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Oh yes, it’s Carnival time…

3rd March 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Edwin Harrison – Masking Again after 50 Years

The last time Edwin Harrison masked Indian was 50 years ago. It was 1964 and he was a member of the White Eagles Mardi Gras Indian gang and his brother, Donald Harrison Sr., was chief. On Carnival Day 2014, Harrison will again put on a suit and this time hit the streets with his nephew, Donald Harrison Jr., and the Congo Square Nation Afro-New Orleans cultural group.

“I promised Donald {Jr.} that before I go home, I would be an Indian with him,” says Edwin of his decision to go out with his tribe. “I masked with his Daddy a lot of times.”Edwin-Harrison-030314

Edwin first masked Indian in 1958, following in the tradition of his brother Donald, who began masking with the White Eagles in 1948. “I followed them long before I started masking, back when Big Chief Fletcher was the chief of the White Eagles,” Harrison remembers. “I would go to practices and everything.”

His first position was as chief scout of the Creole Wild West and Donald was the second chief. The next year, Donald became chief and held the gang until 1963 when he turned it over to Edwin who then became the Big Chief of the Creole Wild West. In 1964, Donald returned to the streets leading the White Eagles with his brother Edwin at his side. (Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr., would also stop masking Indian for several decades until he formed his own gang, the Guardians of the Flame in 1988.)

Finding it too expensive to continue masking Indian, Edwin gave it up but not his love of the tradition or the street culture. In the early 1970s, he joined the Men’s Jolly Bunch Social & Pleasure Club. “It was sort of like a shortcut from doing all that sewing and staying up all night,” Edwin explains. “With the Jolly Bunch you go out and buy what you want – the pants, the shoes…” After several years, Harrison became the club’s chief of directors that was a mounted group that rode horses. His two sons also rode with the Jolly Bunch.

Harrison, 75, has some great memories about the time he and his wife, Rose, were the king and queen of the Money Wasters Social Aid & Pleasure Club. They arrived at the start of the parade at Hunter’s Field by helicopter where a carriage with four horses awaited them. “I intend to be the king of the Money Wasters again too before I go home,” he declares. He is presently also an honorary member of the Black Men of Labor club and holds the advisory position of council chief for his niece, Cherice Harrison’s tribe, the Young Guardians of the Flame.

Meanwhile, Harrison is busy sewing as he gets ready to hit the streets with the Congo Square Nation. He’s using one of Donald Jr.’s suits as a base — changing colors, making arm bands, boots and a “target” headband out of plumes to take the place of a crown which, he worried, might be too heavy for him as he intends to do some serious walking.

“My main thing is the route,” Edwin declares. “Donald usually comes downtown in a truck and goes back home in a truck. That’s not masking Indian. So Donald is coming out of his house (at 4427 Walmsley Street) and I want to meet him on Washington Avenue and Thalia (at the bridge) and me and him will do a number and sing together. Then we’ll go out Thalia and then go to Gravier and Broad and do a show for the prisoners because that was Donald’s {Big Chief Donald Sr.} thing.” Harrison looks forward to traveling down Conti where he remembers back in the day there was “nothing but Indians.”

“I want to go through there and make enough noise to wake up the people and have them running in their nightclothes and coming to the windows. I want them to hear the drums and stop what they’re doing and to get them breaking out of their houses early in the morning. That’s a beautiful thing.”

The plan is to arrive at North Claiborne and Orleans avenue before the arrival of the Zulu parade and eventually head to the Backstreet Cultural Museum.

“I’m looking for old-time Indians to come out and support us and for us to be on the back streets as much as we can.”
Backstreet’s All-Day Street Party

In keeping in the old-style tradition, Mardi Gras festivities start early on the holiday at the Backstreet Cultural Museum, 1116 Henriette Delille St. where folks can have breakfast with the Northside Skull and Bone Gang starting at 6 am. The museum, which specializes in Mardi Gras Indians, jazz funerals and social aid and pleasure clubs, has become a regular stopping off spot for Black Indians, skeletons, baby dolls and masqueraders. A deejay keeps the party rolling and drinks and food are for sale. Importantly, on this day, port-o-lets are also available. The museum is located just blocks away from North Claiborne and Orleans avenues, where the Zulu parade can be caught and that remains a hotspot for Mardi Gras Indian meetings. It’s also not far away from the newly reopened – just in time! — Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge another great locale for catching Indians as they travel along Claiborne Avenue.

Louisiana Music Factory – Grand Opening on Frenchmen

“Once I get some sleep and get settled in I feel like I’m really going to like the space itself and definitely being on Frenchmen,” says Barry Smith the owner of the Louisiana Music Factory that recently moved from Decatur Street to 421 Frenchmen Street. The “Factory,” as many locals call it, celebrates its grand opening from noon to 5 pm on Saturday, March 12, 2014. “Everybody there has just been very welcoming and I feel like a little part of the neighborhood and community.”

As promised, a stage has been erected for the Music Factory’s legendary in-store performances that on Saturday will include sets by the Iguanas, Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone, Eric Lindell and Tuba Skinny.

Little by little the new locale is getting spruced up. A plywood imagine of Dr. John, painted by Linda Lesperance, now greets customers as they enter the building with one of Kermit Ruffins doing likewise inside the store.

“I forgot how much stuff I accumulated after 18 years. It’s been a little bit of a challenge but I’m making everything fit.”

This article originally published in the March 3, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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