When I think about our visit to the city of Mobile, Alabama, the importance of Mardi Gras celebrations comes to mind. Although Mardi Gras is often associated with New Orleans, the first Mardi Gras was held here in 1704, so Mobile considers itself the founder of the festival. In 1702 French Catholics began a settlement in Mobile and it became the first capitol of French Louisiana. The settlers brought with them the tradition of Mardi Gras. To celebrate Mardi Gras “mystic societies” build colorful carnival floats and create costumes around the year’s theme. They then put on parades and fancy balls which are usually held in the month of February. Kings and queens are also selected each year and they dress in lavish suits and gowns with custom made trains. I was sorry to miss seeing one of the parades, but our schedule necessitated us moving on before the celebrations were to begin.
The best place to get a taste of Mardi Gras is at the Mobile Carnival Museum which is located in a historic home. I thought this museum was fascinating and a feast for the eyes, one of my favorite museums during our travels. There are 14 gallery rooms filled with memorabilia and lavish attire of past kings, queens and members of the court. This includes costumes, robes, trains, crowns and scepters. In some of the rooms videos were playing of past balls or parades where the costumes were worn. The museum really gave me a sense of how important the celebration is in Mobile and how much money it must cost to create the outfits and pay for the parades, balls and parties.
The first room in the museum has a large decorated float to give visitors an opportunity to experience being in a parade. The first parade was held in 1830 and has been an annual tradition ever since.
The very expense trains reflect the personality of the king and queen and have a great deal of ornamentation. The trains all looked very heavy to me and I could not imagine wearing them. In the room above I was able to watch a video of the king and queen who wore this attire at their coronation.
I learned that each season the Mobile Carnival Association and Mobile Mardi Gras Association, made up of prominent families choose the king and queen. Sometimes several generations of a single family may wear the crown. The expense of the costumes and numerous parties, balls, etc. precludes this being possible for the average family.
Mardi Gras is the final day before the start of lent with lots of revelry before settling down for the Lenten season, a time of self denial and repentence.
The museum has exhibits of costumes from some of the mystic societies. I was surprised to learn that there are about 60 different societies. The societies have names such as Santa Claus Society, Order of Jesters, Order of Polka Dots, Jokers Wild, Comic Cowboys to name just a few from Mobile.
You can’t help but see Mardi Gras inspired merchandise when going into stores in Mobile with even Walmart in the spirit with a whole row dedicated to wreaths, masks, beads, etc. in the standard purple, green and gold colors.
Besides decorations, I had been seeing the traditional “king cake” for some weeks at Walmart and grocery stores throughout the South. The King Cake is a ring or oval shaped cake that has a coating of purple, green and gold sugar or Icing. Inside the cake is a plastic baby and whoever gets the baby has to buy the next king cake. Traditionally the baby was to symbolize baby Jesus.
Have you ever eaten a moon pie? It is a round graham cracker cookie filled with marshmallow and then dipped in a coating. They are a big deal in Mobile. Our first introduction to Mobile’s fascination with moon pies was when we arrived to our RV park and were told that on New Years Eve, (the next evening), the mayor would be dropping the “moon pie.” This particular moon pie is electric, weighs 600 pounds and is dropped from a tall building downtown. After it drops, there are fireworks and a laser light show. In addition, earlier in the evening the largest edible moon pie is served in one of the hotel courtyards. Moon pies first became popular here in the 1940’s and 50’s when Mardi Gras parade organizers decided to replace the cracker jacks they had been throwing with the softer moon pies which were easier to toss. Today, around 500,000 moon pies are thrown each year during Mardi Gras parades in Mobile. Although popular here, they are actually made in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Moon Pie General Store is located in downtown Mobile and while there, we stopped in to check it out. They had a variety of miniature moon pies so we got a few to try. I am not a big fan of them as I find them pretty bland and even though there were different flavors, I could tell no difference between them. (Mark does say though that I only have one taste bud left, ha, ha). I do think the whole culture around them is interesting though.
The store also featured the RC cola and moon pie combo which many years ago got the nickname, “working man’s lunch,” because it was popular with laborers and miners. To finish my discussion of moon pies, below is a picture of a dessert Mark and I shared at the Spot of Tea restaurant in downtown Mobile. It was a moon pie banana pudding that was quite delicious.
Thanks for checking in and next post I will talk about Mobile Bay and the Bay’s most famous resident.