Tuesday, February 6, 1883 — Mardi Gras!

If you can't have king cake (or boudin or crawfish...) on Mardi Gras, what better way to celebrate than to post a blog about everyone else enjoying those things? Alright, so while J.W. Stewart probably wasn't wearing beads or eating a cake adorned with neon green, yellow and purple icing, complete with a plastic baby baked inside, I do know that he was enjoying the New Orleans festivities during the Mardi Gras of 1883. Documented in his daily diary [Mss. A A425 / 33], 61-year-old  J.W. Stewart recounted the day's festivities.

The Mardi Gras Carnival, Louisville, Ky. Street procession / parade illustrating the facts and follies of the day, 1875. It was in 1875 that Louisiana governor declared Fat Tuesday a state-wide holiday, which, of course, it still is today. FHS Subject Photos [EFF-16]

John Wesley Stewart was born in 1822.  He eventually moved to Wisconsin where he speculated in real estate and was elected to the state legislature in the late 1860s.  He moved his family to the Chicago area in 1871 and was instrumental in the early development of Evanston, Ill.  He became an influential citizen and later served on the Cook County Board of Supervisors and the Chicago city council.  His real estate business thrived and he eventually had major developments in Daytona, Fla., Chattanooga, Tenn., as well as Evanston.  He and colleagues also invested in the lumber business and had extensive timber holdings in Michigan.

Stewart, whose diaries are here at The Filson, kept daily records of his goings-ons from 1861 to 1898.  Primary topics in the collection include pre-Civil War politics in Kansas, illness and death of Lt. Joseph Allen, Chicago politics and real estate development in the late 19th century.

Stewart notes that he and members of his party remained in their rooms all day to watch the processions pass in its "supposed grandeur." He notes the many fantastic "carriages and representations of ancient gods and habits and historic representations." The following day he notes that a member of his party was "not so well", mentioning how she stayed out past midnight. Sounds about right, eh?

Fun to note: ten years later Stewart attended (several times) the Columbian Exposition and wrote about it in his 1893 diary. Also present in his 1893 diary are dozens of circular cyanotypes depicting and documenting houses, family and his travels.

Alright, Happy Fat Tuesday, y'all!

Top image: Colored illustration from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 22 March 1873, depicting a Mardi-Gras ball in Louisville, KY.  FHS Medium Prints - Subjects - Events/Fairs and Festivals [EFF]  - PR400.0041                            

Biographical Note

Johna Ebling

Johna Ebling is an Associate Curator of Collections and Exhibits Manager. She studied Journalism and English at Ball State University and earned her master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When she isn’t orchestrating an exhibit or engaging in public outreach, Johna is working with the Filson’s architectural holdings. When away from The Filson, Johna enjoys reading, cooking and spending time with her Chihuahua, husband and friends.

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