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