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Contagious And Cold: Mardi Gras 2021 Was Quiet But Still Spirited

Aubri Juhasz
Revelers and New Orleans police roam the French Quarter on Mardi Gras. Feb. 16, 2021.

Mardi Gras 2021 — muzzled by a pandemic and and dampened by unusual freezing weather — looked about as expected.

State Climatologist Barry Keim said this Mardi Gras may be the coldest in recent memory, but was not the coldest in history.

“It’s bitterly cold out there, however the 26 degrees in New Orleans is not the coldest Mardi Gras ever,” Keim said.

That record was set more than 120 years ago on February 14, 1899, when temperatures dropped to 22 degrees.

Read more: Low Temps, Icy Weather Across Louisiana Mark 'Bitterly Cold' Mardi Gras

As promised, Bourbon Street was off-limits and the Clairborne underpass was fenced off. Both were under watch by the New Orleans Police Department, whose officers were also patrolling the rest of the city.

Early in the day, police cars drove through the Marigny headed toward the French Quarter, using bullhorns to remind people not to congregate. Officers broke up groups in the Bywater, and when a large group of glitter-clad revelers gathered in the Lower 9th Ward to hear a brass band, police broke it up a few hours in.

“You are in violation of the mayor’s ordinance,” an officer said over a speaker.

Smaller groups who fled from the Lower 9th to the End of the World — the point where the Mississippi River meets the Industrial Canal in the Bywater — were also broken up by NOPD officers.

Credit Patrick Madden / WWNO
A family walks along the streetcar tracks on St. Charles Avenue, looking at house floats on Mardi Gras. Feb. 16, 2021.

Uptown, people in costume strolled along the streetcar tracks and cars lined St. Charles Avenue to look at the house floats — a traffic scene that’s lasted days if not weeks.

In the Marigny, residents sat on their stoops and porches, sipping drinks, chit-chatting amongst themselves, and greeting passersby. A few house floats were pumping out music, including a llama-themed house on Burgundy Street that had a DJ.

Credit Ashley Dean / WWNO
A DJ outside a house float on Burgundy Street in the Marigny eggs on a few dancers in the street on Mardi Gras. Feb. 16, 2021.

A small tour bus was crawling down Burgundy around 3 p.m., periodically unloading masked partiers to take pictures at house floats and dance in the street.

Over on Royal Street, normally a route for the neighborhood’s walking parades, the scene was especially lively. Small groups of masked and somewhat socially distanced revelers lined either side of the street west from Homer Plessy Way. A small bike and foot parade of maybe two dozen people made its way down the street late in the afternoon.

Credit Ashley Dean / WWNO
A small bike and foot parade makes its way down Royal Street from the Bywater through the Marigny on Mardi Gras. Feb. 16, 2021.

By the end of the day, the French Quarter looked like the end of a party that had never started. Confetti littered the mostly empty streets and a few residents sat on balconies and front porches handing out throws.

Businesses were largely shut down — not just bars, as required by the city, but restaurants and retail as well.

While the streets were mostly empty, people gathered in small groups in Jackson Square and in other parts of the French Quarter.

Credit Aubri Juhasz / WWNO
Police officers work to disperse people in the French Quarter as the sun sets on Mardi Gras. Feb. 16, 2021.

As the sun set, more than a dozen state troopers broke up a gathering on Bourbon Street of about 50 people.

Tourists clutching go cups posed in front of the officers' parked vehicles to take pictures.

One reveler stood on the corner heckling officers and shouting, “You’re the fun police.”

Ashley Dean is the digital news editor for New Orleans Public Radio. Before coming to New Orleans, she was the editor of Denverite, a digital news startup now under the Colorado Public Radio umbrella. Prior to that she was a copy editor and features writer at the Denver Post, and before that, a music reporter for the Colorado Daily. She graduated from Columbia University with a master's degree in journalism and from Northeastern University with a bachelor's degree in journalism.
Aubri Juhasz is the education reporter for New Orleans Public Radio. Before coming to New Orleans, she was a producer for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. She helped lead the show's technology and book coverage and reported her own feature stories, including the surge in cycling deaths in New York City and the decision by some states to offer competitive video gaming to high school students as an extracurricular activity.
Bobbi-Jeanne Misick is the justice, race and equity reporter for the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration between NPR, WWNO in New Orleans, WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama and MPB-Mississippi Public Broadcasting in Jackson. She is also an Ida B. Wells Fellow with Type Investigations at Type Media Center.
Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.

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