Where Yat Magazine says of St. Anne:
“The Society of Saint Anne is one of the best not-quite-kept secrets. Those in search of beads, breasts and beer best stay by Bourbon Street, as they will not appreciate the beauty and pageantry of this walking club. But those needing a respite from the unimaginative verbal assaults, the stench of urine and groping crowds need only walk one block out of the Quarter on Tuesday morning.
The R Bar, at the corner of Royal and Kerlerec, is one of the many hosts that will greet, with open arms and libations, the magic. For certain, the Society of St. Anne dispenses magic from its first strut beginning in the Ninth Ward and along its path through the old neighborhoods eager to receive the walking procession’s good cheer.
It is this corner, just outside the Vieux Carre, that seems to marry and unite the neighborhoods on both sides of Esplanade. And for those joining the regalia’s ranks, it is a welcomed culture shock. The wanna-be Mardi Gras of crassness is left behind and replaced by theater. Venetian vintage capes and gowns of velvet adorn those whose identify is masked in the commedia dell’arte tradition. Papier-mâché creatures prance, fairies flit, cowboys and cowgirls ride tall on galloping bicycles, and renegade feathers float among Elvis kings and six foot queens.
The Society of Saint Anne’s wending from somewhere in the Bywater to Royal, and on to Canal Street to greet the Rex parade, has become pretty much public domain – with folks flocking to watch and join in. Those in the know say that sometime during the ‘80s, the procession began going down to the river after viewing Rex. Initially this was to honor those friends within the Society of St. Anne that had succumbed to AIDS. There at the river, their ashes would be tossed into the Mississippi’s currents. This practice of casting the ashes of those friends wishing one last fling with the Society is tradition now.
This Carnival walking club is not always forthcoming about its precisian – it is, of course, a secret society. But in recent years, a few well-chosen interviews have been granted. From these and from guarded word of mouth, certain facts are as follows. In 1969, Henri Schindler, author (most notably of the definitive text, Mardi Gras, New Orleans), Carnival designer, historian and true devotee of Mardi Gras began the Society of St. Anne along with friends Paul Poche and Jon Newlin. The inception of the society began as a reaction to the ordinance that banned the old-line parades from the Vieux Carre.
The naming of this band of costumed marchers apparently was inspired by the trio’s discovery of a tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No.1 honoring the Societe’ de Sainte Anne, a benevolent society founded by the Sisters of Charity. And from the quiet of a cemetery grew a vibrant and colorful tradition.
While this caravan of revelers has grown from the imaginations of three to easily over 2000 costumed participants on Mardi Gras Day, the core group is rumored to number around 200. It is this creative core that plots and plans throughout the year with parties, a rumored ball and extensive work creating the exquisite costumes and their signature hula-hoops flowing with ribbons from atop tall poles.
And while much has been written and discussed of the Society of Saint Anne, make no mistake, this organization holds fast to its tenets – secrecy being foremost. Just ask one too many questions, and you will receive a smile, but with it a coy yet firm “No comment.””