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“.
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:
Ulysses Grant, however, was instantly recognizable:
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).
h/t Dominic via i09