I always read your column and was hoping you could answer two questions for me. First, what is behind the tradition of eating red beans and rice on Mondays? Second, where did the first Mardi Gras take place?
Legend has it that in the days before modern appliances made it easy to do the family laundry, Monday was the traditional wash day. And believe you me; it took the women all day. Now they still had dinner to worry about, but if they put a pot of red beans on to cook -- perhaps with a ham bone left over from Sunday dinner -- the women could attend to the laundry. Once the beans were cooking, they only needed an occasional stir. By the time the laundry was done, dinner was ready. All that was left to do was cook the rice and the smoked sausage.
As you know, this dish is very popular here. Louis Armstrong loved red beans and rice so much that he sometimes signed his letters "Red beans and ricely yours."
As for Mardi Gras -- French for "Fat Tuesday" -- it has been known to Louisiana since 1699. When Pierre le Moyne, Sieur de Iberville and his men made their way up the Mississippi River, he remembered that Mardi Gras was being celebrated in France that very day, March 2, 1699. So he named his campsite Pointe du Mardi Gras, by which it is still known today.
When Iberville's brother, Bienville, however, founded New Orleans in 1718, there was no time to celebrate. The colonists had their hands full clearing the land and fighting off the mosquitoes. When Fat Tuesday rolled around, there were no parades or balls. However, a mere 25 years later conditions had improved so much that Governor Marquis de Vaudreuil presented an elegant Mardi Gras ball.
As the years went on, people gathered in the streets to celebrate Mardi Gras, and many of them attended masked balls at the first of the public ballrooms, La Salle Conde, which opened in the French Quarter in 1792. And if you were lucky, you might be invited to a Twelfth Night party at one of the plantations.
Mardi Gras as we know it today really had its beginning in Mobile, Ala. First there were the Boeuf Society, which celebrated on Fat Tuesday and the Spanish Mystic Society that gathered on Twelfth Night, Jan. 6. But perhaps the most important contribution to parading took place on New Year's Eve of 1830 when a group of fun-loving guys walked through the streets of Mobile ringing cowbells and making noise with rakes. They called themselves the Cowbellian deRakin Society. They continued this tradition for years, and in 1840 they added floats and introduced a theme to their parade.
When 1857 came, New Orleans saw its first Mardi Gras parade with floats and a theme. Some of the Cowbellians from Mobile, along with local businessmen, organized themselves into the Mistick Krewe of Comus, and on Feb. 24 of that year awed everyone with their torch-lit, themed procession that included floats and costumed maskers. The event was followed by a ball.
Today, of course, when people think Mardi Gras, they think New Orleans.
Would you please tell me what you can about the settlement of Proctorville and where it got its name? It used to appear on state maps but now seems to have been "upstaged" by Yscloskey. Or are they two different locations?
Proctorville and Yscloskey are not two different places in St. Bernard Parish. Although it is now known as Yscloskey, the town was originally called Proctorville. Thomas Proctor was an Irishman who came to America in 1777. During his early days in America, Captain Proctor fought in the American Revolution under General George Washington. When Proctor retired from the army, he moved to Louisiana -- perhaps he hadn't heard about the mosquitoes and the hurricanes -- and was awarded a land grant from the Spanish government.
Sometime later Captain Proctor's town had a name change, but folks can't agree on whether "Yscloskey" was the name of a subsequent property holder or named by the Biloxi Indians who lived in the area.