Published: 
Tuesday, February 9, 2021
By Eli A. Haddow, marketing associate

Mardi Gras parades may be canceled for 2021, but historically, a lapse in organized parades has not stopped the people of New Orleans from celebrating their grandest holiday of the year. This pandemic-altered festival is no exception, as we’ve seen the birth of a new tradition: house floats. 

As the images below demonstrate, these installations range from homespun to highfalutin—and while the form may be new, the resourcefulness on display has solid roots in Carnival history. 

New Orleanians are known for ingenuity when it comes to celebrations; in fact, we do it so well that sometimes people wonder about our capacity for anything else. In 1872, one Mardi Gras tourist dealt the city a backhanded compliment when he complained, “what a pity that they have not the same energy for real work that they display in getting up amusements.” 

The Krewe of House Floats (KoHF), founded by Megan Boudreaux, has given people across New Orleans a reason to “get up amusements” in the midst of the worst pandemic to hit the United States in 100 years. According to Doug MacCash of Nola.com, Boudreaux started the organization with a Facebook group, hoping her Algiers Point neighbors would join her in festooning their homes.  

Several thousand followers and dozens of “sub-krewes” later, Boudreaux’s idea incited a local phenomenon that’s making national headlines. Since the launch of the Facebook group in November 2020, hundreds of displays—ranging from homemade to professionally installed—have popped up in the city and in as far-flung places as Alaska, Australia, and Abu Dhabi, according the official KoHF map. 

This is not the first year we’ve encountered a Carnival without parades. THNOC’s Emily Perkins and Katherine Dunn pointed out in a recent story that it’s happened 14 times in the past. The Spanish flu pandemic caused the last disease-related cancellations: parades and balls were scaled back in 1919 to avoid transmission of the deadly virus. The result was a series of impromptu parades and walking groups that took to the streets to celebrate in the absence of a singular spectacle. 

In a story that rings true today, the Times-Picayune professed: “Orleanians who mourn the passing of Carnival need not mourn the coming of Mardi Gras Day with melancholy this year, for if they feel a need for celebration, they are at liberty to start one of their own.” 

The proliferation of house floats this year is arguably the result of forces that were already at play in the evolution of Carnival celebrations. THNOC’s Lydia Blackmore is currently researching the topic of Mardi Gras artistry for an exhibition scheduled to open in January 2022. She sees the house floats as a continuation of changes that have been taking place since Hurricane Katrina. 

“Katrina disrupted the New Orleans social structure so much, with the loss of population and then influx of non-natives,” said Blackmore. “This led to people creating their own ways to celebrate Mardi Gras. Dance groups, walking krewes, and other organizations opened membership and participation to anyone with the time, money, and energy to participate. The 2020 pandemic, another major disaster, opened up one more level of accessibility, allowing anyone to participate without leaving their homes or neighborhoods. These disasters served both to disrupt New Orleans culture and to bring the city together as a community.” 

Blackmore also notes that the widespread decoration of house floats returns Mardi Gras festivities to a more neighborhood-centric experience, reversing a decades-old trend to consolidate organized parades along a few well-defined routes. 

To document this historic Carnival innovation as it unfolds, THNOC photographers Keely Merritt and Melissa Carrier have traversed New Orleans to capture house floats based on the map provided by the KoHF. These are 14 of their favorites. 


1. 430 Bouny Street


This was one of the obvious choices. It just makes you stop, say wow, and smile. —Keely 

2. 5414 St. Charles Avenue

I stumbled upon this house while shooting another home and couldn’t believe how elaborate the design was. —Melissa 

 

3. 2425 Valmont Street

The ladders made me stop and take in all of the details of the house. It made me feel like I was on Napoleon Avenue on Mardi Gras day watching the truck parades roll by. —Melissa 

 

4. 605 Vallette Street 

This one was so busy that I stood there for a while to take it all in! —Keely 

 

5. 2918 Bell Street

I saw a photo of the Leah Chase house float in the newspaper and I knew I had to see it in person. Needless to say, it didn’t disappoint. —Melissa 

 

6. 441 Hamilton Street

The older West Bank neighborhoods like Algiers Point and Old Gretna had many decorated houses, I think having an old house with a porch and railing might make it easier or more adaptable to becoming a float. Even if it was a single shotgun like this one.  —Keely 

 

7. 2412 Burgundy Street

While I was shooting a House Float on St. Roch Avenue, a woman stopped me and suggested I go checkout the Llama house around the corner, it was much more than I expected. —Melissa 

  

8. 3100 Desoto Street

I like to call this one the snowball house. The colors grabbed my attention but all the added details in the birds and the box of chocolates made me stop to take it all in. —Melissa 

 

9. 5747 Brighton Street

In the neighborhoods with more contemporary houses, they decorated the front of the house but really took advantage of the yard as well. —Keely 

 

10. 2104 General Pershing Street

“Waiting for Mardi Gras” is one of my favorite house floats so far, because as I shot it, I was able to appreciate all the detail put into the actions of the skeletons. As I was taking my last shot of the house a woman walked up with her three dogs; little did I know she was the homeowner. Kelly Lusco was kind enough to pose with her home for me. —Melissa 

  

11. 1730 Milan Street

I was impressed to see the entire balcony filled with mannequins wearing Mardi Gras float and ball attire. —Melissa 

 

12. 19 Tulip Street

I think this was one of my favorites, down in the lower or younger part of Gretna. It was this tiny, decorated ranch house, colorful and happy and joining in the celebration.  No one else around was decorated, but they were giving it their all! —Keely 

  

13. 1737 Milan Street

I admired the natural flowers in the yard of this home before I even saw the decorations. —Melissa 

  

14. 5531 St. Charles Avenue

The bold yellow and red colors grabbed my attention, but the circus drew me closer to the gate of the home to see all the animals. —Melissa