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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: 296154

Reported Deaths: 6764
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19700230
Hinds18851392
Harrison16736281
Rankin12757265
Jackson12623228
Lee9694161
Madison9480203
Jones7990147
Forrest7234138
Lauderdale6837226
Lowndes6032140
Lamar589680
Lafayette5740113
Washington5220130
Bolivar4616124
Oktibbeha441593
Panola431995
Pearl River4178131
Warren4134115
Pontotoc410571
Marshall403592
Monroe3990127
Union396174
Neshoba3817169
Lincoln3552104
Hancock348975
Leflore3380118
Sunflower318986
Tate303174
Pike301296
Scott294570
Alcorn292263
Yazoo290565
Itawamba290175
Coahoma281169
Tippah279265
Copiah278758
Simpson276280
Prentiss270258
Wayne254341
Leake252871
Marion252778
Covington249580
Grenada247878
Adams234678
George232145
Newton230852
Winston221877
Jasper213645
Tishomingo212665
Attala206669
Chickasaw201453
Holmes182370
Clay179251
Stone172429
Tallahatchie171239
Clarke169371
Calhoun158028
Smith153033
Yalobusha145036
Greene127833
Walthall124340
Noxubee122831
Montgomery122639
Perry122135
Lawrence120321
Carroll118625
Amite111734
Webster110832
Jefferson Davis102231
Tunica99323
Claiborne98829
Benton93824
Humphreys92927
Kemper90323
Quitman77414
Franklin76119
Choctaw69817
Jefferson62727
Wilkinson62426
Sharkey49117
Issaquena1676
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 497154

Reported Deaths: 10029
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson714001387
Mobile36252736
Madison32573462
Tuscaloosa24289414
Montgomery22708519
Shelby22112215
Baldwin19856285
Lee15021155
Calhoun13755288
Morgan13742252
Etowah13379320
Marshall11439210
Houston10110262
Elmore9451185
Limestone9413136
St. Clair9003225
Cullman8979182
Lauderdale8610212
DeKalb8486175
Talladega7582165
Walker6571259
Jackson6542103
Autauga631391
Blount6229127
Colbert5998120
Coffee5259103
Dale4657107
Russell406433
Franklin399778
Covington3989106
Chilton3891100
Escambia378772
Tallapoosa3613143
Clarke343953
Chambers3423111
Dallas3419142
Pike293372
Marion288895
Lawrence284683
Winston258668
Bibb245960
Geneva240270
Marengo238357
Pickens225055
Barbour212951
Hale211969
Fayette201357
Butler201166
Henry182941
Cherokee177739
Monroe166639
Randolph164640
Washington156635
Macon147243
Crenshaw146254
Clay145554
Cleburne139741
Lamar133733
Lowndes132551
Wilcox122525
Bullock117236
Conecuh107024
Perry105927
Sumter99432
Coosa89624
Greene88532
Choctaw55123
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