Although Mardi Gras in New Orleans gets all the attention, the event in Mobile, Alabama, is actually older.
Mardi Gras and Carnival are traditional — and traditionally excessive — celebrations that take place before Ash Wednesday and the serious and austere religious season of Lent.
Mardi Gras was first observed in the New World in 1703 at a settlement near Mobile, with Carnival celebrations starting in 1711 at the city’s present site. (The first Mardi Gras in New Orleans was celebrated several decades later.)
Mardi Gras is still a very big deal in Mobile. And visitors who can’t be in town for the event can still experience a taste of the festivities at the Mobile Carnival Museum in downtown Mobile.
The museum is in a historic house, which, coincidentally, was once the home of a Mobile mayor and Mardi Gras “king.”
Today, more than 60 Mardi Gras societies and organizations sponsor parties, events and dozens of different parades in Mobile beginning several weeks before Fat Tuesday.
Museum visitors will see more than 150 years of Mardi Gras images, artifacts and mementos, including traditional beads and trinkets thrown from floats during past Mobile Carnival celebrations.
Visitors can stand on a full-sized re-creation of a parade float for a selfie or to briefly experience a parade from the bead-throwing side. (In Mobile, parade participants also throw Moon Pie snacks to spectators, a delightfully odd, and delicious, tradition.)
Carnival is also the acme of the Mobile social season, culminating in the crowning of Mardi Gras “kings” and “queens” and their courts.
Many of the fancy, elaborately bejeweled royal robes and crowns, designed (and paid for) by each new king and queen, have been donated to the museum and are now on display. (There’s probably not much opportunity to wear the long, heavy, glittery attire after Carnival, in any case, unless one is doing a show in Vegas.)
Like most royalty, each year’s kings and queens are often the descendants of generations of Mardi Gras kings and queens, and museum visitors will hear about the high-society traditions of the royal courts.
But at Carnival, the regal must eventually make way for the raucous, and the museum also explores the satirical, saucy and sometimes well-sauced side of Mardi Gras.
One room displays signs, costumes and mementos from the parades of the Comic Cowboys, a Mardi Gras society that seems to exist solely to make fun of the high and mighty and, of course, to laissez les bons temps rouler (Let the good times roll).
For more information about the Mobile Carnival Museum, call 251-432-3324 or visit www.mobilecarnivalmuseum.com.
— Steve Stephens can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @SteveStephens.