By Theresa Russell
Over 300 years ago, in 1703, Carnival took place in a French settlement in the Mobile area. Several years later, reputedly the first carnival parade, complete with a paper maché bull, dancing, singing and eating happened on Dauphin St. This was known as Bœuf Gras, another little known name for Mardi Gras. That name signifies the fasting from meat during the Lenten season and so does the name Carnival, which in Latin means “removal of meat”.
From these humble beginnings, Mardi Gras has grown to the spectacular fête that it is today. So important is this event in Mobile that the Alabama Legislature declared Mardi Gras a public holiday in the 1800’s.
Wishing to promote the fact that Mobile was the first city to have a Mardi Gras and to introduce the event to the uninitiated, a group of citizens organized the Carnival Museum, which opened in 2005. A good way to start a visit of the Carnival Museum is to go into The Den, a large room that has a float and fire truck on display. The colorful float features costumed models that give it a realistic feel. As it is completely interactive, visitors can climb-on to have their photos taken or to simply relive the experience of participating in a parade. “Throw me some beads!!!” This area is quickly becoming a popular place for functions like holiday parties, wedding receptions and of course, Mardi Gras parties.
The volunteer tour guides, many of whom have belonged to or still work with a Mystic Society (known as Krewes in other parades) enthusiastically answer questions about not only the exhibits, but also the complete Carnival experience. They will gladly share all the details about participating in the parade.
The displays in the rooms of the former residential Bernstein-Bush home range from the tiniest accessories used during Mardi Gras to the ostentatious garments worn by the royalty. The spectacular trains take up most of the floor space of several rooms with at least two dozen of these garments on display. Examining the fine details and imagining wearing such a heavy garment capture the mind’s eye resulting in momentary reverie. Complementing the trains on display in the Moorer Gallery, the King’s Table represents the dinner setting on coronation day. Coronation Hall exhibits a large crown and two chairs for the king and his queen. It isn’t only royalty represented here, but also members of their court, including jesters. Although those on display are excellent representations of these characters, one of the tour guides regularly joins the festivities in the role of jester.
The combination of exhibits, function areas, education and gift shop packaged into one colorful experience makes the Mobile Carnival Museum a must visit for both those who can’t make it to Mobile’s family-oriented Mardi Gras and for those who already know the advantages of Mardi Gras in Mobile.
About Theresa Russell
Claiming her lust for travel began on her first journey through the birth canal, Theresa is genetically programmed to travel and to have fun doing it. She especially enjoys adventure and experiential travel and always finds something at a destination to write home about.