Monday, June 24, 2024

North Side Skull And Bone Gang Will Wake Up New Orleans On Mardi Gras Day

In the early morning hours of Mardi Gras day, as New Orleans residents dream of the floats and throws from the nights before, a much scarier parade awaits them right outside their door. The Treme neighborhood will be awoken by the North Side Skull and Bone Gang in their hand painted skeleton outfits and paper-mâché skulls. This is a tradition that goes back 200 years, reminding New Orleanians of their mortality. 

North Side Skull And Bone Gang
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict
North Side Skull And Bone Gang
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

The tradition dates back to 1819 and African spirituality, but the gang views its role in New Orleans as the “literal meaning of Carnival, the shedding of flesh.” This black masking tradition is a form of communal resistance to poverty and gentrification, honoring ancestors, reclaiming power, and expressing joy, grief, and strength.

Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict
North Side Skull And Bone Gang
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

The sound of drums and skeletons knocking on doors fills the streets, and the skeletons yell out their haunting phrases, “You Next!” and “The End is Near.” One of the gang’s goals is to warn the younger generations away from the dangers of the streets, such as violence and drug use. 

Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

Members of the Skull and Bone Gang create their costumes in the days leading up to Mardi Gras. Since the group began back in the 1800’s, full of working-class men in impoverished neighborhoods, their costumes are simply made, using only the essentials.

North Side Skull And Bone Gang
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

Their masks are painted to resemble large skulls, ranging from cartoon-like to genuinely frightening. The suits themselves usually consist of all-black clothing painted with basic white skeletal structures. Some members wear aprons with simple drawings and messages such as, “you next,” “come with me to hell,” and “drug did it to me.”

Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

As they have grown in popularity over the years, tourists and locals alike will wake up in the early morning hours of Mardi Gras, hoping to catch a glimpse of the skeletons, or if they’re lucky, have a skeleton show up at their house and command them to dance to the beat of their drums. 

North Side Skull And Bone Gang
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

The North Side Skull and Bone Gang will begin waking up the Treme neighborhood at 5am on Mardi Gras day, ending Carnival season with the reminder that it may be our last, so enjoy it while you can. The krewe will be stepping out at 1924 Bayou Road where they will pay homage to the oldest road in the city of New Orleans. They will end up at Lil Peoples at 1226 Barracks. The Skull & Bone Gang invites everyone to join the procession to start their Mardi Gras day and see the traditions.

See the full 2024 Mardi Gras parade schedule here.

Words by Emily Cigan @emily.cigan and Amy Harris @thetraveladdictig

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Amy Harris
Amy Harris is a writer and photographer who has been traveling for 20 years and flown over 2 million miles to visit over 80 countries on 6 continents. She is a freelance photographer for Invision by Associated Press, AP Images and Rex/Shutterstock. Her work can be seen in various publications and websites including: Rolling Stone, AP Images, National Geographic Books, Fodor’s Travel Guides, Forbes.com, Lonely Planet Travel Guides, JetStar magazine, and Delta Sky Magazine.

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