The Southside branch of the Lafayette Parish Public library hosted a viewing of the PBS program Triumph at Carville, produced by the Wilhelm Group. Claire Manes (pictured left) was available for a question and answer session following the viewing. She was joined by Betty Landreneau, who had served in Carville as a nurse during the late 1960s and early 70s. The video a sensitive portrayal of the history of Carville, its patients, and staff is available from the National Hansen’s Disease museum or from Amazon.com.
The Carville troop of the Boy Scouts of America participated in the Mardi Gras festivities. (Picture courtesy of the NHDM).
King Albert Landry reigned over the Mardi Gras ball. (Picture courtesy of Claire Manes, Out of the Shadow of Leprosy and the NHDM)
Life at the Carville hospital could be lonely, hum drum, and depressing, but at Mardi Gras patients turned their “world downside up.” (Gaudet, Marcia “The World Downside Up,” Carville Remembering Leprosy in America) As early as 1931 Fat Tuesday was celebrated at the hospital; Betty Martin in her book Miracle at Carville recalls the Mardi Gras Ball held that year. A few years later in 1935 Johnny Harmon told of dressing up like Mae West. He says of this cross dressing “I made a great Mae West” (Triumph at Carville produced by the Wilhelm Group). These Mardi Gras traditions continued until the hospital’s closing.
The Mardi Gras at Carville was modeled on the New Orleans style celebration and included a parade, ball, and later doubloons. According to Gaudet, patients worked for months planning, designing and constructing elaborate floats and costumes for the parade that wound down the covered walkways of the Carville campus. Patient organizations and groups developed their plans around the year’s chosen theme. The balls, too, were important affairs with a lavishly dressed king and queen chosen from the patient body to rule the celebration. In later years the Carville Mardi Gras adopted another New Orleans tradition, the use of doubloons as throws. The Carville doubloon minted in a different color each year: silver, gold, green, and purple featured an armadillo on one side, (a symbol of hope for HD patients) and the administration building, (reminiscent of the early years at Carville) on the other. A New Orleans celebrity was also an annual participant in the festivities from the 1980s to the mid-1990s. Father Frank Coco, SJ, clarinetist and chaplain for the Pete Fountain Half Fast Walking Club, led the hospital’s parade each year. Since Father Coco was involved in the Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans on Fat Tuesday, the Carville event was celebrated on the Friday before Mardi Gras to accommodate his other commitments.
At Mardi Gras the residents cast aside lethargy and involved themselves in revelry that mocked their condition as their celebration “transform[ed]…and worked its magic at Carville.” (Gaudet, 145)