for doing black face. I don’t know what year they started to let whites in too, but it started as a parody of Rex by the black community and is still mostly black. (And they are hands down the still the most fun and awesome krewe.) I’d been trying all my life but never managed to get a coconut until last year at the age of 28.

      And despite the pictures on TV, it’s still true that if you see the parade in one of the more neighborhood areas, you are very unlikely to see anyone flash.

      I head some girls last year from out of town saying it was awful to bring kids to a parade. And this was in my neighborhood. It was mostly people with families and nothing unsuitable happened. I had no idea what they were going on about. Not letting kids go to parades here would be as bad as canceling Christmas.

      I still get this crazy craving for hot dogs every year around Mardi Gras.

  3. I agree that both children are girls, especially given the bow over the cowgirl’s left ear. But I adore the photograph. I was in New Orleans at that time, aged thirteen. We loved going to the parades, and Mom and Dad took us to the night ones, too, with the flambeaux carriers dancing all around us. I also well remember MB, but the prices make me laugh. I’ll go back again someday.

  4. I love New Orleans, and upon seeing this, my first thought was “Oh I hope they are selling large prints.” I know lots of people who I would love to give them to as gifts.

    Then I saw it – $340 per print, and I closed the window with a sigh.

  5. I like how in the fifties nobody thought it odd for a cowboy (or cowgirl) to have a bright maroon outfit.

  6. I need to go back and look at the boxes of slides my parents took when my father was a GI bill student at Tulane just after the end of WWII- ’47-’48. I remember many Mardi Gras photos and stories growing up. They had an apartment in the French Quarter. They loved the parades but were shocked by the racism.

  7. yes, the cowboy is a girl – they actually look like twins. $339 is a fair price, but beyond my means at the moment. and I love that MB is advertising “matching Calvary jeans” (didn’t they mean Cavalry?)

  8. I too am from nola. Went to St. Louis Cathdral Elem school, lived around the corner.Graduated 8th grade 1968. Mardi Gras was the best when it went thru the back streets of Royal.And all the Beatnicks hanging around.Of course ,daddy wouldn’t let us near them. Strange people I guess.Good pics.

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