Day Trips

Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World is where some of the finest parade floats in the world are created

Day Trips
Photo by Gerald E. Mcleod

Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World is a creepy, colorful, fun, historic hall displaying clown heads, statues of celebrities, and parade floats. The New Orleans floatmaker's warehouse and factory is a wonderland of friendly giants. When you see the floats up close, you realize that some of these creations are nearly two stories tall and the chiseled features of the laughing faces are kind of spooky in a carnivalesque way.

If you can't make it to New Orleans to see the parades during Mardi Gras, the next best thing is to visit the parade floats in their retirement home on your next trip to the Crescent City. "As soon as the parades are over, we start working on next year's floats," Barry Kern said during a tour of his Styrofoam-sculpture factory in the summer of 2009.

Some of the pieces of past floats are recycled while other parts are stored in the 400,000-square-foot warehouse along the riverfront in the Lower Garden District of downtown. The warehouse is so big that employees ride bicycles and electric golf carts to get around it. The guided tours only go through a small portion of the collection of characters spanning more than 60 years.

The business began in 1947, when Blaine Kern, the son of a sign painter and Barry's father, was hired to paint a float for the Krewe of Alla. At the time, the Krewe of Alla was the largest parade organization on the West Bank of New Orleans. From then on he was in demand to design and build floats for other parades.

One of his biggest jobs was building floats for the Krewe of Rex, the most prestigious parade of all. The krewe eventually sent Blaine to study the art of float-making in Italy. Blaine's training gave subsequent Mardi Gras floats a distinctive European flavor.

Blaine Kern wasn't content with just working on other people's floats. In 1969 he co-founded the Krewe of Bacchus. The krewe started the tradition of a celebrity king on its float beginning with Danny Kaye and including Bob Hope, Jim Belushi, Nicholas Cage, and many other celebrities over the years.

As the premier float-building studio in the country, the company has expanded to parades outside of New Orleans. Barry Kern now runs the business that caters to clients around the U.S. and in Japan, France, and Korea. The studio also does props for movies, theme parks, and casinos.

Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World is at 1380 Port of New Orleans Place in New Orleans. The only way to get past the gift shop is with a guide. Not only do you get to see the floats up close on the tours, but visitors see current projects in progress. Tours are about an hour long and are offered between 9:30am and 4:30pm. For more information, call 504/361-7821 or go to www.mardigrasworld.com.

1,021st in a series. Collect them all. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Blaine Kern, Mardi Gras World, New Orleans, Barry Kern, Lower Garden District, Krewe of Alla, West Bank, Krewe of Rex, Krewe of Bacchus

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