Mardi Gras 2013: Endymion rolls world's largest float on Saturday, Feb. 9

Endymion mega-float

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(Gallery by The Associated Press)

One of Mardi Gras 2013's major attractions, the nine-part, 365-foot-long megafloat "Endymion's Pontchartrain Beach Then and Now" should have no trouble making the tight turn off of Orleans Avenue onto North Carrollton Avenue near the start of Saturday's (Feb. 9) parade route, say float builder Barry Kern and Krewe of Endymion captain Ed Muniz. The reason for their confidence is that the big float — the biggest in Carnival history — already has navigated the turn successfully.

On a late night in November, the enormous segmented Pontchartrain float — named for a beloved bygone amusement park — was only partially finished, but the krewe took it for a test run. With seven of the nine segments ready to roll, the Krewe of Orpheus allowed Endymion to borrow two parts of its "Smokey Mary" segmented float to simulate the final float's size.

The serpentine, unlit float was escorted by several police cars as it wound its way from City Park to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Onlookers checked the dates on their watches, Muniz joked, asking one another, “Why is there a Carnival parade tonight?” The test run went off without a hitch, Muniz said. Well, almost without a hitch. A low branch sheered off one of the smoke-omitting dormers from the haunted house segment. It has been replaced.

The big float will make another dry run the morning of Friday, Feb. 8, once again to prove its ability to snake through the streets and onto the crowded Superdome floor, where the post-parade party will take place.

Barry Kern, of the Blaine Kern Studios float-building empire, explained that the segmented float tracks nicely through the streets because the front and rear axles of each segment turn in tandem like the baggage trollies that are stung together into small trains at airports. Each segment is only 25 feet long. Larger 40-foot segments would be difficult to maneuver. Kern pointed out that the shorter float segments and the elaborate decorations leave less room for riders.

Riders’ dues generally pay for the floats, he explained, but because of the Pontchartrain float’s elaborate design, it can’t quite pay for itself.

“The reality is,” Kern said, “for as much as has been invested in this float; this float does not get a return.”

During an October press conference announcing the megafloat, Muniz said the nonprofit organization's investment in "Endymion's Pontchartrain Beach Then and Now" is $1.2 million.

Kern and Muniz conducted a tour of the almost completed float on Wednesday (Feb. 6). Its blinking, block-long array of lights lent a flashing rainbow illumination to the inside of the Mid-City warehouse where it waited for its Saturday debut.

Float riders entered the hangarlike building from time to time, carrying bales of stuffed toys and sacks of beads, which they heaped aboard the float. Kern estimated that in the end, each of the approximately 250 riders would contribute 1,000 pounds to the weight of the vehicle, which will be towed by an industrial-strength tractor with the ability to pull up to 190 tons. The tractor has the power to keep the great float moving and the power to stop its momentum if necessary, Kern said. A spare super tractor will be on hand in case the first fails, he said. During its first test run, the unloaded, trainlike float was towed by an ordinary tractor, he said.

The Endymion organization didn’t set out to make the world’s largest float, Muniz said. It’s just that it took a big float to contain the ambitious Pontchartrain Beach theme, with its roller coaster, Ferris wheel, carousel and gigantic clown head.

“In order to carry out the theme of Pontchartrain Beach,” he said, “you had to have a midway on wheels.”

The rolling extravaganza will project the sounds of a roller coaster and laughing clown. It even will emit the scents of popcorn and cotton candy, Kern said. The lighthouse segment, dedicated to sunbathing and swimming at the beach, was supposed to include a bas-relief sculpture of Marilyn Monroe. But sometime during the construction process, the builders replaced Marilyn’s face with the image of Muniz’s wife, Peggy. The couple’s first date took place at Pontchartrain Beach, Peggy recalled. She wore a daring polka dot bikini, but was reluctant to remove her towel to show it off. That’s Peggy to the left, holding the lipstick.

Muniz is enchanted by the high-tech light display that chases along the endless float.

“Notice that all the way through the float, everything is synchronized,” Muniz said. "I’m fascinated by this thing. I knew it would be good, but it surpassed all of my expectations.”

Muniz pointed out that since most onlookers see Endymion after dark, lighting is paramount.

“The most important thing a night parade can do is light up the night,” he said.

That’s why the Pontchartrain Beach float will roll late in the lengthy Endymion parade. Since the parade starts at 4 p.m., Muniz said, it won’t be dark enough at the beginning to fully appreciate the big new float.

But it’s hard to complain about the sunlight. For the past two years, Muniz said, it has rained on Endymion Saturday. During Wednesday’s visit, Muniz said the forecast is clear for this year’s roll.

The Endymion parade takes place Saturday, Feb. 9, starting at 4 p.m. on the Mid-City route.