Elting Memorial Library celebrates Mardi Gras in New Paltz

The community room at the Elting Memorial Library rang out with cheers and laughter when awards for the best costumes were announced. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

In a sea of green, purple and yellow, oddly dressed strangers mingled without really knowing to whom they were speaking — people with masks fumbled to uncover the identity of even well-known friends. The phrase “it’s me” kept coming up.

Lost in the shuffle of a thick crowd, kids bumped into adults trying to get goodies like Mardi Gras punch, moon pies and king cake.


Wearing a gold domino mask, a jester’s hat and dressed like the medieval puppet Punch, Elting Memorial Library Director John Giralico chatted and caught up with the people so crucial in keeping the library going — patrons and donors.

Something caught his attention, the king cake’s winning slice was missing. The cake itself is a tradition long associated with Mardi Gras in New Paltz, New Orleans and elsewhere. Only one of several cakes has a prize — usually a small plastic toy baby — baked inside of it. The person who finds the baby becomes the king or queen and leads the Fat Tuesday celebration.

Giralico whisked through the crowd to address the little girl who’d become Feb. 11’s Queen of Mardi Gras.

“In a little while, you’ll get a crown, and you can pick people to be in your court,” he told the girl. The lucky queen played a key part in the library’s celebration of Mardi Gras by leaning off a pretend parade float and throwing beads to the revelers.

Outside of the cake, beads and costumes, people who showed up to the library’s party also got to try some gumbo and jambalaya. Linda Welles — a library board member and one of the adult members of the Elting’s teen advisory group — worked with the teens to create the gumbo.

Mardi Gras might seem more like a grownup celebration, but the teen advisory group — which is mostly peopled by eighth-graders to seniors in high school — wanted a chance to throw a bash with costumes.

“It was their idea,” Welles explained. Part of the genesis of the library Mardi Gras celebration came from an unlikely source — Harry Potter. Last year, the teen group planned and hosted a Harry Potter movie release party. It was a celebration that brought out tots, teens and adults — and most of them in costume. “What they loved was that the whole community came out.”

Claire McAllister, one of the teens who helped plan the party, was serving up gumbo to hungry partiers. The teens worked for almost three hours the previous day slow cooking and getting the gumbo just right. “It was fun though,” McAllister added.

As the party ramped up, Deputy Mayor Sally Rhoads and Supervisor Susan Zimet chatted, getting ready for their stint as celebrity judges for the Mardi Gras costume contest. The third judge, Mayor Jason West was en route. In the corner of the room, Cajun folk band Cleoma’s Ghost sang songs in a pigeon mix of French and English.

Mardi Gras officially takes place on Feb. 21.

For more information about Elting Memorial Library or the events planned for the future, head to www.eltinglibrary.org.


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