Now admit it, isn’t this the cutest picture you’ve ever seen of me with cow bladders drying over my head?
Let me just say, I loved biology class, so this story didn’t bother me in the least. I also love the pageantry and tradition of Mardi Gras in Mobile, Alabama, so to be invited into the secret world of cow and pig bladders was exciting.
My son Joseph served as my photographer, and dutifully blurred out the faces of the secret society members of The Knights of Revelry (KOR) as they finished the last step in a long process of cleaning, inflating, drying and painting the cow bladders used in their parade on Mardi Gras Day. The emblem of “Folly” attaches three bladders to a mace and beats them loudly against a giant champagne glass, making a rukus of a noise to frighten away bad times, and allow for merriment to rule — even if for just one day.
Here is a photo I found on Pinterest of a previous year’s Folly standing in the champagne glass “banging the bladders.”
I was writing a feature story about the tradition for The Press-Register‘s special Mardi Gras section in Sunday’s newspaper, and after tracking down a few mystic members who were willing to give me details, they invited me to observe and photograph the painting process. How lucky can a girl get, right?
Here’s the story on Sunday’s front page of the Life section, then continued inside. Who knew there was so much to say about bladders other than . . . huh??? Click HERE to read the full story.
In a very secret location, (“Joseph, I’m glad you are with me! Did we turn down the right street?”), the men were assembled and having a great time working. So very nice and welcoming, if they didn’t already have their faces concealed by a paint mask, they ran and put on Mardi Gras masks so we could photograph the strange and fascinating event.
Approximately 200 bladders are prepared, as some will break away from the float and others will pop. They are surprisingly tough, and when beat against the float, make a unique and very LOUD noise!
Here I am getting a tour of the inside of the drying room with a vey important KOR member. The original Krew used the bladders in a time before balloons were invented, and also I would guess at a time when Southerners knew not to waste a single precious part of an animal. Knowing how to throw a party is the essence of Mardi Gras in Mobile, which, don’t forget, is the original home of Mardi Gras in the United States, long before New Orleans was even a city.
It didn’t smell bad at all, and actually on this day, only smelled like fresh paint. The organizational skills and lighthearted spirit of the members let me know this tradition has been around for a long time and everyone knew just what to do.
This is one of the compressor boxes, constructed to inflate the bladders. I give many more details in the full article which can be read HERE, but this tradition has been in existence for almost 150 years — before air compressors. (That would be a very hard job without the compressor!)
There is another Mardi Gras society, The Order of Myths (OOM)who use a pig bladders, painted gold for their version of Folly, who actually chases a Death character, round and round an old broken antebellum column. The OOM parade is the final parade of Mardi Gras evening.
I can’t wait to see this year’s parade and look for the exact bladders I saw being painted. I’m sure I’ll recognize them.
Weird tradition? — to some, yes, but to us, it’s completely normal.
Read the entire story HERE.
Thanks to the wonderful gentlemen of KOR for allowing me to see this exciting tradition!
This is a new story to me and I grew up reading Frances Parkinson Keyes books, many of which took place in New Orleans. And I never realized until you told us about it once that they are just a johnny-come-lately to the Mardi Gras tradition. I always thought Mardi Gras was so romantic but bladders are a stretch, you might say!
Way to go getting some members to let you see all this!
Our traditions will never cease to amaze me. What a special treat for you and the photographer! Leslie Anne, I want to go with you on a field trip one day.
Wouldn’t that be fun! You bring the picnic basket full of your goodies and I’ll drive!
Is your article on AL.com? I’d love to read it. Our daughter, a doc student at LSU, will be riding in a parade in New Orleans next weekend (husband is from there) and she can’t wait. I’m so happy she’s doing something fun and social, and so far she loves being a part of a Krewe.
How exciting! I hope she has good weather for her parade. Yes, if you click the links in the post, it will take you to AL.com to read the full story.
This is funny at first look but it is really interesting. This would be the first I’ve read of the tradition of the bladders had I not watched one of the networks news shows. Either Sixty Minutes or another production like it. Cute pic of you with the bladders hanging over your head. Funny how they paint them! Great post for this Mahdi Gras season!
Thanks Emily. You may have seen the story a few years ago on “Dirty Jobs” when the host, Mike Rowe came to town ad followed them through the entire proceedure. I watched it for background info and it was pretty much like cutting up a chicken, which isn’t totally gross, but still not my favorite kitchen job! Glad I was just there for the painting!