Mardi Gras: Parading with ladders requires care

Mardi Gras ladders
A lone parade-goer waves amongst empty ladders on St. Charles Ave. during Mardi Gras day in New Orleans, Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Rain and unusually cold temperatures kept most of the normally massive and festive crowds away. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (Gerald Herbert)

You say you use it to paint the house or change a light bulb? Hah! Shows what you know.

In a town where it rains beads, pours doubloons and showers trinkets, there's just one reason to climb a ladder at this time of year: to tower above ground-level parade-goers and catch as much junk as their bags and pockets can possibly hold.

So when did we start sitting on ladders to catch parades - and beads? Ask Linda Clarke, who believes that her late father, Clarence Francis, may be responsible for all the hubbub. Back in the '40s, she said, her father came up with the idea of building a ladder seat after she got burned by a flare during an evening parade.

"He built it for my safety," she said. "No one else had them. After he started doing it, we noticed more and more people doing it. I often think to myself: 'We started all this foolishness.'"

Whatever the cause, long before Fat Tuesday, walls of ladders - not to mention scaffolding, stands and other viewing apparatus, including at least one volleyball referee stand - will be lining Uptown and suburban parade routes. For the big parades - Endymion, Bacchus, Zulu, Rex - don't be surprised if by 5 a.m., perhaps even earlier, there isn't a decent spot to be had.

Anyone can join in, too. At many hardware or lumber stores around town, you can buy 5- and 6-foot wooden ladders with seats bolted to the tops. The seats are only good for small fry, but these days more and more grown-ups are standing on ladders and footstools for birds-eye parade viewing.

Still , like gambling, health care and politics, the great ladder controversy has folks cursing and complaining on one side of the issue and jumping and cheering on the other. For every person who swears by them, there are those who detest them. (Might depend on whether you're at top rung or ground level.)

If you do join the ladder brigade, note that there are at least a dozen ladder-related accidents each Mardi Gras. So in the spirit of community service, we offer these safety tips from the NOPD:

  1. Never chain or rope ladders together. It's a big no-no, and the police will not be happy if you do it.
  2. The ladder rule of thumb is, you place the ladder at least as many feet back from the curb as it is tall (the height should not exceed 6 feet). No one pays attention to this rule, but it's a good one. Of course, there's nothing more irritating than placing your ladder 6 feet from the curb, only to turn around and find that some jerk has put HIS ladder in front of YOURS - right ON the curb.
  3. Don't get too elaborate. Scaffolding and stands require a city permit.
  4. If you put a kid up top, make sure the seat has a retaining bar and that the ladder is placed with all four legs on the ground. Also, tell children not to stand on the ladder or the paint shelf. An adult should stand on the ladder when children are in the seat.
  5. Don't place ladders in street intersections. If you ignore this advice, the cops will make you move 'em.
  6. City regulations prohibit parade-goers from putting up ladders, then abandoning their property. So be prepared to guard your ladder from the time it goes up 'til the parade rolls. This is a good excuse for a street party, and the reason why the Endymion route looks like a Fourth of July picnic.