A float-building father’s first Carnival without his junior

New Orleans, La — NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - For 75 years, the Cantrell family has been a driving force in parades ranging from Comus and Proteus to Mad Hatter’s and Nemesis.

Mckinley Cantrell, who goes by Mac or Mackie, has carried on his family’s float-building tradition for most of his 73 years. Passed down by his father, Mac Sr. was hoping to pass it on to his son, but it wasn’t to be.

“It’s so sad it had to come to this... and so young,” said Cantrell.

Two days after Christmas, as they prepared for the first carnival season in two years, Mac Jr., nicknamed the “Mayor of Mardi Gras,” died from a heart attack at the age of 47.

“He said he had to go to the emergency room, and in the morning he died,” said Cantrell.

No parent ever wants to bury his son, and Mac Sr. worried that the business might not go on, but then something strange happened. A lifetime of friends started showing up at the Cantrell float den to help out in Mackie Jr.’s memory.

“Everybody came together. It just shows who he was. All the people who showed up for him and how much people just love the guy,” said Mackie’s nephew, Austin.

“I would say whatever it costs let me know I will write you a check and they said ‘no this is for Mackie,’ it makes me wanna cry,” said Cantrell.


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Junior’s friends helped his dad press forward, keeping the Cantrell Carnival family tradition alive.

“God wanted him because he was so good... he had so many friends,” said Cantrell.

Cantrell says religion is a big part of the family’s life, and he leans on that now, more than ever.

“The last prop he made was the head of Jesus Christ,” said Cantrell.

“It’s a real loss. Young, unexpected, and you hate to see it, but I understand the business will carry on,” said Mardi Gras Guide Publisher Arthur Hardy.

The Cantrell family now struggles to work through the loss with the help of friends at the height of Carnival.

“I’m not afraid to die because I know I’m going to see Mackie and he makes me a better person,” said Cantrell.

Though the long-term future of Cantrell float building is somewhat of a question mark, the family plans to persevere for the next several years trying to bring to life many of Mackie Jr.’s imaginative creations.

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Rob Masson

Rob Masson

Rob Masson is a New Orleans native who has been covering news in the region since he was in high school. The Murrow award winner joined Fox 8 in 1994 and has covered everything from governor’s trials, to hurricanes. He served as News Director at WLSU while in college and is proud to call Louisiana home.