For more than 50 years, residents of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi have witnessed the spectacle of sirens parading down Highway 90 toward nearby Waveland every Mardi Gras season. Marching bands and dancers accompany a procession of 23 brightly colored floats, all personalized with their own themes that change from year to year.
Previous iterations have featured floats and their mermaid riders decked out in gold, while other times they’ve sported items representing a host of cities and countries or locations such as Disney World.
The hosts of this Mississippi-based Mardi Gras event are the Krewe of the Nereids, an all-female krewe that a group of businesswomen originally founded in Waveland in 1967. The Nereids, the organization’s namesake, are sea nymphs from Greek mythology who were the children of deities Nereus and Doris. These entities served as the basis for mermaid tales.
Building, storing and insuring their own floats every year naturally entails significant expense, so the Krewe of Nereids started a fundraising event called Mermaids Arts and Crafts Show in 2016 to help cover the costs. This year’s event is this Saturday, November 12 and Sunday, November 13, at the historic L&N Train Depot (1928 Depot Way) in Bay St. Louis. This happens every year on the second weekend of November.
The Mermaids Arts and Crafts Show features over 75 vendors from Mississippi and beyond selling handmade goods such as stained glass, carved wooden bowls, serving plates, jewelry, pepper jellies, pottery, crafted wind chimes from bottles and other objects, and more. To qualify as a vendor for the fair, artisans must produce items that are at least 50% handmade.
“When we say 50% handcrafted, we mean you don’t just order things from somewhere else and sell them; you make real handmade crafts and arts,” says Jeanne Richardson, Co-Chair of the Krewe of Nereids. “For example, I’m a potter, but I don’t make the clay myself. I glaze it and work it by hand, though. A jeweler can buy pearls and other materials elsewhere, but he makes them what he wants them to be.
“We look for unique demonstrations of craftsmanship, regardless of the material or where they source it,” she adds.
Vendors participating in this year’s Mermaid Arts and Crafts Fair include Cat Island CreationsGulf Love Accessories, Art in Focus, Lawson woodworkThe joyful olive, Danro’s Bazaar, Jewel Moon Jewelry, Mill Creek PotterySeashells Seashells, Custom Carleigh Creations, studio eight one eight designs, Southern Fried Style and others.
In addition to vendors, the event will include a children’s area offering hands-on arts and crafts activities; live entertainment from Nick Perkins, an Elvies Presley tribute artist from Tickfaw, Louisiana, Saturday; and a show of Joni Compretta & Baytown Groove on Sunday.
“The Train Depot offers a nice shaded lot on a cool November day, making it a great opportunity to get out and maybe do some early Christmas shopping,” said the Secretary and Co-Chair of Krewe of Nereids, Mary Ann Pucheu. “Our vendors take pride in their work and offer such variety, and we’ll even have volunteers ready to help pack or transport items for customers in need.”
Krewe of Nereids’ Origin and Mardi Gras Ball
In 1966, Waveland businesswomen Elaine Colson, Nancy Gex, Dot Markel, Claire Bourgeois, Gerry Blanchard, Kitty Mollere and Louise Lynch stood outside the Waveland Drugstore on Coleman Avenue watching a local St. Patrick’s Day parade go by . A local all-male group organized the parade, prompting Colson to suggest holding an even bigger event for local women. The group met at the Waveland Drug store, which was owned by Lynch, and eventually formed the Krewe of Nereids Mardi Gras group.
Due to the fact that Nereus and Doris had 50 Nereid daughters in the mythos, the krewe originally planned to have only 50 members, and all of them were intended to be residents of Waveland. Bourgeois was the first captain of the krewe, a post which later transferred to Colson, which she held until her death in 2004. Today, Gex is the only surviving member of the original founders of the Krewe of Nereids .
The organization now has over 140 members living across the United States. The Krewe of Nereids is the third organization on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to have its own parade after Biloxi and Pass Christian, and it is the only women’s organization to have its own floats.
Before launching the Mermaid Arts and Crafts Show in 2016, the Krewe of Nereids held another long-running event in the form of a Mardi Gras Ballwhich the organization has held every January since its inception, with the exception of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ball was originally held in the gymnasium at St. Joseph Academy in Bay St. Louis, but has since moved to the Mississippi Coast Coliseum (2350 Beach Blvd., Biloxi). The ball itself is a free event, but the after party at the nearby convention center demanded a fee.
A highlight of the ball is the coronation of a new Queen Doris and her consort, King Nereus, among the members of the organization. Doris and Nereus from the previous year formally pass a scepter to the new queen and new king, followed by music and dance routines that follow the theme of the ball, which the Krewe of Nereids still keep secret from the public until the evening of the event. The theme of the ball subsequently becomes the theme of the next Mardi Gras parade in February.
The prom is a black-tie event, which means attire such as tuxedos, uniforms, or long dresses are required. The ball is by invitation only, with invitations available from members of the krewe or by request online via email [email protected]. The after-party, traditionally called Supper Dance, includes dancing, a live band, a breakfast buffet, and a cash bar. Tickets for the after-party are $100 per person.
A “family” heritage
The Krewe of Nereids has a proud heritage of family involvement, says Richardson. The krewe has seen three different generations of women join its ranks since its founding in 1967, and many current members have followed in their mothers’ footsteps. The organization has also seen 17 couples who have served as queens and kings at past Mardi Gras balls.
“My mother was a member of the krewe and had been good friends with Elaine Colson for years before I joined them in 1983,” says Richardson. “My sister is with us now too. The family atmosphere of our group is always what I liked the most. We work together and have fun together, and if someone has a problem, everyone is there for them. It’s also what helps us keep everything in-house as much as possible, doing everything from building and maintaining our own tanks to making costumes from scratch as a family.
The Mermaid Arts and Crafts Fair is open Saturday, November 12 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, November 13 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information on the Krewe of Nereids, the Mermaid Arts and Crafts Fair, or the Mardi Gras Ball and Parade, visit thekreweofnereids.com.