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Mardi Gras Court, 1907
Mardi Gras Court, 1907, Mobile, Alabama Photo courtesy University of South Alabama Archives, Erik Overby Collection

Mardi Gras in Mobile

A celebration preceding Lent, Mardi Gras culminates on Shrove (or "Fat") Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. For nearly 300 years, Mobilians have observed this pre-Lenten celebration.

The first carnival observance occurred at 27 Mile Bluff in the year 1703, continuing the cultural traditions settlers in Mobile (the "Port City") began back in their homeland of France. Celebrating Mardi Gras gave Mobilians the chance to enjoy a fine meal, some wine, and reminisce with families and friends.

Many years later, in 1830, Mobilian Michael Krafft, one one-eyed Pennsylvania Dutch transplant, celebrated the season with friends at a restaurant in downtown Mobile. Following the meal, these tipsy revelers "borrowed" some agricultural implements from a sidewalk display outside a downtown hardware store. Then, with cow bells, rakes, and hoes in hand, Krafft and his friends paraded through the streets of the town and thus was born the Cowbellion de Rakin Society, the first parading Mystic Society.

In 1866, after the Civil War, during the period when Mobile was still occupied by Union Forces, another group of gentlemen, led by Joseph Stillwell Cain, decided to revive the Krafft parade (which had been on hiatus during the war). They "borrowed" a coal wagon from a local business, and dressed in improvised costumes depicting a legendary Chickasaw Indian chief, Slacabamorinico, they paraded through the streets of town on Shrove Tuesday, thus giving rebirth to Mardi Gras, which has been observed in Mobile ever since.

Highlights of Mobile Mardi Gras history include the crowning of "royalty." In 1872, Daniel E. Huger first reigned as Carnival King Felix I, and a carnival association was established. Ethel Hodgson ruled as Mobile's first Mardi Gras queen in 1893. Later, in 1939, The Colored Carnival Association (later to be renamed the Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association) selected a king and queen and elected the "Mayor of Colored Mobile," later retitled Grand Marshal. In 1968, Joe Cain Day was established as an all-inclusive street celebration that anyone was welcome to join.

While originating in Mobile, the Mardi Gras celebration quickly spread to other locations throughout the Gulf Coast. Mobile's Mardi Gras reputation as an major tourist attraction is reaching international proportions. More recent events in Mobile Mardi Gras tradition include, in 1993, the organization of the International Carnival Ball as a joint effort including both the Mobile Carnival Association and the Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association. In that year also the only public Mardi-Gras style ball was begun to salute the Port City's carnival and international heritage.

The Museum of Mobile has documented the history of Mardi Gras in several of its galleries, including the Queen's Gallery which houses 18 magnificent outfits -- gowns, trains, jewels -- worn by queens of carnival over a period of 30 years. Also on display is the attire of a 1920's flapper queen, as well as costumes of several jesters of well-known parading societies. The Museum of Mobile's collections also include original Mardi Gras art and posters by various area artists, doubloons, tableaux designs, and ball invitations.

Project documentation includes 2 pages of text, thirteen black and white photographs, and newspaper articles.

Originally submitted by: Jeff Sessions, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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