Living

Flashback: World War II era Mardi Gras on the Coast

By MURELLA H. POWELL

Special to the Sun Herald

COURTESY LOCAL HISTORY DEPARTMENT BILOXI PUBLIC LIBRARYSouthland Studio stood on the south side of East Howard Avenue between Lameuse Street and Main Street in Biloxi.
COURTESY LOCAL HISTORY DEPARTMENT BILOXI PUBLIC LIBRARYSouthland Studio stood on the south side of East Howard Avenue between Lameuse Street and Main Street in Biloxi.

This Southland Studio (shown in the background) photo is dated 1943, but the date has to be an error. Except for a small number of carnival balls, Mardi Gras was not observed in Biloxi during the World War II years. Judging from the clothing styles of the onlookers, it is most likely the Mardi Gras parade of March 5, 1946.

The 1946 parade route was flooded with "make-believers" who hoped to win the $100 cash prize in the categories of most attractive, unusual or humorous costumes. Unusual is the only way to describe the person walking in this photo. Note the faces of the children. They seem more puzzled than amused.

Biloxi went all out to revive the prewar celebration of Mardi Gras. Reigning over the festivities were James S. Love, owner of the Buena Vista and White House Hotels as King d'Iberville and Jane Matthes, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Matthes, as Queen Ixolib. With post-war funds still tight, Ixolib's gown and train were made from the materials of a parachute.

Old-timers proclaimed that 1946 was the best Mardi Gras ever. Thousands enjoyed both morning and night parades, but the afternoon was given over to the African-American Zulu parade. Joseph Pear acted as King Zulu. The queen, costumed in a shimmering white gown, was Walter Jackson, actually a man. But, it was said that he did better than any female impersonator.

Murella H. Powell, a local historian, writes the weekly Flashback column. Do you have a local photograph to submit to Flashback? It can be of any subject or event in the Coast's distant or recent past. Please send a description with your name, address and daytime phone number to Flashback, the Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535; or call 896-2424; or email living@sunherald.com.

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