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Yardi Gras stories: House float craze draws neighbors together in Mid-City

A row of Endymion house floats on Orleans Avenue. (Mid-City Messenger)

Mid-City knows what it means to lose parades; it was a major route before the parading krewes were all sent Uptown. All, that is, except Endymion.

This year, Mid-City house floats along the parade’s route are displaying their Endymion pride. Three adjacent homes along Orleans Avenue, for example, got together to make a strong statement with some ribbons, large golden masks, float flowers and a “Hail Endymion” banner.

The theme for the Mid-City subkrewe of the Krewe of House Floats — “Here Come the Truck Floats” —  doesn’t honor the superkrewes like Endymion. It pays homage instead to the often-overlooked truck parades that traditionally close out the Carnival parade season.

There’s no unifying theme for the two truck krewes that, in normal times, follow Rex on Mardi Gras Day. Each truck has its own theme.

Mid-City subkrewe co-captain Jeanne Vidrine said she and co-captain Eileen Nolan chose the theme for the generous, freewheeling nature of the truck floats.

“You know when the truck floats start rolling down the avenue on Mardi Gras, it’s anything goes,” Vidrine explained. The truck floats are also do-it-yourself creations — like many of the house floats.

Vidrine and Nolan stayed loyal to Mid-City throughout the process, adopting the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization‘s heart-and-crescent logo and urging support for MId-City businesses like Mardi Gras Spot / Plush Appeal, which carries an assortment of Carnival-themed decorations, and Stronghold Studios, which has been designing and fabricating house floats and embellishments.

“If someone doesn’t have the time or talent to paint something, they can give the business to Plush Appeal,” Vidrine said.

Vidrine turned to Stronghold Studios early to make figures for her own house float, and encouraged them to mass produce the now ubiquitous reveler silhouettes, which Vidrine christened the “Throw Me Somethin’ Misters.”

Ian Darrow of Stronghold proved a friend to the subkrewe, too, helping to haul 1,236 pounds of food to Second Harvest Food Bank. The subkrewe’s massive food drive displayed the neighborhood’s generous spirit.

“Truck Floats Gone Wild” on Murat Street. (Mid-City Messenger)

Many participants in the house float phenomenon say the experience has instilled a stronger sense of community within their neighborhood,

Part of that happens in the Facebook group each subkrewe developed, where neighbors who may not have met face-to-face bond over their shared experiences and discussions on such topics as how to string together lanterns or ball-pit balls to create giant beads.

“It’s really brought the neighborhood together,” said Mid-City resident Michelle Hayes, who has a house float on Murat Street. Hayes took on the subkrewe’s theme with her “Truck Floats Gone Wild.”

A neighbor she had never met stopped while touring house floats on her bike, for example, and they ended up having a beer and chatting on the porch.

The float also let her befriend some neighborhood children. “All it took was for them was to see the animals (on her house float) and catch some recycled throws from my attic, and they loved it,” she said.

True to the truck float culture, Hayes’ house float is a DIY affair. The wild animals are inflatable pool toys, and the plywood backdrop is covered with cut-up plastic tablecloths in jungle-animal prints.

The “Yarrgh d Gras” house float on Cleveland and South Hennessey streets. (Mid-City Messenger)
The “Yarrgh d Gras” house float at night. (Mary Millan)

On South Hennessey and Cleveland is the even wilder “Yarrgh d Gras” house float, a Voodoo pirate ship navigating the terrors of the Gulf.

Mary Millan, a Voodoo priestess and the proprietor of Blood Mary’s Tours, lives in the home with her husband, Matthew Pouliot, their son and assorted ghosts, including Edward, who built the house in 1895.

Matthew Pouliot works on the waves for the pirate ship house float. (Mary Millan)

Edward has approved the house float, Millan said, adding: “He has a say in everything that goes on here.”

The float features a treasure chest of pirate’s booty and a cast of characters that includes Captain Agwe, Jean Lafitte, Brave Ghede (the guardian of the bones), the captive Marassa children, a crocodile, a mermaid and a Kraken sea creature.

Millan wants to add a plank but can’t decide who they should have walk the plank; she may put the question to the Facebook group.

At first, she tried to pull in friends who are float artists, but they were already too busy with house floats. Then she tried Stronghold Studios, but it was booked up, too.

So she created the pirate float with a team that included her family and a crew from her businesses — she owns the Haunted Museum as well Blood Mary’s Tours. She was able to use mannequins from her shop to create the figures.

“It’s not perfect,” Millan said, “but, hey. we had our fun with this.”

“Pinch the Tail” on Bienville Street. (Mid-City Messenger)

On Bienville Street near the St. Margaret’s at Mercy nursing home, two house floats stand in juxtaposition to each other, one displaying the visual appeal of a professionally created house float and the other the charms of the DIY variety.

The “Pinch the Tail” crawfish boil float in front of NOLA Living Title isn’t part of the Krewe of House Floats. It was created through the Krewe of Red Beans’ Hire a Mardi Gras Artist initiative.

“There’s so much we could have put on the building,” said Jessica Gorman, the firm’s graphic artist. “The crawfish boil is an all-time favorite, and we thought it went well with the hot real estate market.”

The staff has enjoyed the public response to the float, which includes cutouts of owner and broker Eric Hernandez with his goddaughter catching throws, an NOPD officer on parade duty and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is popping up on house floats all over town, on the stoop.

“We wanted to give back to the city,” said Amanda Largaespada, NOLA Living’s title processor. “And we wanted to make this building pop and make our business someplace where people can come and look and enjoy.”

“Mardi Gras-opoly” on Bienville. (Mid-City Messenger)

When next-door neighbor Michelle LeBlanc came home the day “Pinch the Tail” went up, she knew she had to create a house float of her own. It was too late to get on the Krewe of House Floats map, but she persevered anyway.

Her “Mardi Gras-opoly” was inspired by the shape of her porch, LeBlanc said. She had a square to work with, which suited a board game.

You don’t want to pass Go in this game without grabbing a go-cup. The Community Chest has some Popeyes chicken, and the No Parking square has the dreaded neon-orange envelope — although at least you do not get towed.

It’s made from the light and durable corrugated plastic used for yard signs. It was easy to hang, LeBlanc said — except for the wind. “I was cursing like a maniac” while putting it up during a windy weekend, she said.

Despite difficulties finding materials and with installing them in a strong wind. most participants say they want the house float trend to become a New Orleans Carnival tradition.

“If we keep this tradition, it will keep getting better,” Michelle Hayes said. “We learned a lot this year.”

For a map of the house floats, see here.

Katherine Hart is the managing editor of NOLA Messenger. She can be reached at khart@nolamessenger.com

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