New Orleans getting creative for Mardi Gras: Thousands of houses decorated as floats

Gone are the elaborate parades mobbed by crowds during the Carnival season leading to Fat Tuesday

Mardi Gras is coming to New Orleans, but this year featuring special creativity because the coronavirus outbreak canceled the usual festivities.

Gone are the elaborate parades mobbed by crowds during the Carnival season leading to Fat Tuesday; now in their place: thousands of houses are being decorated as floats.

The "house float" movement started Nov. 17 when the city announced parades were off.


That morning, Megan Joy Boudreaux posted what she later called a silly Twitter joke: "We’re doing this. Turn your house into a float and throw all the beads from your attic at your neighbors walking by."

But the more she thought about it, the more she liked it. She started a Facebook group, the Krewe of House Floats, expecting a few friends and neighbors to join. The numbers rose. Thirty-nine subgroups evolved to discuss neighborhood plans.

By Carnival season’s official start Jan. 6, the group had more than 9,000 members, including out-of-state "expats." About 3,000, including a few as far afield as England and Australia, will have their houses on an official online map, said Charlotte "Charlie" Jallans-Daly, one of two mapmakers.

It’s the tourists that will be missed this year.

Still the show must go on.

Some smaller groups announced no-parade plans before the city did.

Pandemic replacements include scavenger hunts for signature trinkets that normally would be thrown from floats or handed out from a streetcar, as well as outdoor art and drive-thru or virtual parades.

The prominent Krewe of Bacchus has an app where people can catch and trade virtual trinkets during Carnival and watch a virtual parade Feb. 14, when the parade had been scheduled.

Boudreaux’s mission will help the day, too.

Discussions in Facebook groups include how-tos, ads for props and neighborhood themes. Artists have given livestreamed outdoor lessons.

Houses are to be decorated at least two weeks before Fat Tuesday, which is Feb. 16 this year. With widespread addresses and two weeks to gawk, the hope is that people will spread out widely in time and space.

"I didn’t think I was starting a Mardi Gras krewe. Here I am," Boudreaux said. "I’ve got myself a second full-time job."


Boudreaux also suggested that people could hire or buy from out-of-work Carnival artists and suppliers hit by the parade cancellation. A spreadsheet of artists and vendors followed. One of them, artist Dominic "Dom" Graves, booked more than 20 five-person classes in professional papier mache techniques, at $100 a person.

Devin DeWulf, who already had started two pandemic charities as head of the Krewe of Red Beans walking club, kicked the house float idea up a few notches at the suggestion of Caroline Thomas, a professional float designer. Their "Hire a Mardi Gras Artist" crowdfunded lotteries collected enough money to put crews to work decorating 11 houses, plus commissioned work at two more houses and seven businesses.

With Mardi Gras approaching, he said a 12th lottery would be the last.

"We’ve put about 40 people to work, which is nice," DeWulf said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.