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MARDI GRAS and THE DEMENTED KREWE – 
A LOCAL HISTORY

Way back in 1992, a small group of friends, feeling themselves stranded far from the comforts of the nearest Mardi Gras celebration, tossed caution to the winds and set about planning a small celebration. Frank Sharp volunteered his services and space at the Ozark Mountain Smokehouse. Jean Button brought her Baton Rouge family recipes, cooking skills and expatriate Cajun mailing list. Dan Kerlin volunteered his band, Billy Zydeco and the use of the 36 Club for the party after the second line parade. Dr. Bill and Betty Harrison were coerced to serve as the new King and Queen of the newly formed Demented Krewe of Dickson. On the evening of Fat Tuesday, Evans Howell, in the role of Jester, presented the royalty. A fabulous Cajun dinner was served and Billy Zydeco, with 40 or so revelers, bounced off on the long strange road that has become Mardi Gras in Fayetteville. King Bill the First used his scepter and the power of the crown to bless the ATM at the Bank of Fayetteville depot. The Krewe passed along their way pausing to shout “toast” to each business while waving burned bread in the air. It was a cold and lonely Tuesday night on the street, made somewhat brighter by the passing of the strangely attired Demented Krewe.

1993 found these sillies at it again. Raymond Jones and Dixie Rhyne were chosen as the royalty of ’93—apparently due to their behavior in ’92. Held again at the Ozark Mountain Smokehouse, the Krewe were surprised after dinner to find costumed revelers waiting at the door to join the second line. This year the patrons of Dickson Street businesses were waiting expectantly for their, now annual, bead fix. King Raymond escaped briefly from the band with his queen and about 15 revelers, whom he led in through the back door of Jose’s and on through the men’s restroom, much to the surprise of at least one patron.

1994 brought to royalty King Ralph Odom (Giant Mountain Troll) and his Queen Carol Reed. Evans Howell and Jean Button were summoned to New Orleans that year. Queen Coleen, of the krewe of the same name, to whom they owed their longest loyalty, was threatening eminent retirement. The local coronation and dinner were held at the now-defunct Jackson’s Restaurant. Don Greenaway graciously agreed to fill the role of Jester, juggling his way into hearts and history. The restaurant was not yet technically open and confusion reigned. At mid afternoon on Tuesday, the city wavered on allowing the event to proceed at all. Things were eventually worked out, and the Krewe proceeded through the street that evening with about 100 in the second line, landing at Chester’s Place to finish the evening.

In 1995, Queen Coleen reigned in tandem with Craig Mauritson and Cindi Story. Queen Coleen, up from New Orleans (not yet fully retired), arrived complete with her famous shopping cart. The Billy Zydeco Band was augmented with Coleen’s family drum corp. Dinner was held at Jackson’s and the Krewe hit the street with about 200 second-liners in tow. Energy was high, the clubs were packed and Dickson Street was hopping. That tiny, hometown Mardi Gras of 4 years ago was gone for good.

In 1996 Dickson Street’s own Mary Hinton was crowned Queen with Bruce Walker honored to serve as her King. Crowned before a potluck dinner at the Smokehouse, Queen Mary toured the street in Coleen’s shopping cart so as not to tire her before her shift at Chester’s. The crowd on the street was bigger than ever. This was the first year that there were significant numbers of spectators. The local news set up in front of the Walton Art Center for a 10PM live report. They had positioned themselves in front of a group of young drummers. When the lights went on, it was evident to all of NW Arkansas that one of these drummers was stark raving nude.

In 1997, Bob Moers and Phyllis Chenowith were crowned King and Queen at the Smokehouse. King Bob used his scepter and royal powers to restore virginity to all he deemed worthy. It is said that late in the evening two female members of the Krewe (who shall remain nameless) were approached by a stranger wishing to lick their foreheads and that his wish was granted.

Steve and Kay Phillips were King and Queen for 1998 and dinner was moved to Jose’s. The Billy Zydeco Band fell prey to confusion and dissent in the ranks. Dan Kerlin turned up, bravely, washboard in hand, prepared to go on alone. Like the cavalry, the visiting Springfield musicians of “Big Smith” arrived in the nick of time and joined Dan, leading the Krewe out to the waiting throng. Spectators on the street were estimated at 3,000 with perhaps 200-300 in the procession. This was the first year for street vendors, the first volunteer street corner band, even a fire eater, in the inestimable person of Harmless T. Jester. The crowd poured out into the street and the police scrambled to block it off to traffic. The second line had become a many channeled river winding its way through the masses.

The first float parade came in 1999. The Demented Krewe had dreamed for years of some sort of float parade. In ’99 the Krewe rooted around and found a couple of stray Cajuns, A. J. and Penny Bellard, who professed a similar interest. Discussions began, but time and money ran low. In true demented fashion, the Krewe and their new friends decided that to do a thing haphazardly is far better than to let the thing go undone. So, on the Saturday before Mardi Gras, the Demented Krewe and others went to it. Jose’s Restaurant (ever staunch supporters of this madness) decorated a trailer. Jean and Dixie of the Demented Krewe decorated a truck with a strange metal bird on the roof and lots of colored stuff hanging from the sides. The Bellards showed up with a pirogue on their pick up truck. The police were notified at the last moment and showed up to escort the parade. Although very patient with these fools, they would wear no beads. Again, it was like old times. No one on the street had a clue what was happening, but the kids took to the beads instantly. The following Tuesday night at Jose’s, with Don Greenaway jesting, Harold and Stacey Weities were crowned King and Queen. The now rejuvenated Billy Zydeco Band, along with an, as yet unidentified but talented trumpet player, traipsed through the usual haunts to Chester’s Place. The police were prepared this year and blocked the street at dusk in preparation for the crowds, which followed.

Then came 2000, the year of the flaming dragon. The Bellards, ready to take the Saturday Parade to new heights, formed Krewe Des Cajuns and commenced organizing. Saturday dawned bright and clear and maybe 12 floats with an odd assortment of other vehicles gathered at the Fayetteville Square. At 2:00 p.m. the first “Mardi Gras of the Ozarks Parade” rolled, at 2:05 the fire department was called. The second float, a fabulous fire-breathing dragon, had gone up in flames. This was the entry of Krewe De Flambeau. Once the lizard was doused, the parade continued on with great success. Several thousand spectators vied for beads and doubloons. Three days later, Fat Tuesday brought the Demented Krewe back to Jose’s for the Coronation of King Neil Williamson and Queen Maura Meyers, with all the usual festivities. The crowd of spectators had become so large that the Krewe had difficulty getting from place to place, and in fact, could not get to one spot on the itinerary at all; the King was, at one point jostled to the ground.

Mardi Gras 2001 marked the 10th anniversary of the formation of the Demented Krewe and the first official celebration of Mardi Gras in Fayetteville. The Mardi Gras of the Ozarks Parade, planned for the Saturday before Mardi Gras, was blown from the calendar by driving rain, high winds and tornado warnings. The Krewe Des Cajuns and their sponsors postponed the event for two weeks, winning thereby, great weather and a fine turnout. However, in typical form, the Demented Krewe and their brothers and sisters of the Krewe De Vineaux, astride their giant wine bottle, paraded the route after the worst of the storm had passed, throwing beads to those hearty souls who remained (to the chagrin, I’m afraid, of the local constabulary). On Fat Tuesday, the Demented Krewe gathered once more at Jose’s for the crowning of their Queen Suzanne Ray, a loyal supporter of the Krewe from its earliest days and her King Nick Kumpe. The crowd on the street was estimated at 5,000.

In 2002 the Mardi Gras of the Ozarks Parade was rerouted to begin at the Walton Art Center on Dickson St. and run to the Fayetteville Square. The weather was dry and warm and a huge crowd attended all along the entire route. Krewe Vineaux was there with a giant gumbo pot and Tabasco bottle. On the Square, spectators were treated to a spectacle of Joe Fennel, momentarily taken by the spirit, dancing enthusiastically atop his pick up truck. The prize for the best float went to Krewe Des Cajuns. On the evening of Mardi Gras itself, the Krewe again met at Jose’s. Amid much pomp, the Grand Mystical Poobah (Bob Moers) announced the Krewe’s selection of King Evans Howell and Queen Jean Button, both, among the original instigators of the Demented Krewe and Mardi Gras in Fayetteville. Said by some to be “on fire” they danced the length of the street and were a great inspiration to all.

2003 was the 12th year of Mardi Gras on Dickson St. and saw major changes for the Demented Krewe. The year began as usual, but, with two weeks to go, Bellards Event Management decided that they could not pull through on the Parade of the Ozarks that they had managed for three years. The Demented Krewe met with members of Krewe Olympia and Krewe Garcon De Partie as well as the Bellards (Krewe De Cajuns). All wanted the parade to continue in some form and it was decided that the Demented Krewe was in the best position to field it. A lot had to be done, and quickly. Event proposal forms were resubmitted to the city, who worked diligently to get them pushed through in time for the parade to roll, approval arriving finally on the day before the parade. The Krewe engaged Atty. Rusty Hudson to push through paperwork on a non profit Arkansas corporation (The Committee for Mardi Gras, Inc.) these papers also came through in the nick of time. On the morning of the Saturday before Mardi Gras, it became soon evident that there were far too few volunteers and plan ‘B’ went into action, moving volunteers as the parade passed their position, quickly from the top of the route down into the lower positions. Krewe members walking in the parade assumed unmanned positions as they reached them, thereby giving at least the appearance that all positions were manned. It was a shaky solution, but it worked. The newly renamed Fat Saturday Parade of Fools rose like the phoenix from the ashes of its predecessor and rolled, on schedule at 2:00 pm, for the first time. Led off by Tom Dooley with his parasol and Mayor Dan Coody as Grand Marshal, the parade tooled around the Fayetteville Square, down Block St. and Dickson to the Walton Art Center parking lot, where Krewe Olympia took the prize for the best float. Krewe Garcon De Partie had a flat tire and finished the Parade as walkers, but a fine time was had by all.

On the following Tuesday the Krewe assembled at Jose’s to crown Queen Nancy Couch and King Don McCollough, the parade route was long, including Powerhouse Restaurant (two blocks off Dickson) and due to the crowds the Krewe was separated many times, but finally arrived, more or less in tact, at Chester’s, marking the culmination of a very busy season.

2004 was #13, planning for the events began late, but in the end all came together. Difficulties were again experienced with volunteers, but to a lesser degree. The Krewe had built their own barricades (instead of borrowing from the City) and had laid their plans, erroneously believing that Spring St. was one way, thereby providing one too few barricades and workers. Otherwise all positions were manned but there were far too few walkers. In spite of the problems the 2nd annual Fat Saturday Parade of Fools rolled with the infamous, Maxine presiding as Grand Marshal. Tom Dooley arrived right on schedule to lead off the parade. Krewe Olympia, with the theme “Spirit of the Sea”, dressed as mermaids and sported a motorized shark, in addition to their float, took top honors in the competition. Queen Nancy Couch threw beads to her adoring subjects from the basket high atop her elaborately decorated Northwest Arkansas Sign Shop bucket truck. The weather was perfect, the parade a fine success.

On the following Tuesday King Dan Kerlin and Queen Anita Leflett were crowned at Jose’s and the Krewe paraded off down the street with Billy Zydeco Band and King Dan, as usual, on his washboard. The Krewe ended its evening of revelry at The Gypsy.

It was cold leading up to Mardi Gras 2005, year 14. Mardi Gras fell early, on Feb. 8th, making it difficult to pull everything together. The Krewe decided to add a small event on the preceding Friday and arrived at City Hospital at 2PM in costume to parade the nursing facility. Billy Zydeco Band were there with King Dan Kerlin on washboard, Mike Sumler on accordion, and Stevie Ward on guitar, other members of the Krewe played tambourines. The entire ensemble played, danced and threw beads in the dining room, then trouped off, parading the halls and rooms of the facility for the benefit off those less mobile patients. The event was a great hit with the residents, and four months later we were told that many were still wearing the beads they received that day. It was also a great hit with the Krewe and has been added as an annual event.

Saturday the 5th dawned crystal clear and warmed up nicely, in spite of concerns about the weather on such an early date. The difficulties that had been experienced in previous years with too few volunteers proved to not be a problem. The local population turned out and provided the Krewe with enough barricade workers and walkers to handle their needs. The only shortage was personnel on the early shift to maintain the parking lot at the end of the parade route and A. J. Bellard agreed to man the position in exchange for booth space, an arrangement that worked out quite well for all. With Joe Fennel in the lead, the parade rolled at 1:00PM sharp. Krewe Olympia could not participate this year in a float way but turned out in costume to walk and throw beads. The barricade workers received tie dye tees in purple, green and gold with the Demented Krewe logo on the front and ‘EVENT STAPH’ on the back. They were pressed into service after the parade to do the judging of floats. They gave the award for the year to Krewe Copeland, who had an elaborate bandstand and large zydeco ‘orchestra’. Former Queen Jean Button flew high atop the NWA Sign Shop’s decorated bucket truck, throwing beads to the masses. A crowd of thousands had turned out and a couple of hours were spent after the parade at the end of the route with beads being thrown and bands on various floats playing music. The event had gone off smoothly for the Krewe and provided great enjoyment to the attendees.

Mardi Gras, the 8th was forecasted to have rain, which reduced the turn out only slightly. There was one ten-minute downpour, but the weather remained otherwise amenable. The Krewe met at Jose’s for a grand dinner and at 8PM paraded forth to the stage at Jose’s Streetside where they crowned King Charlie Platt and Queen Chaddy Kumpe (who spent a good bit of the night buying drinks for the musicians up and down the street). They paraded with grand style and regal demeanor. Due to limited time and significant club participation only contributing clubs were paraded this year. The Krewe landed at 10:30PM at the Gypsy. This year finally enabled us to make plans for an annual charitable donation, the recipient of which will be decided by the current year’s royalty, payment to be delivered at the Fat Saturday Parade of the following year. Our King and Queen for 2005 chose the Humane Society as their charity of choice.

2006, our 15th year, Mike Sumler and Billy Zydeco joined us at City Hospital on Friday, Feb. 24th to parade for the residents who had elected their own King and Queen.

Fat Saturday, Feb 25, 2006, early morning on the parade ground dawned windy, cloudy & frigid, but by parade time the sun was out, and the day was warm. The parade route was altered to run from the University of Arkansas down Dickson St. then up Block Street to the Fayetteville Square where the festivities would be held at the end of the parade. The Krewe was allowing non profit organizations and sponsors free booth spaces. Our media sponsor, Cumulus Radio, had worked together with Rick’s Cake Shop to produce what we believe to have been the “World’s Largest King Cake”, it was HUGE 250 feet, slices were sold and the proceeds were donated to Seven Hills Homeless Shelter.

Former Queen Suzanne Ray had taken it upon herself to get all the past royalty possible into convertibles to celebrate our 15th year. This would mean rounding up about fifteen cars, drivers and 30 extra volunteers for walkers.

Grand Marshal Penguin Ed took the lead, followed by the 18 or so cars of past royalty. Krewe Olympia was back & going strong with an outrageous ancient Egyptian theme ship, for which they took the honors. Many other floats participated, including but not limited to, NWA Parrot Heads, a contingent of belly dancers, another contingent of Medievalists, Copeland’s, Jose’s, Bordinos, Common Grounds, Café Rue Orleans, the Demented Krewe rode in glory high atop the NWArkansas Sign Shop fire truck. At 1PM the sun came out the entries began to arrive and by parade time the weather was sunny and warm. The parade rolled east, down Dickson St. to the Fayetteville Square amongst an astonishing crowd filling the street. The view from the last vehicle in the parade showed the entire valley of the Dickson St. business district, filled to the brim with parade vehicles and spectators.

By decree of 2005 King Charlie Platt & Queen Chaddie Kumpe, a donation was made to the Humane Society. A donation of $100.00 was also made to the Mt. Sequoia Assembly in aid of Katrina victims.

Fat Tuesday February 28, The Demented Krewe crowned King Bu and Queen Margie Waggoner, long time Dickson St. club owners and fervent supporters of all our silliness. Crowned under the bigtop out front of Jose’s, the Krewe reveled off down the street behind their new royalty to the now familiar sound of Billy Zydeco.

February 16, 2007 the Krewe once again paraded City Hospital with the Billy Zydeco band to the delight of the patients. February 17th dawned gray, windy & bitterly cold. The early workers shivered in their cars, the posters warning parkers of the event on the square could not be attached due to the wind. Only a couple of non profit organizations were brave enough to set up in the free spaces provided. Spirits were low.

In spite of the weather, most of our usual “floating” attendees turned out, including our faithful dragon, Jose’s, Copeland’s, Café Rue Orleans, Krewe Mojo and Key Architecture. Cumulus Radio & Rick’s Cakes again teamed up to make an even larger king cake, again donating the proceeds to Seven Hills Homeless Shelter. Seeming to be a miracle, the sun shone through at 1:00 PM & by parade time at 2 all was bright & warm enough for a huge crowd to gather. The parade went off smoothly, led by Grand Marshal Earl Cate, long time & much loved Fayetteville musician. Arriving at the square at 3:00 PM, where the winners of the float competition were chosen by a group of children, Krewe Olympia again swept the honors with “Goddesses in Paradise” a Polynesian theme. Second place went to Key Architecture, third place went, by default, to Jose’s. Our judges had chosen the wonderful mechanical dragon (unfortunately not a float), but he was awarded a much-deserved trophy as well. By royal decree of 2006 King Bu & Queen Marjorie Waggoner, a donation was once again made to the Humane Society.

Mardi Gras, Feb. 20th, saw the crowning of Queen Susan Porter & King Jim Key. As usual the Krewe met for dinner and preparations at Jose’s. At 8pm the royalty were crowned and the annual ritual proceeded off down Dickson Street. The turnout was huge, the going slow and at one point the Krewe escaped out the back of one club & came in the back of the next to escape the throng, arriving finally at the Gypsy about 10:30.

Mardi Gras, Feb. 20th, saw the crowning of Queen Susan Porter & King Jim Key. As usual the Krewe met for dinner and preparations at Jose’s. At 8pm the royalty were crowned and the annual ritual proceeded off down Dickson Street. The turnout was huge, the going slow and at one point the Krewe escaped out the back of one club & came in the back of the next to escape the throng, arriving finally at the Gypsy about 10:30.

2008, year 17. Mardi Gras was to fall on Feb. 5 with the Fat Saturday Parade even earlier on February 2nd. This one was an ordeal, in addition to the early date, we lost the artwork that had been with NWA Sign Shop when it sold. Ultimately a brand new and even better poster was produced & things proceeded apace.

Friday February 1st, the Krewe once again joined Billy Zydeco and Mike Sumler to parade City Hospital, much to the delight of the residents.

Fat Saturday, February 2nd was once again cold early but quite decent by parade time. Grady Jim Robinson was selected as our Grand Marshal. Olympia took the main honors. Connie, Duchess of the Ancient Realms, had taken on the organization of the non-profit booths which gave us the first really effective turn out in that area, they included a medieval performance by the local SCA contingent. By royal decree of 2007 King Jim Key & Queen Susan Porter a donation was made to the Fayetteville Free Clinic.

Fat Tuesday arrived with a bang, the weather turned ugly at about noon, with torrential rains and high winds. Nonetheless, at 7:30 pm before the crowning there was a wedding to be held,. Long time supporters, Joy Carlisle & Billy Long were joined in holy matrimony before the assembled throng. At 8pm the Krewe proudly crowned King Don Greenaway (our long time court jester) and Queen Karen Pope Greenaway who then blessed the newly weds. By the time of the crowning, the bad weather was past, but, for the first time in years we had no problem at all getting down the street.

Sadly, at the end of 2008 we learned of the loss of our old friend and compatriot, Queen Colleen of New Orleans, and then the day after Christmas of the loss of our own, dearest Duchess of Pearls, Suzanne Ray.

Mardi Gras 2009. The dates for 2009 were February 21st and February 24th. On the afternoon of February 20th the Krewe assembled at the City Hospital Nursing Facility for their annual festivities. The event was renamed the Parade of Pearls in honor of our beloved Duchess of Pearls, Suzanne Ray who had originally begun our association with City Hospital. Fat Saturday dawned cold & blustery as ever. The paraders assembled at the UoA lot on Dickson St. and prayed for sun. For this year’s parade the Krewe unveiled their 1963 purple, green & gold, paisley Chevy art truck and invited other local art cars to participate. Frank Sharp graciously agreed to serve as Grand Marshall. Promptly at 3PM with Tom Dooley in the lead as usual, the parade rolled down Dickson St. through crowds of eager onlookers and arrived at the Fayetteville Square where first place honors were taken by Krewe Olympia. A donation was made by the Demented Krewe to the Fayetteville Animal Shelter in honor of our 2008 King & Queen Don & Karen Greenaway.

On Fat Tuesday the festivities began at José’s with the crowning of the 2009 King Rufus the First & Queen Artie Herndon. The weather was great & the festivities happily wandered the street arriving a Zooloo’s at 10pm.

2010, our 19th year—who could have imagined. February 6th, The Krewe enlisted a contingent to participate in the Eureka Springs Mardi Gras Parade. Several members met and paraded in the paisley pickup along with Susan Porter’s sock monkey circus. Great fun. February 12th, the Krewe with Billy Zydeco held the annual Parade of Pearls at City Hospital, a big time was had by all. Fat Saturday, February 13th, the parade route was reversed, beginning at the Square & ending at the parking lot at West & Dickson. The booth area came into its own with many organizations participating. The morning was cold & windy but had warmed by parade time. Our new Mayor Lioneld Jordan served as Grand Marshall. The parade was joined by an impromptu family group wearing panty hose filled with balloons as hats & a group of men in red dresses ran through the route while the parade was in progress. Turn out was spectacular and everything went smoothly. The honors for best float went to Olympia and Krewe Boar Rouge came in a close second, a very difficult decision for the judges. A donation was made by the Demented Krewe to the Lifestyles organization in honor of King Rufus & Queen Artie.

Fat Tuesday, February 16th, we crowned our very own Queen Terry Shea & her King David Janes at José’s on Dickson. The Krewe proceeded merrily through the clubs with Billy Zydeco arriving again at Zooloo’s.

2011, we crowned our Queen Connie Rieper-Estes and her King Jason Estes.

2012, we crowned our King Tom Dooley and his Queen St. Judy Grisso.

2013, we crowned our Queen Cheryl Dyer Wahl and the Nameless King.

2014, we crowned our Kings Fred Hiatt and Mark George.

2015, we crowned our Queen Laura Knapp and her King Matt Downum.

2016, we crowned our King Clark Davis and his Queen Lee Ann Kendrick.

2017, we crowned our Queen Jazmin Knapp and her King Brendan Priest. For the first time in our history, we also crowned new Fayetteville Mardi Gras Royalty, Queens Sheryl McMullen and Janet McMullen.

2018, we crowned our Fayetteville Mardi Gras King Barrett Ashley Johnson and his Queen Sarah Jaber.

2019, we crowned our Fayetteville Mardi Gras King and Queen Rick and Suzanne Jones.

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