An article in the July 26, 1906, Saratogian
of Saratoga Springs, New York,
raised an interesting prospect under this
headline: “Here is a Chance for Saratoga
Souvenirs, Real Ones, Unique, and No
Duplicates in Existence. Take a Purple
Float Home.” It seems that Benjamin P.
Wheat, receiver of the defunct Saratoga
Floral Association, was anxious to unload
“eighteen Mardi Gras floats that received
more advertising on their way from New
Orleans to Saratoga than William J. Bryan
on his European tour.” The floats had been
collecting dust for several years in a barn
near the Adirondack Railroad. After that
fleeting reference, though, the historical
record fades. We don’t know who, if anyone,
bought them, or where they ended up.
|Rex and Proteus floats were transported to New York for the "Floral Fete and Carnival."
What were floats from New Orleans
doing in a village so far away from home
in the first place? To answer that question,
it’s necessary to step further back in time.
The resort town in upstate New York attracted
visitors from as far away as Europe
in the early part of the 19th century, and
by the Victorian era it was the place to
see and be seen....
In 1893, a Boston merchant and summer
visitor named Franklin Webster Smith
raised concerns that vice—in particular,
gambling and horse racing—would be
the spa’s downfall. He brought the village
council a proposal for “A Greater
Saratoga” that would elevate Saratoga to
the level of the great European spas. His
plan included a Floral Fete—a parade and
battle of flowers that would take place at
the end of the summer season, and on
September 4, 1894, the Floral Festival
Association of Saratoga Springs held its first events...
|Broadside from 1901 Saratoga Floral Parade and Carnival.
In February 1901, a group of businessmen
representing the recently incorporated
Saratoga Floral Association visited New
Orleans to observe Mardi Gras and to
purchase the floats and costumes from
that year’s Rex Pageant....
Teri Blasko is the local history librarian
at the Saratoga Springs Public Library in
Saratoga Springs, NY. Her husband, Jeff
Durstewitz, is the co-editor, with Ruth Williams,
of the award-winning Bantam memoir,
Younger Than That Now—A Shared
Passage From the Sixties.
|Program from the 1901 Saratoga Floral Parade and Carnival. All images courtesy of Saratoga Room Collection, Saratoga Springs Public Library.
These four postcards are part of a souvenir
set of twelve postcards printed from the 1901
Floral Fete and Carnival, Saratoga. Shown
here are the Rex Floats: Poetry, Music,
Marriage, and Art. To see the entire set, visit
This article, excerpted here, appeared in Voices Vol. 38, Spring-Summer 2012. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.
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