The two of us were up early and at it again on Mardi Gras morning. Downtown Mobile’s parades were to start at 10:30am and run all day long with the final one beginning at 6pm. Our research told us that Fat Tuesday was the second heaviest attended day of all the activities so we elected to arrive 2.5 hours beforehand rather than our usual 2 hours prior.
As we arrived we saw that many others had the same idea but it wasn’t too bad and there was still parking available at the lot we’d been using. Although we’d found that the parking fee had doubled, now $20. We quickly gathered our chairs, cooler and “throw” bag and walked the 3 blocks to Beinville Square to search out a prime viewing spot. Our goal was to find that location in full sunlight for the warmth, it being only 45 degrees out. Historic Bienville Square is only a couple of blocks in from the Mobile Bay waterfront and with the wind gusting down the streets in between those tall buildings, it felt like we were in a wind tunnel. And to think that it was in the low 70’s for last year’s Fat Tuesday. Oh well.
Don walked over to Panini Pete’s to pick us up a couple of hot chicken filled beignets for breakfast. He heard about these on the local morning news station and was dying to try them. They were served with warm maple syrup on the side for dipping. I have to tell you we’d both eat them again. They were delicious.
The Order of Athena was founded in August 1954. It is the only ladies’ group that parades on Fat Tuesday and has the honor of kicking off the daylong festivities. Their selected theme for this year’s parade was Athena Goes Pink.
There was about a one hour break between parades so we just tried to keep warm and people watch at the same time. There were many more people decked out in all their Mardi Gras finery than we’d seen at any of the previous parades. It was almost as amusing to see as the floats themselves.
Shortly after 12:30 a roar went up from the crowd and we knew the Knights of Revelry parade would soon be coming into view. This is one we had been looking forward to to seeing with much anticipation.
The Knights of Revelry have been an active society since 1874, staging its first parade on Fat Tuesday of 1875. They are Mobile’s third oldest parading group and this year marked a 142 year tradition. The KOR has an emblem float that harkens back to its beginnings. On it is one member who plays the role of Folly swinging a mace of inflated silver painted cow bladders. The wallops can be heard above the din of noise, they are meant to chase away evil. Their 2016 theme was A Brew Ha Ha. Hmm, they must’ve consulted Don on this one.
Hot on the trail behind the KOR was the King Felix III float. This float hosts the King and Queen of this year’s Mardi Gras. We were surprised by its small stature and unadornment when compared to other floats. Next came the Comic Cowboys. I had been wanting to see them ever since learning about them from the Mardi Gras Museum.
The Comic Cowboys are as unlike any other parading society as you can get. Organized in 1884 by a stage actor/comedian. The one man show would arrive on a cart hung with witty observations hand painted on plywood signs. The signs were meant to illicit either a laugh or a groan.
Over time the membership grew. Today their first “float” is always the queen’s float. The group’s queen, named Little Eva, is often one of the burliest, sometimes bearded, member that the group could find. Queen Little Eva is always dressed in drag. This began as a satire of the Mardi Gras queen.
Behind the queens’ float is a series of stripped down trailers pulled by pickup trucks. Each trailer hoists 2 signs, one on the front and one on the back. On each signs side a witty (or vulgar) depending on your point of view, expression or observation is painted. It can be about a local or national person or event. It’s all done in fun as the society’s longstanding motto is, “Without Malice.” This year’s parade featured 12 “floats.”
We chose not to stick around for the day’s remaining parades. We originally planned to get a bite at our favorite burger joint the Dew Drop Inn. Knowing there was time before the next parade started, we headed off in the right direction only to find ourselves running into street barriers. Before we knew it we were trapped inside the parade loop with no way to exit. We were stuck there for 2 hours. We weren’t the only ones either. Finally, the police moved a barrier allowing us to pass. By then we had decided to just grab a bite somewhere along the route back to the campground.
We were tired, we were cold, but we were happy to have experienced our very first Mardi Gras and that we’d done it in Mobile, the birthplace of Carnival in America.
Here’s lookin’ at you kid…..Laissez reposer la commencer!