Greased French Quarter Poles a Mardi Gras Tradition

The greasing of the poles at the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street in New Orleans is a Mardi Gras tradition. Coating the balcony supports with petroleum jelly is an effort to thwart revelers' attempts to climb the poles.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

It's official. Mardi Gras merriment may now begin. That's the word from New Orleans, where hotels in the French Quarter have been working on an interesting way to keep rowdy revelers from climbing the support poles that lead to the area's famed iron-lace balconies. Melanie Peeples got a firsthand look.

MELANIE PEEPLES: There are things you see in New Orleans that you don't see anywhere else, particularly in the French Quarter. Things like people in crazy hats and wigs and wearing beads probably from last night's parade, with cups in their hand, drinking, on this morning where it's so early the sun has not yet even risen over the buildings of the French Quarter to cast light on the street. That's how early it is.

But one of the oddest sights is about to happen right here in front of the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street. Inside those doors is a man in a tuxedo with a Mardi Gras purple bowtie and cummerbund. And in his right hand, held aloft, if you will, is a silver tray. And on that silver tray is a challis, a challis filled with Vaseline. That's right, petroleum jelly. Right now he's coming out.

(Soundbite of applause and cheers)

Unidentified Man: Good morning. I along with the staff at the Royal Sonesta Hotel welcome you to the greasing of the poles.

(Soundbite of cheers)

Unidentified Man: This tradition began 36 years ago when the Royal Sonesta celebrated its first Mardi Gras here in the French Quarter. Through the years, word of this tradition and continues to this day. It marks the start of a five-day long Mardi Gras weekend. So without further adieu, let the greasing begin.

(Soundbite of cheers)

PEEPLES: They proceed to smear Vaseline all over the poles with their hands. But after everyone leaves, I just have to know if it works. So I try to convince a security guard out front to hold my microphone.

Unidentified Man #2 (Security Guard): Oh well, you know, I'm on duty. You know, I'm...

PEEPLES: Just keep that point kind of at me. Yeah, about like that. So, all right. I'm going to give it a go. I'm going to try to climb the pole here. Eww, it was glassy and it's cold.

Unidentified Man #2: You know what you need. You need to get yourself a little (unintelligible) oil. Then it'll be a lot more easier to - normally (unintelligible) people...

PEEPLES: Sorry, hold on. What was that? What do I need?

Unidentified Man #2: I said maybe you get you a little bit of that juice in your, you know?

PEEPLES: I just need to drink a little bit.

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah, yeah. That'll give you that energy to get up that pole.

PEEPLES: Guess I just need to drink a little bit more and then I'll climb that pole.

For NPR News, I'm Melanie Peeples on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter in New Orleans.

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