Two reasons to party on February 12: Darwin’s birthday and Mardi Gras!

February 7, 2013 • 11:49 am

by Greg Mayer

Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”), one last big party before the Lenten season of fasting and penance, is fast upon us, and this year, by coincidence it corresponds with Darwin’s birthday (February 12). New Orleans, as usual, will have a big parade, with floats, music, and costumed dancers. The parades are organized by social clubs called “krewes”, and in 1873 the theme of the Mistick Krewe of Comus (Comus being the Greek god of revelry) was “The Missing Links of Darwin’s Origin of Species“.

A book published by the Krewe in 1873 detailing their costumes.
A book published by the Krewe in 1873 detailing their costumes.

The Tulane University Digital Library maintains a collection of the sketches of the costumes designed by the Krewe. In the costumes, half human/half animal (or even half plant) figures are depicted with the faces of contemporary public figures– mostly Republican politicians and city officials that the Krewe wanted to satirize. They might not have thought much of Darwin (he’s portrayed as an ass!), but the main intent was political commentary (a tradition which continues in Mardi Gras to this day). The picture of Darwin as an ass is not very convincing as a likeness of Darwin:

Darwin as an ass.
Darwin as an ass.

Ulysses Grant, however, was instantly recognizable:

Ulysses Grant as a tobacco grub worm.
Ulysses Grant as a tobacco grub worm.

Interestingly, in 1964, the Mistick Krewe returned to a Darwinian theme, creating this design for a float entitled “Darwin on the Beagle”. It looks quite nice, actually. I don’t know if this float was ever made. Perhaps readers with some knowledge of New Orleans would be able to track down what happened at the 1964 Mardi Gras (maybe even photos of the float).

Float design for "Darwin on the Beagle" from 1964.
Float design for “Darwin on the Beagle” from 1964.

h/t Dominic via i09

16 thoughts on “Two reasons to party on February 12: Darwin’s birthday and Mardi Gras!

  1. “Preach not me your musty rules,
    Ye drones that mould in idle cells,
    The heart is wiser than the schools,
    The senses always reason well.
    If short my span I less can spare
    to pass a single pleasure by:
    An hour is long if lost in care;
    They only live,
    They only live,
    They only live who life enjoy.”

    – Air from “Comus,” by Thomas Arne

    (“Comus” – the root of the words “comity” and “comedy”?)

    Yeah, well, what do scholars and scientists and researchers know? We all know our senses tell us that the sun goes around the Earth, and how can humanity not be the center of the Universe and its chief concern?

  2. This is fantastic information. I am from New Orleans and didn’t realize this … I will spread the word to friends and family.

    Perhaps we should dress up like other animals and drunkenly frolic and stuff our faces in his honor.

    1. Any bets on whether some noble representative will again shout and interrupt him during the State of the Union address?

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