Even though Carnival is over, its memory is still fresh. I know some people who have yet to recover! So I will gladly answer your very good question: tradition, my friend, tradition.
Rex first paraded in 1872, and it is this organization, officially called the School of Design, that gave us many of the traditions of Mardi Gras: the King of Carnival, the Boeuf Gras, the Carnival colors and the anthem "If Ever I Cease to Love." But Rex -- like the other old-line krewes Comus, Momus and Proteus -- never established the tradition of having his queen ride in the parade.
In fact, that first year, there was no queen at all or even a ball. But on Mardi Gras night of 1873, it was a different story. For his first ball, Rex -- Louis J. Salomon -- rented Exposition Hall and issued 4,000 invitations. Folks came dressed in Carnival costumes, their Sunday best and what have you. The orchestra played the already traditional Rex theme song, and the king and his nobles marched around the ballroom.
The ladies were all atwitter because everyone knew that a queen would be chosen that night at the ball. Hearts were broken and hopes were dashed as one by one the damsels were rejected. Then Rex stopped in front of Mrs. Walker Fearn, a young matron whose husband was in the diplomatic service. Mrs. Fearn, Fanny Hewitt, was totally surprised to be selected and had not even considered it a possibility. She had come to the ball wearing her second-best black silk dress and a bonnet, the same outfit she had worn during the day to watch the parade. She attempted to refuse the honor, but Rex placed a cushion at her feet and commanded her to kneel. Mrs. Fearn obeyed. She tossed her bonnet to her husband and smiled when Rex replaced it with a jeweled crown. He then fastened a queenly mantle around her shoulders and, as the orchestra played the anthem, led her to the throne where they greeted their subjects.
The next year, Rex chose his queen in a different fashion. During the parade, he paused at a reviewing stand. Sitting in the stand was debutant Margaret Maginnis. Rex waved his scepter, pointed it at her, and she became the second Queen of Carnival. Since then, Rex has chosen as his consort a debutante from the upper echelon of society.
In 1876, the Queen of Carnival had three maids in attendance at the ball, and the following year there were four. Before long, there were eight maids and dukes to escort them and pages to attend the king. Then came the tradition of toasting the queen and her court during the parade. Rex stopped at the Boston Club at 824 Canal St. Waiting there, in afternoon dress, were the Queen and her court. Rex would give her flowers and toast her with champagne, dashing the glass to the ground before moving on, a touching moment to be sure. Rex still toasts his queen, but now the ceremony is held at the Hotel Inter-Continental on St. Charles Avenue.
I would like to know if there's a history behind the street names "Soldiers" and "Aviators," which run off St. Bernard Avenue near Robert E. Lee. Was Madrid Street always Madrid, or was it called "Sailors" perhaps?
Both Aviators and Soldiers streets were developed by a Mr. Blight in 1919. These streets were named in honor of the aviators and sailors who defended our country in World War I. It appears that Mr. Blight chose not to recognize the sailors.
Madrid Street was originally Dublin Street. It was so named by Alexander Milne, the wealthy Scottish landowner and philanthropist of the 1830s, but its name was changed in 1911. Milne named his lakeshore town Milneburg and many of the streets after cities, including Edinburgh, the chief city of his native land. I'm not sure that Milne would have been thrilled to know that in 1924 this street's name was changed to Hibernia because there was already a street named Edinburgh elsewhere.