Rare footage of 1898 Rex parade, oldest surviving Mardi Gras video, uncovered

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A Shreveport native, Mackenzie Roberts Beasley, has helped uncover a piece of Louisiana history, long-lost Mardi Gras footage of the 1898 Rex parade.

Beasley, who works at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art in Washington, D.C., discovered the footage in the Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, she told LSU.

“I had to actually ask my friend who was doing a medical residency at Yale, if I could get her login for her library and a particular database, the International Federation of Film Archives. There are only a couple places that have access to it,” Beasley said.

“My educated guess: people would send films all across the world to see, but no one asked for them back. So, somebody who got it, was able to show it in a theater, and then somebody kept it. Most movie companies never thought they would ever have value again. They thought they would be one-hit wonders,” Beasley said. “But I think this film is really important for Louisiana’s identity. It’s really part of the culture. What do you think of when you hear Louisiana? You think of Mardi Gras.”

The video has no audio but shows ornate floats and costumes. The video’s original catalog entry said, “This picture shows the following floats in the parade of 1898: Corn, Cherries, Coffee, Tea, Boeuf gras, King of the Carnival, Rex.”

The US Library of Congress added the film to the National Film Registry in 2022. Following an inquiry from the Louisiana State Museum, Eye Filmmuseum discovered that it had the oldest surviving moving images of the Mardi Gras parade in its collection.

Eye Filmmuseum says the video was produced by American Mutoscope Company, also known as The Biograph Company, which was founded in 1895. It was the first company in the United States devoted entirely to film production and exhibition. It was one of the prolific companies until its decline in 1916, releasing over 3,000 short films and 12 feature films.

During the height of silent films, Biograph was one of the most respected and influential studios in the world.

Another 150 films from the Mutoscope and Biograph Collection are awaiting further restoration.

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