I’m sitting in a cluttered workshop in New Orleans’ Central City neighborhood.
Surrounding me are plastic containers filled with beads and rhinestones of about every hue imaginable, elaborate feather headdresses, glue guns, oversize spools of thread, and fluffy lime-green tufts that suggest a Muppet has exploded. Along the back wall hang spectacular suits from Mardi Gras past, including a cobalt-blue beauty covered in beaded patches depicting Buffalo Soldiers.
At the center of this craftsman’s chaos sits Dow Edwards, spy boy, or scout, for the Mohawk Hunters, one of about three dozen “tribes” that represent the city’s Mardi Gras Indians.
Edwards is busy putting the finishing touches on his suit, which he has worked on an average of five hours a day for the past nine months. Though the materials alone cost thousands of dollars, he will wear the outfit just three times in public: when parading with the Mohawk Hunters on Mardi Gras, the evening of St. Joseph’s Day—celebrated city-wide on March 19—and “Super Sunday,” the Sunday that falls closest to St. Joseph’s Day.
“The first time I [encountered] the Mardi Gras Indians back in 1968,” Edwards recalls as he glues a strip of purple jingle bells to a pair of bright green boots, “I saw them dancing and singing and I thought, ‘Man, I want to be one of them!’”
Despite having been raised in Uptown, Edwards—a former New England Patriots wide receiver and Army airman who found a second calling as a lawyer—had never known anyone who had gained entry into the exclusive and famously secretive society. But in the days after Hurricane Katrina, he found his entrée when a secretary at his firm introduced him to her boyfriend Tyrone Casby, the big chief, or leader, of the