Mardi Gras 1956: "Through my father's lens" (Boing Boing Video)

(Watch video: on YouTube, on Dotsub, or download an MP4)

Childern_in_1956_Mardi_Gras.jpg Today's episode of Boing Boing Video features rare and historic film from Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana, from 1956. Artist Mar Dore stumbled on a box of slides in her family's home in Texas a few years back, and inside, discovered photographs that her father, John Mizenko, took of the parades back in the era of "Mad Men." That box of slides was like a time capsule, Mar says, and opened a door into history—the history of New Orleans, and of her own family.

I've blogged one of his photographs here on Boing Boing before (you can buy prints now), but in today's Boing Boing Video, we explore the personal story behind them, and we travel back in time through "found" video footage of that same parade.

Below and after the jump, Mar (who, it should be noted, is a member of my family) shares the story behind this video:

My father was born in the small town of Covington, Louisiana in 1921. He was a chemical engineer, inventor and builder, and an amateur radio operator. He worked for major oil companies and we had to move around a lot.

He shot the photos you see in this video in 1956 on February 12th and on Mardi Gras Day, February 14th, on the Mid-City route and on Canal Street in front of Miller-Wohls Department Store, which is no longer there. A lot of the New Orleans you see in this video is no longer there.

The film was shot close to where my father was taking photos. I keep looking for his face in the crowds. He discovered that he had lymphoma cancer in 1990. His work as an engineer at oil companies had exposed him to toxic chemicals for decades, chemicals that caused cancer. It claimed his life in 1991.

These photographs celebrate his memory, and even though I've not yet found his face in those crowds, the photographs themselves illustrate the joy he took in capturing the spirit of Mardi Gras and its wonderful celebration of life.

Mar runs an art gallery called Galleria Mar Dore, and she is selling large-format, archival quality prints of these photos.

View a gallery of these photos here. And more about the photographer here. Scans of the original hand-drawn sketches for the costumes you see on the floats are here.

Discuss

27 Responses to “Mardi Gras 1956: "Through my father's lens" (Boing Boing Video)”

  1. Marsha Keeffer says:

    Thanks for sharing these – beautiful!

  2. Anonymous says:

    The Crewe of Adonis still conducts parades.

    More recent pictures can be found here: http://www.adonis-tlc.com/pixpage.html

    If you really want to enjoy Mardi Gras, my recommendation would be to avoid the French Quarter and the more infamous parades.

  3. AnoniMouse says:

    I encourage anyone who has old photos/videos of New Orleans to upload a copy to The Hurricane Digital Memory Bank http://hurricanearchive.org/

    Housing more than just a record of Katrina/Rita stories, the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank has become a valuable online resource for New Orleans history documents. It is FREE and available to anyone. Rather than donate your family photos/video to an archive, you can digitally copy them to an online collection and be assured they will be there forever.

    From the site: The Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University and the University of New Orleans organized the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank (HDMB) in partnership with national and Gulf Coast area partners. HDMB was awarded the Award of Merit for Leadership in History, and is the largest free public archive of Katrina and Rita with over 25,000 items in the collection.

    Thanks for the post about my beloved New Orleans, Xeni.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I was born and raised in New Orleans, and I don’t act like this—you people need to stop acting so territorial—-you should be grateful that More Dore brings forth even more for us to be proud of—the proof is in the pudding—-many people love it.

  5. hgernhardtjr says:

    Do all you youngsters out there think movies and video are the same? Dang, I wish I had had color video in ’56! (“through “found” video footage” you said). Or perhaps the 8mm (or 16mm) home film had been converted to video at some point? I’ve noticed a lot of writers using “video” when they mean filmed movies.

    Nonetheless, the ’50s New Orleans visual history is really nice to have and preserve on more modern media. And it sure looks like it was a far cry from today’s Mardi Gras, as cymk said!

  6. Dr. Brahms says:

    Just think! Rock and roll, i.e., white R&B, was only a few months old, and the Old South was in for some mighty changes, I say I say. Some good, some not so good. For the literary minded, I recommend Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, which takes place around the same time down in that unique American city.

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. johnlancia says:

    You’ll notice in frame 237, the King of Mid-Cities head jerks back, TOWARDS the library depository and AWAY from the grassy knoll. This is some magic bullet we have here.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I have hundreds of slides that survived Katrina of my parents and grandparents (and me) at Mardi Gras in the early the 1960′s. Never knew folks would something like this so interesting.

  9. footage says:

    Lovely.

    Want to see more? Here’s 1941:

    http://www.archive.org/details/NewOrlea1941

    and here’s the Parade of Krewe of Rex, 1941:

    http://www.archive.org/details/Paradeof1941
    Rick

  10. unapologetic says:

    Actually, as a native New Orleanian and lifelong resident of the city, I can assure you that this is NOT a far cry from modern Mardi Gras celebrations at all – as a matter of fact I could easily recreate this footage almost exactly over the next three weeks, and the only changes you’d notice are later model cars, more modern clothing, and fewer hats on the spectators.

    For the vast majority of people in this city, Mardi Gras has always been and remains exactly what you see here – a fun, friendly, and yes, family-oriented celebration. The “show your tits” drunken debauchery that goes on in the French Quarter is an infinitesimal fraction of what Mardi Gras really is, now as then – but it’s what the media loves to show, so it’s what the public perceives Mardi Gras to be. Which is great for tourism here, I suppose, since we all know sex sells; but it’s a pity that most of those tourists and TV cameras never venture far beyond the French Quarter to see Mardi Gras as it truly is for the rest of us.

    It’s interesting to me that Mar Dore is getting this attention for her father’s work – perhaps it’s that as a non-local, it all must seem exotic to her, whereas here they’re just unremarkable history, like anything else. Photos and videos like these can be found in grandma’s attics and closets all over New Orleans (unless, like my grandma’s attic, they got flooded in Katrina.)

    • Anonymous says:

      yea—-well OK—but everyone love’s her version—it is pure, and sweet, and heart warming

    • cymk says:

      Having never been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, I stand corrected. As for where Mar Dore is coming from I think I kind of understand, the photos are a look back in time to see a very different side of someone she knew and loved dearly. I personally delight in going through old family photos when my father was growing up or even when I was growing up; I get to see things from a very different perspective. To everyone, as you say, “they’re just unremarkable history” but to me(& presumably Mar and others) they are glimpses into a past you thought you knew well.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      It’s interesting to me that Mar Dore is getting this attention for her father’s work – perhaps it’s that as a non-local, it all must seem exotic to her, whereas here they’re just unremarkable history, like anything else. Photos and videos like these can be found in grandma’s attics and closets all over New Orleans (unless, like my grandma’s attic, they got flooded in Katrina.)

      I’m a bit unclear on your point. You want New Orleans history to remain buried and obscure to the rest of the world?.

      And she grew up in the area.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I recommend that Mar publish a photo of her dad and we’ll all look for him in the photos. Maybe someone will find him.

    After all, four eyes are better than two; ask anyone who wears glasses .

  12. Anonymous says:

    I recommend that Mar publish a photo of her dad and we’ll all look for him in the photos. Maybe someone will find him.

    After all, four eyes are better than two; ask anyone who wears glasses.

  13. eeblet says:

    Those are gorgeous (and I find myself taken with Shell’s old sign – why did they ever change it?). BUT it is so weird for me to gaze upon any street seen in New Orleans that is so completely white. As a kid, I often visited my mother’s hometown of New Orleans, and coming from Massachusetts, I was always struck by how many shades of people there were. Not everything was better at the time of these lovely pictures.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Wow! Actresses wearing mink coats in New Orleans! Even in February it must have been warm in a mink coat…

  15. Angeliska says:

    Thanks for posting this y’all – what a treat to watch! It’s true: if you come to Mardi Gras next month, you’ll see all this – just with different haircuts. I sincerely believe that everyone needs to experience Mardi Gras at least once in their lives. For me, missing it is unimaginable. I look forward to it all year long! There’s a great article about the lesser known side of Mardi Gras in this month’s issue of National Geographic Traveler Magazine, with some really good photos (incidentally, one happens to be of my head!) There’s so much more to the experience than beads and boobs. It’s America’s only real Saturnalia, and it’s actually quite sacred.

  16. Anonymous says:

    unapologetic is correct; this kind of footage is not rare, but it is historical, and enjoyable to view. You can see similar stuff, as that poster says, in lots of folks’ homes, but also on Canal Street this year. Mardi Gras is a wonderful, magical event and not at all about “show your tits!” That’s a frat kid, tourist thing, and it’s very much restricted to only a few parts of the Quarter. Much more interesting and still quite risque are the queer costume contests down at St. Ann and Royal.

    The part I enjoyed here is what you describe as “A lot of the New Orleans you see in this video is no longer there.” Here, we say “it ain’t dere no more.”

  17. BethNOLA says:

    “You want New Orleans history to remain buried and obscure to the rest of the world?”

    That question poses a false dilemma. Mardi Gras and New Orleans history are neither buried nor obscure. Certainly parade footage exists from as long as there has been means to record it, and you can find it in public and private collections. I think the other writer just finds the “rare” tag overstated in describing Mar Dore’s findings. I find them interesting, and it’s great that she’s sharing them on the internet, but they’re nothing exceptional. The family story is what’s important, in my view.

    I think the other poster also was offended by the comment about “celebrations of late” from a person who admits later that he’s never been to New Orleans. Mardi Gras is a vast celebration, covering more than two weeks in locations all over the city and surrounding parishes. Most of the parades are very much a family event, rich with tradition and spectacle. The “show your tits” crowd is mainly tourists who don’t know how to behave themselves, but there is certainly a risque side to Carnival as well. But update the cars, clothes and floats, and make the crowd more diverse, and you’ll see much the same thing on Canal Street this year.

  18. Geoff says:

    Great stuff! I love watching old footage of this city. 1950s/60s era New Orleans is so interesting to me. Sorta makes me wish I had been 30 years older. Thanks for posting this. Looking forward to this year. Gonna be a heck of February down here!

  19. Mr. Gunn says:

    Xeni mentions that Mar is a member of her family, so I’m sure that explains part or the reason for this post. Nonetheless it’s entirely topical and a beautiful part of history.

    Thanks for sharing!

    I’m going back this year after my first full year away and I absolutely can’t wait.

  20. nolagirl says:

    Thank you, Unapologetic (post #5) and Anonymous (post #7) for your comments! I, too, am a native New Orleanian and I go crazy when I hear that people think Mardi Gras is about the “show your t*@s” mentality. I have never in my life seen anyone expose themself nor do I go to the Quarter for Mardi Gras. What I find sad is that people think this is what Mardi Gras is to New Orleanians. Like you, I remember Mardi Gras fondly as a time to be with family and to costume. We still get together in the same spot, dozens of cousins and aunts and uncles, and party as a family. It is sad to me that the media, as you so rightly pointed out, have focused on the seedy side of Mardi Gras which is largely made up of tourists who come to NOLA to cut loose much as Spring Break is not a reflection of native Floridians. Thank you for pointing this out and helping our outside friends know what Mardi Gras TRULY means to us! And for you outside of NOLA, please come visit us and enjoy Mardi Gras the way we New Orleanians do!

  21. nolagirl says:

    PS – What is interesting about this footage is how dressed up the crowds are: men in hats and women in dresses. Ah, the simpler, more elegant days of our past.

  22. cymk says:

    I love the photos Xeni, and the look back into 1950s New Orleans; it is a far cry from the Mardi Gras celebrations of late.

  23. nolagirl says:

    PPS – Sorry, one more thought. I grew up in Mid-City and the Krewe of Mid-City used to line up on St. Patrick Street at the corner of Canal, next to my school, St. Anthony of Padua. During the 70s when I was growing up, many of the boys I went to St. Anthony with were in the Boy Scouts and were under the floats as the narrator talks about, working the animation. We used to try to find out what floats they were on and then yell at the float when they passed calling out their names. St. Anthony also sold hot dogs and meatball po-boys for a couple of years to earn money for the school when Carrollton lined up there and then the next week when Mid-City lined up. And those two Sundays of Mardi Gras, when Carrollton and Mid-City lined up outside of Church, always guaranteed us a short Sunday Mass because before Mass was over, the sounds of the bands practicing outside the Church drowned out Mass, so the priests would have what I used to call express Masses – they only lasted about a half hour. Those were great days. Thanks to the poster for sharing her father’s footage!

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