KENNER, La. (AP) — They came in T-shirts and jeans to bid on crowns, scepters and capes of Mardi Gras kings and queens, or the jewels and coins tossed to their eager subjects.
The glitzy pageantry and history of New Orleans’ Carnival was sold to the highest bidder Thursday. The baubles might have been faux, but several hundred collectors eagerly bid on exhibits from the city’s once-thriving Mardi Gras Museum.
Designed as a celebration of Mardi Gras when it opened in the suburb of Kenner in 1992, it closed after a souring economy cut into tourism and the city, like many communities around the country, was forced to tighten its budget and cut back on what it funded.
From towering costumes covered with plumes and faux jewels, to an 1891 Rex invitation — everything went.
“It’s kind of sad to see it all being carted off,” said Karen King, as she watched a bidder celebrate the purchase of a massive “collar,” the part of a Mardi Gras costume that rises from the shoulders several feet into the air and may be six feet or more wide. This one was silver, pink and blue, heavily beaded, bearing clouds, soaring birds and flowers.
“At least people that really want the things are getting them,” she said.
Or not: Charlie Durr bid on a plaque from a ball he attended in 1957, but watched it go home with someone else.
“It went for $40 and was worth it, just not to me,” he said.
Prices were relatively modest: A 1970 Gremlin automobile, covered in designs made of Mardi Gras beads, right down to the hubcaps, but without an engine, sold for $800. A mannequin wearing the glittering 1987 King Poseidon costume, complete with mannequin and glass showcase, drew a $1,500 bid.
The remains of the now-defunct Toy Train Museum, which had been just down the street for 25 years until it closed in 2009, were also sold Thursday.
Another auction of artifacts for a museum that never opened is planned this summer in Pennsylvania.
Last week, The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa., reported that 8,000-plus Wild West artifacts will be auctioned off in mid-July, with the money going to city coffers. Former Mayor Stephen R. Reed paid $8.3 million for the collection with the idea of creating a museum but it never developed.
These are tough times for museums, especially smaller ones.
On Tuesday, Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler, who oversees 17 mostly tiny museums run by volunteers and part-time workers, said most could be endangered under a proposed budget from Gov. Bobby Jindal. Only the two largest, the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge and the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum in Shreveport, would stay open.
Where there were once 12 museums around the Mardi Gras Museum, there are only four or five now, and at least two of those are open only by appointment, said Kenner’s director of Parks, Recreation and community Services, Ken Marroccoli.
“The amount of funding we can afford for our museums is not what it once was,” Marroccoli said. “Our sales tax is not as plentiful as it was before the downturn. So this is what we’ve had to do.”
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