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Her Majesty Queen Endymion LII Hannah autin

Story by Charlie Bier and photos by Chris Granger for the Fall 2018 issue of La Louisiane, The Magazine of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

The 52nd Queen of Endymion, Hannah Autin, is often asked about the costume she wore this year for New Orleans’ largest Mardi Gras parade.

The 52nd Queen of Endymion, Hannah June Autin, wore a bejeweled crown that featured her initials and a representation of her beloved pet pooch, a Goldendoodle named Zoe.

Her dazzling, bejeweled crown doesn’t prompt the bulk of the questions. Neither do inquiries about her one-of-a-kind gown, nor the spangled white tennis shoes she wore beneath its floor-length hem, a concession to comfort.

Autin waits for the Krewe of Endymion Mardi Gras parade to roll. Her float was fronted with a fleur-de-lis that changed colors.

People want to know how she kept her balance while carrying a 5-by-5-foot headpiece that fanned out behind her on the queen’s float. Made of a frame covered with cloth, rhinestones, sequins, intricate beading and ostrich feathers, it weighed 50 pounds.

Autin didn’t bear any of the load of the accessory. It was suspended by small chains hanging from a huge purple-domed crown that sat on four golden columns.

“It rests right above your shoulders,” she explained.

Autin is a senior at UL Lafayette majoring in biology who plans to attend medical school after she graduates.

Hannah Autin and her father, Shull Autin, survey the Mercedes-Benz Superdome the morning of the Krewe of Endymion parade. That night, about 20,000 guests celebrated inside the venue during the Endymion Extravaganza party.

On Feb. 10, she filled one of the most coveted Mardi Gras roles in a city that hosts one of the world’s premier revelries before the start of the Lenten season.

She had dreamed of being Endymion queen since middle school, when she applied to wear the crown. “I checked every year to make sure I was still on the list,” she said with a laugh.

“There’s nothing to really compare it to,” said Autin, a 21-year-old from Galliano, La., a small town south of New Orleans.

After beginning her big day dressed in blue jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt, she received royal treatment. She had her hair and makeup done at the Hyatt Regency Hotel early that morning. She was then ferried to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to find her gown, which was hanging in a Tulane University football locker room, along with the gowns of her four-maid court.

Autin’s gown was encrusted with silver and black rhinestones. Her crown was fronted with her initials – HJA for Hannah June Autin – and a representation of her beloved pet dog, a Goldendoodle named Zoe. The initials were also featured on Autin’s beads, which were thrown from the queen’s float.

Once her transformation from college student to queen was complete, Autin joined krewe members and their families at a Catholic Mass inside the Superdome. It was led by the Most Rev. Gregory Aymond, archbishop of New Orleans. The solemnity of the service was infused with touches of Mardi Gras excitement. One of the priests reminded krewe members who would be riding on floats to be considerate of spectators. “Throw beads to them, not at them,” he advised.

Top photo: Autin, krewe members and their families attended a pre-parade Catholic Mass inside the Superdome. It was led by the Most Rev. Gregory Aymond, archbishop of New Orleans. Bottom photo: The ride to City Park, where the parade began, included stops at restaurants where the queen and her maids loaded up on treats such as beignets and po-boys.

Afterward, Autin and her maids headed to two Mid-City restaurants, Maypop and Ralph’s on the Park, where family members and friends were waiting to pay tribute. In one toast, Charles Giraud III, father of maid Robin Giraud, summed up the magic of their extraordinary experience. “Ladies,” he said, “today the streets of the city are yours.”

Due to their tight schedule, Autin and her court were given food – including po-boys, Thai beignets and fried oysters – to eat in a Mercedes-Benz van that would take them to the parade formation site near City Park. A police escort accompanied them as they traveled along streets barricaded to other vehicles. “It was so out of the norm that it was kind of cool and weird at the same time,” she said.

After arriving at the staging area, Autin first walked over to say “hello” and shake hands with the driver of the tractor that would pull the queen’s float.

Autin’s attire consisted of a blend of fashion and functionality. She wore a pair of white tennis shoes beneath the hem of her floor-length dress.

Before stepping aboard her float, she spotted some young girls behind metal barriers who were looking at her as if she were Cinderella incarnate. Autin spoke with them warmly and posed for photos.

“I was so excited I could bring them so much joy,” she said.

Autin greeted a few of her young fans and posed for pictures before climbing aboard her float.

Because of a threat of rain, the four-hour Endymion parade began about 30 minutes earlier than originally planned Saturday afternoon. It traveled six and a half miles through Mid-City thoroughfares.

Talk of cancelling the 2018 parade, due to weather forecasts, swirled in the days preceding it. The show went on despite intermittent showers. The queen didn’t mind the weather. Neither, apparently, did revelers.

“It just seemed to make the crowd more enthusiastic,” said Autin, who basked in cheers and waves from spectators standing beneath trees festooned with multi-colored beads.

The Krewe of Endymion’s motto is “Throw ’til it Hurts.” True to its word, members flung about 15 million beads, doubloons and trinkets, such as bouncing balls and illuminated flying discs, to about a million parade-goers.

Autin’s pink and purple chariot featured several emblems of Louisiana architecture and culture. A fleur-de-lis that changed colors was on the front. Her float was flanked on both sides by white balustrades tinged with pink. LED and fiber-optic lighting sparkled and pulsed.

Her father, Shull Autin, is president of an offshore supply boat company in Larose, La. He has ridden in the Endymion Parade for the past 15 years.

His daughter, perched atop her throne, “looked like a 7-year-old girl in a toy store,” he said.

Amid the purple, green and gold, Hannah Autin saw plenty of vermilion and white. Parade spectators wearing University colors and flashing displays of Ragin’ Cajun spirit heartened her.

Autin’s 50-pound back piece fanned out like a white spread of peacock feathers. The accessory – connected to a pole that extended to the floor of the float – sat just above her shoulders.

“I saw a lot of people giving the UL signal,” she said, referring to the ubiquitous hand gesture that symbolizes UL Lafayette pride.

Shull Autin said acknowledgement from UL Lafayette students and supporters was gratifying.

“The thing that stands out in my mind was the hundreds of people representing UL. To hear them screaming ‘Our queen! Our queen!’ was fantastic. It brought goosebumps to the back of my neck,” he said.

The parade capped weeks of duties for the queen. One of her responsibilities was to choose the Endymion king. She randomly pulled the name of Jacob Winfield of New Orleans from among the names of eligible members of the all-male krewe.

She also hosted the Queen’s Party on Jan. 27 at the Roosevelt New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel. She worked with a caterer to choose which foods to serve to about 250 guests and added her personal touch to decorations.

At her suggestion, fried potatoes – one of her favorites – were on the menu, along with dishes such as shrimp and grits. Yellow flowers – another favorite – were scattered among traditional Mardi Gras-colored decorations of purple, green and gold.

The captain of Endymion selects the queen, with input from an executive board. Autin was crowned during a coronation ceremony Jan. 20 in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

Monarchs have ruled Mardi Gras in New Orleans since the city’s first parade in the mid-1850s, said Wayne Phillips, a Louisiana State Museum curator. “Royalty is so important to Mardi Gras because in many ways the monarchs are the public face of the whole celebration,” he explained.

Autin was joined on her float by her father and a security guard. The trio led a procession that included a stream of floats, marching bands and torch-bearers carrying flambeaus fueled by kerosene. One of the floats is more than 300 feet long and carries more than 250 riders.

Heavy rainfall began right as the parade entered the Mercedes-Benz Superdome; it’s the only parade to travel through that venue.

A white spotlight heralded Autin as her float traveled through the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

About 20,000 guests had gathered inside for the Endymion Extravaganza. A white spotlight trained on Autin heralded the star of Endymion.

Thousands of guests danced as purple, green and gold lasers pierced the darkened ’dome’s interior. After the last float exited, British rock legend Rod Stewart and hip-hop/pop/and R&B artist Jason Derulo performed, along with other entertainers.

“It was an amazing way to end such a remarkable experience,” Autin said.

Main photo: Autin flashes the UL signal, the ubiquitous hand gesture that symbolizes Ragin’ Cajuns pride.

Credits:

Chris Granger

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