The coastal south continues to give us even more to love - not the least of which is the rich, French history woven into that of the Gulf Coast. It was a sunny day in Mobile, Alabama when we decided to learn more about this southern port city with her plump fresh oysters, columned front porches and making Moon Pies more famous!
First stop on our only full day in Mobile was to the Mobile Carnival Museum which chronicles 300 years of Carnival and Mardi Gras in Mobile. Cheerfully greeted, we gave the shop (where tickets are purchased) a quick overview - loads of fun purple, green and gold items and unusual Mardi Gras gifts filled the light-filled room.
While the City of New Orleans, Louisiana is on the map as Mardi Gras central, Mobile, Alabama is the undisputed birthplace of Mardi Gras, when it was first observed as a French Colony, 100 years before the founding of Alabama in 1703! The first parade was held in 1711 with the first 'float' - a papiér-maché bull, in honor of Boeuf Gras (another name for Mardi Gras) was pulled down Dauphin Street.
The Mobile Carnival Museum has skillfully and colorfully preserved this authentic heritage in the gorgeous Bernstein-Bush House, a Creole cottage built in 1872. From floats to massive, elaborateley stitched, bejeweled and monogrammed trains worn by the various Krewe Kings and Queens over many years,The Hall of Trains features the robes from years past. Many were monogrammed in homage to parents and grandparents, some of whom may have been Mardi Gras Parade Kings and Queens themselves. The craftsmanship of these items is mesmerizing. Much to the annoyance of my musuem going partner, I continued to lag behind, enthralled with the workmanship of the museum's most precious items.
Visitors will learn about "throws" - the items tossed off of the floats into crowds. Mobile helped to bring Moon Pies (a favorite southern treat!) into even more fame by having a tradition of tossing those off to parade goers, as well as doubloons, medallion necklaces, candy and other items. This tradition of tossing Moon Pies began in the 1940's and '50's, but took hold in the 1960's. It is said that float occupants wanted something 'softer' than Cracker Jack boxes, but also with some weight. It's estimated that some 500,000 Moon Pies are tossed to carnival celebrants from floats every year in Mobile.
(photo: Moon Pie)
The MCA and MAMGA, the organizations that run Mobile's Mardi Gras royal courts, are made up of prominent Mobile families who have been part of Mardi Gras for generations. About a year in advance, the MCA officers select King Felix III and his queen, and the MAMGA officers select King Elexis I and his queen, but details of the process continue to remain secret.
There are individual "mystic" societies that also select their own queens, emblems or leading ladies, who are either members of the royal court or prominent members of the society itself. Tradition dictates that the queen will lead the tableau to open the festivities at the mystic society's ball.
We fully enjoyed our brief stay in Mobile, Alabama and hope to return. The majestic drive down Government Street, Wintzell's Oyster House, our stay at the Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel, the street music, and shopping at a lovely garden center were all fantastic memories of this southern coastal city.
A list of upcoming Mardi Gras parades is available (hit the link), for parades beginning Friday, January 26, 2024. The Mobile Carnival Museum is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 9AM-4PM. Admission is $8.00 for adults and information on special pricing for children, military and others is available via the link.