New Orleans Mardi Gras parades date back to 1857. Many people attend Mardi Gras. Fewer people participate as members of a krewe, and still fewer work year-round as artists and float builders. My cousin McKinley “Mackie” J. Cantrell, III was one of the artists and builders who worked full-time to bring Mardi Gras to life. A third-generation float builder, Mackie’s grandfather began building floats during the Great Depression. By the mid-70s, “Big Mac” Cantrell had his own company, called McKinley J. Cantrell and Son and was captain of his own parade, the Krewe of Mardi Gras. Cantrell Floats lives on today, but Mackie died suddenly two days after Christmas in 2021. He was forty-seven. He was more of a brother to me, a mentor, who took me on to work with him for an entire year of Carnival preparation in 2011-12. This book is a telling of all my great memories of Mackie. It is a rare glimpse into New Orleans life from an artist’s perspective. As Mackie would say, “It’s a true story, stab-ah.”
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Reedsy Discovery. I voluntarily chose to read and post an honest review.
The Cantrell family has a long history with Madris Gras, dating back to the Great Depression. Their legacy is quite impressive. In The Mayor of Mardi Gras: A Memoir, Gregory Fischer shares fond memories and photos of Mackie Cantrell, his cousin – best friend – and honorary brother.
Every page is a tribute to the man Gregory lost just two short days after Christmas 2021. If you ever have lost someone, you know the pain Mackie’s friends and family have experienced and probably are still experiencing. I didn’t know Mackie, but I felt like I did through Gregory’s storytelling.
Mackie was a Renaissance man, a person with many talents or areas of knowledge. He was an athlete in high school (football and wrestling), an artist, a musician, a singer, a songwriter, and loved books. His favorite was The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. He could snowboard, rode a wakeboard like a pro, and welds. His artistic ability amazed me. I was blown away by the Flintstone vehicle. I could not fathom how in the world he created it. Just WOW!
I’ve been to New Orleans, but I have not enjoyed the thrill of the Carnival Ball. I have seen photographs and news reports on the celebration but never really thought about the time it takes to bring a design to life or the toll it takes on a person’s body to create these elaborate floats and props. At Mackie’s passing, he made hundreds of floats and props. From the photos, he loved every moment he spent sweating over constructing and final touch-ups.
Unfortunately, all parades were canceled in 2021 due to covid. Gregory stated Mackie worried about what 2022 would look like. Would they come back? Mackie’s work will be cherished and admired for years to come. His presence will be felt every year during Mardi Gras. And Mackie will be close to those in spirit—never far from Gregory’s thoughts.
Besides learning much about Mackie, I learned a few things about Mardi Gras floats. One, the first float rolled out in 1857. And two, the floats have a port-a-potty on them. Fascinating!
This book is a joy for anyone to read!
I want to end my review with parting words…
“I’m here for you. Come around anytime. You know where to find me.”
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