It’s Mardi Gras season, so the #52Ancestors prompt of “courting” made me think of Mardi Gras courts. I have never been involved in Mardi Gras. When I was little, Mardi Gras wasn’t very big anywhere that I lived, and Pensacola’s similar event that was huge, the Fiesta of Five Flags, always seemed like something exclusively for the wealthy, except for the parades, where the rich would toss us poor folks inexpensive favors. Now, of course, there are multiple parades and events in Northwest Florida from Twelfth Night to Fat Tuesday, and plenty of Krewes are more accepting of “ordinary” people. I suppose, though, I’m past the time when I would have been interested in those kinds of events.
I do, however, have a special souvenir of Mardi Gras in Pensacola. It was given to me many years ago by my Great-Aunt Nell Wise Cook. At that time, she didn’t have any grandchildren, and I visited and stayed over with her several times.
Aunt Nell was my favorite aunt. When I was little (elementary school age), I didn’t really understand how I was connected to my aunts and uncles (and, of course, some of them weren’t real aunts and uncles at all). Now I can tell you that Aunt Nell was the wife of my maternal grandfather’s brother Horace Cook. Uncle Horace died when I was about three years old, so I never really knew him. I can picture him, though, because Aunt Nell had, hanging in her den, a large portrait of him. He’s wearing a fez, because he was a member of the Shriners.
I think one reason I was fascinated by Aunt Nell was that she seemed very elegant. Always perfectly coifed. Years later, I learned she had been a hairdresser, so of course, her hair would be perfect, wouldn’t it?! When we visited, we spent most of our time in the den, which had French doors that opened onto a brick patio shaded by a large oak tree. Her immaculate back lawn seemed to stretch forever, surrounded by beautiful flower beds. She had a blonde cocker spaniel named Rachel, who was adorable. Back in the den, she had a bookcase with wonderful issues of National Geographic magazine. Off the den was the seldom used living room with white furniture, and a dining room with a mural on the wall. Her kitchen was the first I ever remember seeing that had an island in it.
She had a boyfriend named Charles, whose last name I do not remember. I’m sure I met him, but mostly I heard her talk about him. She and Charles went to a dance or were traveling somewhere exciting together. I think knowing Aunt Nell was the closest I ever got to “society.”
During one visit, Aunt Nell he gave me this silver pendant on a long silver chain. It says “Mardi Gras Court” on once side and “D of N 1972” on the other. I’m sure she told me what it all meant back then, but I couldn’t remember, and Aunt Nell passed away years ago. This prompt had me wondering if I could learn more about it.
I first went to Newspapers.com and started searching for information about Mardi Gras events in 1972. I tried searching with and without Aunt Nell’s name. I searched for Mardi Gras events related to the Hadji Shrine Temple. I Googled “D of N” and came up with nothing useful.
Then I went to a Facebook group called “You Grew Up in Pensacola If You Remember…” and I used the search box on the page to look up “Mardi Gras.” Skimming down past lots of historical and modern photographs, I finally came across one that referred to “Daughters of the Nite.” Google had nothing related on that, so on a hunch, I tried “Daughters of the Nile.”
I found an article from 1974 about a visit to Pensacola from the organization’s Supreme Queen. It says the local Shimron Temple raised more than $2,000 the previous year, with money helping pay for braces, special shoes, and other gear needed by patients at Shriners’ Children’s Hospitals.
While their Mardi Gras activities aren’t detailed in the Pensacola paper, I imagine they had a ball and perhaps they had a float in the big parade downtown – or shared one with the Hadji Shrine Temple.
Most of the other references to the organization that came up in the newspaper were obituaries, and that prompted me to look at Aunt Nell’s, which listed her as a member. I should have started there first, shouldn’t I?
Years after Aunt Nell gave me this necklace, her son married and now has two children. One day I will give this necklace back to them, but for now, I will pull it out and wear it for Mardi Gras season, and think of my visits to my gracious and elegant aunt.