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

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 Comments

  1. Bonzodog
    Posted February 7, 2013 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    I thought that the first one was Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream!

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted February 7, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      That was my thought too!

  2. Adam Baker
    Posted February 7, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    If U.S. Grant evolved from a tobacco grub worm, why are there still tobacco grub worms?

    • Posted February 7, 2013 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      well done. that made me laugh out loud.

      • Dominic
        Posted February 8, 2013 at 4:35 am | Permalink

        Very good!

  3. Posted February 7, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Given the date (1873) and the focus on attacking U.S. Grant and the Republican Party, could the theme represent an attack on Reconstruction?

  4. Marella
    Posted February 7, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Another reason to celebrate Darwin Day is that it’s my wedding anniversary!

    • MKray
      Posted February 8, 2013 at 4:32 am | Permalink

      And my wife’s birthday.

      • Dominic
        Posted February 8, 2013 at 4:36 am | Permalink

        Many happy ones to come for both of you.

      • Posted February 8, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

        Darwin is your wife!?

        b&

  5. Chris Easterday
    Posted February 7, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    Thought you might appreciate this, even if you’ve already seen it.

    http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/photo.php?fbid=459713027415674&set=a.386414018078909.96241.310545232332455&type=1&theater

    • Dominic
      Posted February 8, 2013 at 4:36 am | Permalink

      Ah – no Facebook…

  6. Filippo
    Posted February 8, 2013 at 4:10 am | Permalink

    “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?

  7. Posted February 8, 2013 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    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.

  8. Posted February 8, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    AND, this year, also Prez Obama’s State of the Union address.

    • Filippo
      Posted February 8, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

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


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