March 3, 2021

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House Floats keep Mardi Gras alive on Gulf Coast

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Gulf Coast residents are keeping Mardi Gras alive with festive porch parades and house floats after Carnival celebrations were canceled due to COVID-19.

Image courtesy of Mobile Porch Parade / Instagram. Photo by James Avera.

Mardi Gras stops for no one, not even COVID-19.

Residents on the U.S. Gulf Coast are getting creative, transforming their homes into elaborate parade floats as a safe alternative to celebrating Carnival season this year.

The coronavirus, which has claimed more 408,000 lives in the U.S. as of Thursday, has forced the cancellation of parties, parades and krewe balls that Coast residents look forward to.

Suzanne Sarver, a graphic designer in Mobile, Alabama, thought of a way to keep the cultural celebration alive after hearing how bummed her friends and neighbors were about the festivities not happening this year.

“Mainly, I just saw that people needed a reason to celebrate and come together on something as a community,” Sarver told McClatchy News over email.

Cue the birth of the Mobile Porch Parade.

Sarver said she and a friend, co-organizer Stacy Wellborn, got to work in getting the group’s website up and running. Their parade effort officially kicked off Jan. 12 and already has 250 registered homes that will be included on the official map. They expect the event to have more than 300 participants by the time registration closes on Jan. 24.

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An “If you give a mouse a cookie “ themed house takes part in the Mobile Porch Parade. Joy Massey Image courtesy of Mobile Porch Parade. Photo by Joy Massey

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Custom pieces by local artist Sune Van Rooyen Phillips adorn a home in Mobile, Alabama. Mobile Porch Parade Image courtesy of Mobile Porch Parade.

Sarver said the Mobile Porch Parade isn’t just about keeping the good times rolling, but is also aimed at helping local float builders and artists whose businesses have been hit hard by the virus.

“We’ve been promoting small businesses and artists within our community that depend on the carnival and Mardi Gras season to keep their doors open,” she told McClatchy News. “Mobile has already shown up in a big way for those small businesses. We’ve also helped arrange for people to rent float pieces to install on their houses.”

Many of the large-scale installations have been provided by local float artist Craig Stevens and his team, Sarver said.

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Float artist Craig Stephens and his crew at Carnival Artists install pieces at local homes. Stacy Wellborn Image courtesy of Mobile Porch Parade. Photo by Stacy Wellborn.

Krewe of House Floats offers alternative in New Orleans

A similar effort is underway in New Orleans, where the Krewe of House Floats is helping residents celebrate Carnival in this new way.

“It started out as a Twitter joke after the city of New Orleans announced that carnival parades would be canceled in 2021,” organizer Megan Boudreaux told McClatchy News. “I mentioned that I would just decorate my house and throw some things at my neighbors … but then I couldn’t let the idea go. So I took it to my friends on Facebook and two months later the original group has over 11,000 followers from all over the country and the world.”

Decorating began on Jan. 6, the official start of Carnival season, and they will remain up through Mardi Gras Day on Feb. 16, according to the St. Charles Herald Guide. Residents can keep it simple with their decorations or go all out: There are no rules.

After locating member house floats in the area, spectators are asked to “masque up,” remain socially distant and avoid large crowds as they tour different homes and neighborhoods, according to the Krewe of House Floats website.

Photos posted to the group’s Facebook page show homes outfitted with the traditional purple, green and gold streamers while others are covered in themed decorations as a nod to the “trainwreck” that was 2020. One couple in the Irish Channel neighborhood even turned the front porch of their shotgun-style home into an interactive “Jeopardy!” game board, Nola.com reported.

“There are so many brilliant efforts so far,” Boudreaux told McClatchy News. “A personal favorite of mine is a house in the Fairgrounds area that is made up to look like Jazz Fest complete with the vendor signage and stage schedules.”

So far, Boudreaux said about 3,000 people have signed up to participate in decorating their homes. The Krewe of House Floats map will go live on Feb. 1.

Boudreaux said the effort has been a big help to local artists and businesses in New Orleans, and she thinks House Floats could become a Mardi Gras mainstay even after the coronavirus is under control.

“I have received so many kind messages about Krewe of House Floats is giving people something good to look forward to and that makes all the stress worth it!” she said. “I’ve had a lot of interest in doing this again for the future but that’s an idea we will really start to contemplate on Ash Wednesday! Right now we have our hands full with planning.”

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Tanasia is a national Real-Time reporter based in Atlanta covering Georgia, Mississippi and the southeastern U.S. She’s an alumna of Kennesaw State University and joined McClatchy in 2020.