Fall Festival time from Days Gone By
At the turn of the twentieth century, Houstonians enjoyed their annual No-Tsu-Oh Carnival, a Mardi Gras-like festival held annually in November from 1899 to 1915. Originally organized to stimulate business for Houston merchants, the carnival served as a prominent part of the city’s social life by offering a week of non-stop gaity including expositions, parades, banquets, pageants, parties and dances. Houston’s social elite dressed in elaborate costumes designed to imitate European aristocracy and demonstrated elegant court manners in carefully orchestrated vignettes. Although the social character of the community was evident in the elaborately devised mythology of the event’s activities, there was also a commercial tone reflected in the allegorical elements.
No-Tsu-Oh (Houston spelled backward) was the capital city of the Kingdom of Tekram (market) in the realm of Saxet (Texas). King Nottoc (cotton) emerged annually from the depths of the sea, (aka Buffalo Bayou), at the foot of Main Street to rule over his Court of Mirth. The king was generally a prominent local businessman whose identity was kept secret until the Coronation Ball. The list of the kings included Jesse H. Jones, Capt. James A. Baker, Jr., Edgar Lovett, John Henry Kirby, W.T. Carter, and Walter B. Sharp. The king’s arrival also opened the Gulf Coast Industrial Exposition featuring agricultural and horticultural products and items manufactured in Texas. The queen was traditionally one of the season’s debutantes and the Coronation Ball soon eclipsed other balls as the social event of the year. In 1911, Queen Annie Vive Carter wore a coronation crown and gown that were replicas of some worn by Queen Mary of England.
The 1914 carnival was called the Deep Water Jubilee to celebrate the opening of the Ship Channel. That year King Nottoc ceded his throne to King Retaw I (water).
The members of the No-Tsu-Oh court enacted an elaborate metaphorical tale that centered on water transportation, a theme that reflected the importance of the ship channel to the Houston economy.
Parades of flower-decked floats, wagons and vehicles were popular in the United States during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Residents of Houston were no exception as they incorporated flower parades into their annual celebrations such as No-Tsu-Oh. The week even featured a Juvenile Flower Parade at Sam Houston Park where children participated with decorated doll buggies, baby carriages, and donkey and pony carts.
The last and most elaborate No-Tsu-Oh carnival took place in 1915. The festival was thereafter discontinued, probably because of the outbreak of World War I.