Ike Edward, a Mardi Gras Indian who first started sewing 80 years ago and who wanted to be remembered as a proud Flag Boy, died Wednesday (July 5). He was 94 years old.
Cherice Harrison-Nelson, a family friend who helped Edward volunteer with her fellow Young Guardians of the Flame Mardi Gras Indians, confirmed the news.
Edward was born May 5, 1923, in Charity Hospital and, in the following years, Mardi Gras Indians first caught Edward's eye when he was a boy growing up in Uptown New Orleans. Seeing the beautifully beaded and feathered suits that men wore near A.L. Davis Park but was then called Shakespeare Park, Edward asked Cornelius Tillman Jr. -- who is better known as Big Chief Brother Tillman -- to join up with his tribe.
But first he had to learn to sew. Eventually, Edward would become so good at sewing that, even at 94 years old, he could amaze visitors with his steady-handed ability to slip thread through the eye of a needle without the assistance of glasses.
As Edward learned what it meant to be a Mardi Gras Indian, he fell in love with his role as a Flag Boy with the Creole Wild West.
"You see, when you carry the flag, you're in the front of the gang. You give the signal. When you're with the chief, you gotta be in the back and you gotta worry if someone's acting bad," he said in a February interview with NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. "But with the flag, you're free. You're free. You wave your flag, you do what you want."
Throughout his life, Edward took jobs with the Big Shot Bottling Co., the Fulton Bag Company and the Delta Shipbuilding Co., according to Harrison-Nelson, but he was still shrewd when it came to crafting his suits. He'd get his hands on discarded ballgowns from wealthy Uptown women or trendy beaded lampshades, which he'd carefully dismantle with a razor blade to use parts of them in his suits.
"You could find chickens and turkeys on Christmas and Thanksgiving, and that was the time to get your feathers, " he said. "You'd get in touch with the guy that's killing the turkeys, and you'd get those feathers."
Edward necessarily stopped masking during World War II when he served in the Army Air Corps, but he didn't put his suits away for good until after he'd also been part of the Golden Blades and the White Eagles, which he helped found with Robert Nathaniel Lee. Lee is also known as legendary Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief Robbe (pronounced Rob-BE), and it was with that tribe that Edward reluctantly served as second Big Chief, his love always remaining with the flag.
In his later years, Edward would sew patches of butterflies -- a symbol that became special to him as a young Mardi Gras Indian because of his fascination with the insects he saw in Shakespeare Park -- for the children of the Young Guardians of the Flame. The mentorship role he took with the tribe kept him sewing until about a month before his death, Harrison-Nelson said.
According to Harrison-Nelson, Edward spent the final days of his life on the phone with Mardi Gras Indian chiefs planning his memorial. In speaking with Golden Blades Big Chief Derrick Hulin, he asked him to bring "a crowd" of Mardi Gras Indians to his funeral.
"And I want you to dance and dance and dance," Edward said, according to Harrison-Nelson. "And dance out in the street -- so many dancers that the dust is going to come up."
Details for Edward's memorial service are pending.