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parade float is designed like a cornucopia with an oversize paper Mache chef with hat and apron standing behind a paper Mache oversize white bull with a garland around its neck. Seven of the float riders dressed in white like a chef but masked wearing and are standing throwing Mardi Gras beads with the crowd n the foreground and background
The Boeuf Gras float from the Krewe of Rex parade on Mardi Gras day March 8, 2011. (Carol M. Highsmith Collection / Library of Congress)

Carnival Season and the Street Sweepers

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When I ran across the street cleaning article pictured below, my thoughts went to one of my favorite Carnival traditions — the ceremonial closing of Mardi Gras. For those that don’t know, on Tuesday night after all the parades have finished their routes, city officials lead a ceremonial walk down Bourbon to close down Carnival (though festivities do continue). They are followed by, in many ways, the most important signal that Mardi Gras and the Carnival season are over — street sweeping machines starting the clean-up.

article "New solutions for street cleaning puzzles to be shown" with the subtitle: Exhibition To Be Opened Tomorrow Will Explain How Commissioner Felhertson and His Aids Hope to Give This City a Service of the Highest Efficiency. There is one drawing of a street sweeper with his horse and three photos of street sweeping vehicles of different varieties
New-York Tribune, November 22, 1914. (Chronicling America / Library of Congress)

Carnival season creates a lot of detritus — literally tons of it, 1,162 tons in 2023 — and much of it comes from the throngs that have gathered on Mardi Gras day alone. All of that clean-up is the job of New Orleans’ Department of Sanitation which fires up the street sweeping machines and hires a small army of temporary workers to clean up the city as fast as possible, so what is left behind doesn’t end up clogging the storm drains. Unclogged storm drains are quite important to a city that gets so much rain!

sterescope from the Keystone View Company with a sea of mostly men in hats in front of buildings where many windows have bunting.
A sea of humanity – Canal St. during the Mardi Gras – New Orleans, La., 1926. (Library of Congress)

As for the street sweeping machines themselves, they have their own history. While the history of mechanical street sweeping machines dates to the first half of the 19th century, in 1879 Eureka Frazer Brown patented a much-improved machine. Then in 1896, Charles B. Brooks was issued patent 556,711 for a sweeper truck that looked a bit more like one we would recognize today, because it was equipped with revolving brushes (Brooks also patented  a dust-proof collection bag for his street sweepers). Just a handful of years later, in 1904, Florence Parpart was issued patent 762,241. Her design was a modification of Brooks’, but with the broom placed behind the wheel and it became the foundation of the machines we see today.

caption says "Reception of Rex at the City Hall - Mardi Gras" crowds fill the view on both sides of the street and in the grand stands of City Hall with city buildings in the background
Souvenir of New Orleans: photo-gravures created by T. F. Gessner; Brooklyn, N.Y., The Albertype Company. (Library of Congress)

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