When the boy returned to St. Martinville, he tried to tell his friends and family of the things he had seen.
Above all, it was the streetcars along Canal and St. Charles streets which had impressed him most. They were illuminated and glowed like huge fireflies with dark outlines of passengers silhouetted against the window frames. He was at a loss for words and unable to describe the wonders he had witnessed.
The streetcars were the most difficult to describe, therefore he decided he would show everyone exactly what a streetcar looked like. He took a cardboard box and proceeded to make a replica of a New Orleans streetcar. He cut windows, made cutouts of people, attached wheels, a pull string and then placed a candle inside.
His masterpiece complete, he then set out each night and pulled his creation or chariot, as his neighbors called it, around town to show all his friends. The children were delighted with his creation and began making their own chariots, each expressing something that appealed to them.
Each night the handmade, miniature, illuminated floats where pulled on the sidewalks in a tiny parade for all to see.
Eventually, the Chariot Parade became a fall tradition in St. Martinville. Each year, decorated boxes are paraded, at dusk, in front of the St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church.
Boxes are judged on their beauty and originality.
As fall approaches, parents, who themselves, their parents, and their parents’ parents pulled chariots in front of the church, help their children decorate boxes to bring to the chariot parade.
Now, candles are seldom used, because of safety reasons. Electric lanterns are the illumination of choice.
The St. Martinville Chariot Parade is a wonderful children’s activity and a lasting tribute to “Petite Paris” and old New Orleans.
(Interested in taking part in a unique St. Mrtinville tradition? The Chariot Parade will be held this Sunday, Oct. 24, at St. Martin de Tours Church, where people can meet after the 5:30 p.m. Mass; the parade will begin at 7 p.m. For more information, contact Brenda Courville at 789-3592.)