Stilettos, toilet plungers and other weird things flying off floats this Mardi Gras

Beads! Beads! Beads! It's all anyone ever thinks about when it comes to Mardi Gras.Beads draped from trees lik...

Posted: Feb 13, 2018 4:09 PM
Updated: Feb 13, 2018 4:09 PM

Beads! Beads! Beads! It's all anyone ever thinks about when it comes to Mardi Gras.

Beads draped from trees like Spanish moss after the floats pass on St. Charles Avenue. Beads by the pound slung around every neck in sight, from preschoolers to frat brothers to grandmas planted in camp chairs along the parade route. Beads tossed for more lascivious gain off balconies on Bourbon Street.

As floats pass, throngs of revelers standing as many as a dozen deep flail their arms and shriek in hopes of scoring some plunder.

But it's not just beads that get flung during parades for Carnival, which culminates on Fat Tuesday -- February 13, 2018 -- in New Orleans and its sister destinations along the Gulf Coast. The sparkly strands stand among a plethora of so-called "throws" that fly through the skies as dozens of parade organizations, known as krewes, take to the streets in an annual demonstration of generosity that unfolds between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday.

There are sunglasses with toilet-seat flip lenses, plush spears and pillows adored with images of iconic floats. Plus swords glistening in LED splendor, horns that emit ear-piercing wails and enough plastic cups to hold every cocktail in the book. And of course, the glitter-speckled coconuts and hand-adorned high heels that are so prized they become mantle pieces long after the last costumes get packed away for Lent.

Tiny plastic toilets frothing with sugar

This succession of swag, with each item more imaginative and coveted than the next, sets Carnival parades apart from the average Fourth of July or Labor Day procession. Along these routes, children -- and adults, for that matter -- don't just want a lollipop from the Shriners.

They want beach balls and hand-jeweled purses and rubber ducks. And the krewes, always trying to outdo each other, happily oblige.

"The people don't want itty-bitty beads," said Lloyd Frischhertz, an attorney who in 1969 founded the irreverent Krewe of Tucks, which along with hand-decorated toilet plungers this year threw small plastic toilets with two lollipops that react with Pop Rock-style candy to create a sugary, frothing pot.

Float riders pay their own way and often pony up $2,000 or more each to buy the loot they throw from floats. So, it becomes a point of pride to hold the "it" throw of the season -- the item that, when it's waved from atop a crawling float, elicits the clarion call: "Throw me something, Mister!"

"It really is the single element that separates Mardi Gras parades from parades everywhere else: You don't watch a parade; you're part of it. It's interactivity at its finest," said Arthur Hardy, a local media personality who bills himself as "the world's foremost authority on Mardi Gras."

The tradition of throws dates to 1922, when the Rex Organization -- whose monarch reigns over all of Carnival -- began tossing strands of tiny glass beads, he said. Four decades later, Rex again revolutionized the trinket trade by producing silver dollar-sized doubloons with signature engravings.

Those quickly became collectors' items and paved the way for what Hardy estimated to be a several million-dollar industry, with most of today's booty made in China. Most krewes now commission items -- from doubloons, beads and medallions to nail-file sets, stuffed animals and golf umbrellas -- imprinted with their name, the year and their parade's annual theme.

46 tons of beads in the sewers

The all-female Krewe of Muses, for instance, rolled Thursday night under the banner, "A Night at the MUSEum." Among its throws were socks inspired by classic works of art, an insulated lunchbox, a bottle opener and a pillow printed with the satirical "Birth of Muse," featuring an African-American hand of God placing a glittery, red stiletto into a white hand with nails painted pink.

The krewe, whose members work for months to add glitter and gems to real shoes that they toss from floats, aims to deliver many items that can be used, Muses captain and founder Staci Rosenberg, also an attorney, said. In part, that's a reflection of the many moms aboard its floats; they want to hand out gifts that will be loved, she said, rather than worn one day, then hauled up to the attic -- or worse, left on the street.

"As people are more focused on sustainability and the environment and reuse, people are also less interested in beads," Rosenberg said.

Indeed, workers recently unearthed 93,000 pounds -- that's 46 tons -- of Mardi Gras beads while clearing city drain lines, The New Orleans Advocate reported.

When its parade rolls this morning toward the French Quarter, members of Rex -- their faces completely covered with fabric or plastic masks -- will toss koozies emblazoned with images related to its 28 floats, said Steven Ellis, the group's quartermaster, a title that references a top soldier in charge of supplies.

Footballs also will be among the cache. And notwithstanding the trend away from beads, Rex riders will throw necklaces strung with glass beads and a metal medallion that honors New Orleans' tricentennial year, he said.

"It's really a high-quality product," Ellis said. "It's not junk."

100,000 glammed-up coconuts

But perhaps the granddaddy of baubles comes from the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club. Parading since 1909 in minstrel-show style, the krewe boasts an "everyman" association whose members decades ago often worked at the city's ports and outdoor markets, where they picked up cheap coconuts to pass down from floats.

Since then, riders have taken to shaving off the fruit's hairy coat and decorating the bald drupe with shiny gold and silver paint, glitter and feathers, often in fabulously ornate designs, said Naaman Stewart, who is now in his sixth and final year as Zulu's president.

For months before Mardi Gras day, families host coconut-decorating parties. For his part, Stewart will have 2,000 coconuts -- at $1 to $2 a pop -- to hand out to parade-goers, he said, estimating that at least 100,000 coconuts will be distributed along the 4-mile route.

Louisiana's so-called "coconut law" limits liability for alleged injuries arising from coconuts -- and other heavy tokens -- bestowed during parades. Zulu riders also will throw tambourines, underwear, oversize plastic cigars, plush dolls, umbrellas, grass skirts and posters -- all emblazoned with Zulu logos.

But, Stewart said, "you won't find me with any beads or any dolls. I only have coconuts because I believe if someone comes to the Zulu parade, they want a Zulu coconut."

For riders, the feeling of dangling a coconut -- or a puffy-painted stiletto, a ribbon-laden rubber shrimp boot or a hand-ornamented toilet brush -- above thick crowds along the streets cannot be matched.

"It's a transformation," Stewart said. "When you're the person on the float, ... just to have that power, just to have that ability to make people happy, to make their day, to listen to the stories that they tell you about why they have to have a coconut, it's really just exhilarating."

"It's spreading joy," added Hardy, the Carnival guru. "That's what Mardi Gras is about."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 312712

Reported Deaths: 7223
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21445257
Hinds20264414
Harrison17785308
Rankin13548278
Jackson13401246
Madison10055217
Lee9959173
Jones8361163
Forrest7638152
Lauderdale7191240
Lowndes6361144
Lamar620686
Lafayette6164118
Washington5318133
Bolivar4796132
Oktibbeha460698
Panola4550105
Pearl River4493145
Marshall4393103
Warren4371121
Pontotoc419372
Monroe4089133
Union408876
Neshoba4022176
Lincoln3944110
Hancock376886
Leflore3487125
Sunflower335590
Tate332084
Pike3290105
Scott314973
Alcorn311268
Yazoo310269
Itawamba299277
Copiah296065
Coahoma293979
Simpson293888
Tippah287468
Prentiss278960
Marion268780
Leake265573
Wayne262241
Adams261882
Grenada260085
Covington256281
George246748
Newton246161
Winston226881
Tishomingo225467
Jasper220748
Attala214173
Chickasaw206957
Holmes188672
Clay184654
Stone181833
Clarke177879
Tallahatchie177840
Calhoun169732
Yalobusha162936
Smith162134
Walthall133845
Greene130333
Lawrence128323
Montgomery126742
Noxubee126734
Perry125838
Amite122842
Carroll121728
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis106932
Tunica104626
Claiborne102230
Benton99025
Humphreys96133
Kemper95328
Franklin83423
Quitman79916
Choctaw76018
Wilkinson66830
Jefferson65428
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 529446

Reported Deaths: 10930
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson763031516
Mobile40850804
Madison34622501
Tuscaloosa25701451
Montgomery24289585
Shelby23367247
Baldwin21035307
Lee15822169
Calhoun14469313
Morgan14266279
Etowah13806352
Marshall12185222
Houston10533280
Elmore10029205
Limestone9948150
Cullman9640193
St. Clair9589239
Lauderdale9407239
DeKalb8814185
Talladega8199175
Walker7214277
Autauga6914108
Jackson6801111
Blount6635136
Colbert6288134
Coffee5498117
Dale4820111
Russell438438
Chilton4258111
Franklin424782
Covington4111117
Tallapoosa4004150
Escambia393076
Chambers3555123
Dallas3543151
Clarke350661
Marion3105100
Pike310177
Lawrence299798
Winston273672
Bibb260463
Marengo249064
Geneva247676
Pickens233659
Barbour230756
Hale222276
Butler215869
Fayette212062
Henry188744
Cherokee184145
Randolph179241
Monroe177040
Washington167039
Macon158850
Clay155156
Crenshaw151957
Cleburne148341
Lamar141534
Lowndes138553
Wilcox126729
Bullock122941
Conecuh110129
Perry107526
Coosa106928
Sumter104332
Greene92334
Choctaw60424
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
67° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 67°
Columbus
Clear
67° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 67°
Oxford
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 64°
Starkville
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 64°
We can expect plentiful sunshine Thursday with nice, warm temperatures. But going into the late afternoon and early evening, a brief disturbance could bring a quick round of showers and perhaps a thunderstorm through the area.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather