Thursday, November 26, 2015

Mobile Carnival Museum

Monday it was still cool so we thought it best to visit museums or some of the older homes.  Unfortunately, it being Monday, many of them were closed- except for one which sounded very interesting and different to us.  The Carnival Museum is a repository of historical artifacts pertaining to the Mardi Gras in Mobile.  We had learned from our tour book that Mobile lays claim to being the birthplace of Mardi Gras in the United States.  The first one was held in 1703, 15 years before New Orleans (another city which celebrates the carnival in a big way) was even founded.  The Carnival Museum is located in a restored mansion.  By the way, the balloons in the picture below, as well as on many of the floats, are made from pig bladders.  It was one of many interesting details regarding the carnival which our tour guide shared with us.
The first room we entered on our tour of the museum had a couple of floats from past carnivals in it.
There are several companies on the Gulf coast whose only work is to make floats like the one above.  Artist are also hired to consult with them.  Mardi Gras begins every year with the Feast of Epiphany and continues until Fat Tuesday.  This period of time is marked by parades, balls, feasts and pageantry.  Some are sponsored by mystic traditional societies, some of which are secretive and not open to the public.   There are also societies formed by affiliated groups as co-workers, bachelors, Jews, Black women- they may have open membership.  Some of the groups are out to just have fun, as the Comic Cowboys.  Just after the Civil War the first group to revive the Mardi Gras custom was a number of Confederate soldiers who called themselves the Lost Cause Minstrels.  Over the past three centuries many of the groups have come and gone.  Our guide said that there are currently 39 societies.   We learned about some of those groups during our tour of the museum, as well as their costumes.
Pictured above is a costume of the Santa Claus Society, behind him is a Maid of Mirth, and the blue costume belongs to the Blue Knights of Revelry.
On display in the museum is also some of the Queens and Kings formal dresses, suit, and trains over the years.  They are quite elaborate and decorated with jewels and other ornamentation.  I believe it is the one pictured above which is said to weight 84 pounds and needed ball bearings under it for the queen to be able to walk with it.  One king's train was also fascinating. Story has it that his mother traveled to France to gain information as to how to design his Napoleon costume. The train especially is quite elaborate, complete with little bee pins.  Napoleon used the symbol of the bee on his uniform to show off his prestige and power. 
In the picture above you may notice a china plate on display in the corner.  That particular king's feast had china decorated with the head of Napoleon.  In the museum there is a display of another king's table and decorations which he had prepared for his queen.  It all was a bit much to wrap my head around, but Mardi Gras is an important tradition in Mobile!

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